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BOSTON – Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams is gone. So is top receiver Alex Amidon, and the top two tacklers from Boston College's defense last year, Steele Divitto and Kevin Pierre-Louis. Even quarterback Chase Rettig, a four-year starter, will be missed.
So when BC coach Steve Addazio thinks about his first year in Chestnut Hill, when the Eagles improved by five wins and returned to a bowl game for the first time in three seasons, he doesn't exactly consider his mission completed.
"Last year was about setting a new culture. It was about maximizing what we had, getting those seniors to really buy in and become a team again. And we did a good job of that," Addazio said this week as he looked to Saturday's season opener against UMass. "Then you've got these young guys who have been through nothing, and have no scars. It's an interesting dynamic in Year 2. ... A lot of unknowns, that's what this season is going to be."
Addazio took over last season after five years of diminishing win totals and finished with a 7-6 record and an appearance in the Independence Bowl. As he sets his sights on bigger things in 2014, he first has to replace many key contributors from last year's team — especially Williams, who ran for 2,177 yards and won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back.
But the former Temple coach said he remains on the schedule he set when he came to BC.
"We're not all set just because we were (bowl-eligible) last year. Time is what fixes the problems," he said. "Nothing has changed from my vantage point. Grabbing seven wins last year didn't solve it all, but we're rolling our sleeves up and building more. Year-by-year we will get more experienced and restocked. After four or five years, hopefully you'll be there. I know it's a footrace to do it as fast as you can, but it takes time."
Here are some things to watch for in Chestnut Hill this season:
UNDER CENTER: With Rettig gone, the quarterback job falls to graduate transfer Tyler Murphy. At Florida last year, the Connecticut native completed 112 of 185 passes for 1,216 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions before missing the final three games with a sprained throwing shoulder. "He wanted the chance to have the reins of his own program," Addazio said. "He had it for a short while and a competitor likes that feel and he wanted that back."
IN THE BACKFIELD: There are five backs in the running to replace Williams as the primary ball carrier, led by sophomores Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse. "You can't replace Andre," said Willis, who was the No. 2 rusher last year with 346 yards on 60 carries — a mere 1,831 yards fewer than Williams. "He had a great season. Teams are seeing that now. That was one thing, I can't be Andre. I can only be Myles Willis and be me to the best that I can."
YOUTH MOVEMENT: After losing his key offensive contributors and defensive stalwarts like Kevin Pierre-Louis and Steele Divitto, Addazio said he will have about a half-dozen freshmen seeing action on offense, and the same or more on defense. In all, 46 players on the 96-man roster are underclassmen. "That's a lot," Addazio said. "It takes time to acquire what I call 'bank.' We're working hard to gain experience."
AND VETERANS, TOO: But BC also has 15 graduates on the roster — tying Alabama for the most fifth-year players in the nation. Among them are center Andy Gallik and offensive linemen Seth Betancourt and Bobby Vardaro and defensive backs Sean Sylvia and Dominique Williams. Transfers include Murphy, offensive lineman Ian Silberman and receiver Shakim Phillips. "It's an eclectic group," Addazio said.
THE SCHEDULE: After opening against UMass on the "road" in Foxborough, Boston College plays four straight home games — against Pittsburgh and Southern Cal before Maine and Colorado State. "You're certainly glad you're home when you're developing this team. It doesn't guarantee anything, but the environment is not against you," Addazio said. "In some stadiums, just the sheer crowd noise alone creates a distraction for a young team. ... Hopefully we can have enough time between camp and in the season to get ourselves to the point where we can handle it."