Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: A disappointing season in Chestnut Hill has head coach Frank Spaziani firmly on the ACC's hottest seat. The Eagles had a 12-year streak of postseason appearances come to a halt with a dismal 4-8 finish, one that included a 3-5 mark in the ACC, good for only a fifth place finish in the Atlantic Division last year. The streak was on the verge of ending in 2010 at one point, but the Eagles were able to rally with five straight wins down the stretch to earn a 7-5 mark and a bowl berth.
Boston College suffered numerous injuries last year that helped in forming the sub par season. The team opened the year with three straight losses, highlighted by a devastating 20-19 loss to Duke. The Eagles were finally able to get in the win column with a dominant performance against FCS foe Massachusetts (45-17), but then suffered another three-game skein with setbacks to Wake Forest (27-19), Clemson (36-14) and Virginia Tech (30-14). The second win on the year followed that with a 28-17 victory at Maryland. The team split its final four games, losing to Florida State and (38-7) and Notre Dame (16-14), while besting NC State (14-10) and finally Miami-Florida (24-17) in the season finale.
OFFENSE: The Eagles suffered offensively in 2011, thanks in large part to the loss of All-ACC tailback Montel Harris for much of the season. Spaziani did his best to assuage the loss with RBs Rolandan Finch (705 yards, 3 TDs) and Andre Williams (515 yards, 4 TDs), but the team as a whole managed a modest 130.9 yards per game on the ground. Getting used to playing without Harris is something the Eagles will now be forced to deal with, as he was dismissed from the team this spring. Finch and Williams both return and will be called upon for more consistency in 2012.
It certainly didn't help that the passing game was non-existent (167.3 ypg) last year under quarterback Chase Rettig, who completed just 53.9 percent of his throws. for 1,960 yards, with 12 TDs and 9 interceptions.
Spaziani hired former Kent State head coach Doug Martin to come in and hopefully solve some issues in the passing game. Regarded as one of the nation's top quarterback gurus, Martin will be charged with getting the most out of Rettig. It will be interesting to see just what Martin can do to turn Rettig into a viable passer in the ACC.
The team does return three of its top four receivers from a year ago, led by junior WR Bobby Swigert (44 receptions, 470 yards, 3 TDs) and senior TE Chris Pantale (21 receptions, 236 yards, 3 TDs), although Pantale injured his foot recently and his ability to contribute, at least early on is questionable.
Swigert likes what he has seen from Rettig this spring and summer in terms of commanding the offense.
"He's definitely becoming more comfortable being a leader in our offense. He was kind of thrown in there as a young player and didn't know if he should speak up in certain situations or be stern with people who are older than him. Now that he's a junior he's our leader on offense and kind of has to be. He understands that and you can sense it more in the huddle this year in the way he presents the plays - he knows exactly what he's doing."
Four of five starters return along the offensive line and that should help in terms of consistency. The star of the group is probably sophomore guard Bobby Vardaro (6-5, 312), who earned Freshman All-American accolades in 2011.
DEFENSE: The Boston College defense returns 7 starters from a season ago, but unfortunately, Luke Kuechly isn't one of them. BC's heart-and-soul the last couple of seasons, Kuechly was the most decorated defensive player in school history. winning the Butkus, Lombardi, Nagurski and LOTT IMPACT Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2011. A two-time First-Team All-American, the void left in the middle of the BC defense is cavernous.
Junior Kevin Pierre-Louis will be charged with stepping up in the linebacking corps. He is the team's top returning tackler, posting 74 stops a year ago, albeit a far cry from Kuechly's 191 tackles.
Defensive coordinator Bill McGovern likes Pierre-Louis' overall skill set.
"What you have seen with Kevin is how he has progressed and matured as a player. He understands the game a little more, he's seeing it quicker, and the leadership out on the field with his practice habits sets a great example for the younger guys. It's important because he is locked in with what we want to accomplish and he gives 110 percent all the time."
Stopping the run will be tantamount to anything BC achieves on defense this year. Last year the team wasn't very good in that area (ranked 59 nationally), but the youth up front was force-fed playing time and should be better for it in 2012. Injury-plagued defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey is expected to be healthy when the season starts and was a valuable performer in 2010 after missing most of the season last year. Junior end Kasim Edebali has a chance to shine on the outside as well.
The secondary must replace leadership with the departure of Donnie Fletcher and Hampton Hughes, but senior Jim Noel is poised for a strong campaign at safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Eagles have stability in the kicking game in the form of junior Nate Freese. The 6-foot kicker hit 10-of-16 field goals last year, including 5-of-7 from beyond 40 yards. Senior punter Gerald Levano has primarily served as a holder the last couple of seasons, but will be given the opportunity to start in 2012.
OUTLOOK: Spaziani is in a tough spot this season, as another lackluster result could cause a change at the top.
Spaziani knows this could be a make-or-break season for him and the Eagles.
"Well, let me say this. The trend, with wins and losses, is very obvious to everybody. The program is going north, not south. There are a lot of situations that have occurred, we're not going to revisit history, I understand where we're at and I understand we want to win. That's what we want to do. The players understand that and we know where we have to go."
With Maine and Notre Dame at home and road trips to Northwestern and Army, there are some winnable games in the non-conference slate. The team will get a real test right out of the gate, with a season-opener against Miami-Florida. The Hurricanes are not expected to vie for a conference crown this year and these are the types of games that BC must win to push towards bowl eligibility.
Other conference foes that make the trip to Chestnut Hill are Clemson, Maryland and Virginia Tech. Of those three, the game against the Terrapins in late October presents the only real opportunity for a win. The ACC road will be tough as well, with treks to Florida State, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and NC State. Just how well this team performs on the road will likely determine its postseason plans as well as Spaziani's future.