Boston College, without question, is a declining program. In 2007, the Eagles rose to a No. 2 national ranking, with Matt Ryan under center and Jeff Jagodzinski on the sidelines. Jagodzinski appeared on his way to cementing the Eagles as a perennial ACC contender, racking up 20 wins in two years as head coach.
After his controversial dismissal led to Frank Spaziani's takeover, one can only assume that athletic director Gene DeFilippo (who recently retired) expected minimal drop-off. Now, the team win totals have decreased in each of the past four seasons, including a disastrous 4-8 campaign in a relatively weak ACC last year.
Boston College travels to Evanston Saturday searching for an elusive significant victory. Of course, its 34-3 beat down of the Maine Black Bears did little to ease tension in the program. In week one, the Eagles battled with a Miami (FL) team weakened by sanctions. Their 41-32 loss looks considerably less impressive after Miami lost by 39 at No. 21 Kansas State.
Northwestern enters the game as the favorite, looking for its third victory against a major conference opponent in as many weeks. Last season, the Wildcats edged Boston College 24-17 in Chestnut Hill, as Kain Colter had a memorable debut as a starting quarterback.
Boston College on Offense
Junior Chase Rettig impressed in the season opener, looking to put behind the inconsistency that plagued him during his first two years as the Eagles starting quarterback. Rettig threw for 441 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Miami, only his second career 300-yard game. The first came against Northwestern last year.
Despite a solid early-season performance against the Wildcats in 2011, Rettig later went on a stretch of seven straight games without multiple touchdown passes. On Oct. 29, 2011 at Maryland, he threw for only 32 yards. The next week, in a blowout loss at Florida State, he followed with just 76 more.
New offensive coordinator Doug Martin appears to have helped Rettig's progression, and the junior quarterback looks to continue his improvement against a Big Ten defense that dominated Vanderbilt last week.
Junior running back Andre Williams will start in the backfield on Saturday. His only 100-yard outing in 2011 was in the NU matchup, so again, there is a history of success. When sufficiently defended though, Williams tends to disappear.
One of his backups, Tahj Kimble, has emerged as a playmaker for the Eagles. Against Miami, he rolled up 130 receiving yards out of the backfield before a quiet performance last weekend. Kimble has been fumble-prone, which will likely impact how often he sees the field on Saturday.
Boston College has struggled with injuries, perhaps none more costly than a knee injury sustained by wide receiver Bobby Swigert in an August practice. The junior led the 2011 Eagles with 44 catches and ranked second with 462 receiving yards. Senior tight end Chris Pantale, who caught 77 passes in his first three seasons, broke his foot late in the preseason.
In their absence, junior Alex Amidon has excelled, hauling in 16 passes over the first two games. With 248 yards, Amidon already surpassed his 2011 total.
Spaziani, who endured a busy offseason, hired Jim Bollman as his offensive line coach. Bollman inherited an experienced group of players, and the line appears to be the most improved unit. After taking 24 sacks last season, Rettig has been dropped only twice thus far. Against a powerful NU front four, the unit needs another impressive performance if it hopes to protect Rettig.
Boston College on Defense
Last year, one of the Eagles' lone bright spots was All-American linebacker Luke Kuechly, who led the nation with an incredible 191 tackles. He left behind a fairly talented group of linebackers, with junior Kevin Pierre-Louis expected to have a noteworthy season. Pierre-Louis dominated NU last year, making a career-high 16 tackles, and has had a strong beginning to the season. Steele Divitto and Nick Clancy have also helped to fill the void, combining for 35 tackles in the first two games. The game will serve as a sort of homecoming for Clancy, who played for nearby Joliet Catholic Academy.
In 2011, the Eagles struggled to pressure the quarterback, tallying only 11 total sacks. These problems have persisted this year, which could help the struggling Northwestern offensive line.
The 41 points Miami posted in the opener exposed the Eagles' vulnerability to big plays. B.C. held a three-point lead before Miami freshman Duke Johnson beat the defense with a 54-yard touchdown run. Johnson later added a 56-yard score, and the Hurricanes outgained the Eagles by 112 yards on the ground.
The Boston College defense improved late last season, allowing 14.3 points per contest in its final three conference games. The Eagles secondary struggled mightily throughout, though, allowing more than 240 yards per game.
Even in the Miami shootout, the Boston College defensive backs have been decent early on. Despite being largely composed of underclassmen, the secondary held quarterback Stephen Morris to 4.6 yards per pass attempt. In the absence of sophomore Al-Louis Jean – who also injured his foot before the season began – less experienced alternates including sophomore Sean Sylvia and redshirt freshman Ameer Richardson have held their own.
The revamped Boston College offense could cause problems for the Wildcats defense. Chase Rettig will target the NU secondary, but expect another fierce pass rush from the Cats. Venric Mark poses matchup nightmares for a relatively inexperienced, unaccomplished Eagles defense. NU has a clear overall on edge on paper, but keep in mind that Northwestern was dealt a shocking upset in week three of last season. Fitzgerald and his staff, as usual, will not take this game lightly.