The Eagles will travel to South Bend to take on the Irish on October 13th. Boston College, after starting with three challenging contests vs. Wake Forest, vs. N.C. State and at Georgia Tech to open the season, has home dates with Army, Massachusetts and Bowling Green before the trip west to Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish have road contests at Purdue and UCLA before returning home to face Boston College.
There will be a big difference for this year‘s Eagles team who went 10-3 in 2006. Gone is head coach Tom O'Brien, who left Chestnut Hill to take over the same position at North Carolina State. The Wolfpack went 3-9 in 2006 and must replace eight starters. Boston College, on the other hand, returns 16 starters this year and should be a contender for the ACC Atlantic Division title. O'Brien's departure was a head scratcher to some. But for Eagle fans, the move might be a welcome one.
"He was never a guy who was going to win the big game," publisher of Eagle Insider Michael Chevallier said of O‘Brien. "He showed the past three seasons, BC had that chance to get over the hump into a BCS game and they didn't do it. Last year, they lost to Miami (FL) on Thanksgiving night and in 2005 he didn't start Matt Ryan over a senior quarterback on Senior Day who wasn't as good and they lost. If they had won, they would have gone to the ACC Title game. With him out of the picture, I think BC had the chance to bring in a guy the opposite of O'Brien with some enthusiasm and emotion in Jeff Jagodzinski."
Jagodzinski was hired after spending the last eight seasons in the National Football League. Last year, Jagodzinski was the offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers. He does have BC roots. In 1997-98, Jagodzinski was the offensive coordinator of the Eagles before making the jump to the professional ranks. Jagodzinski has never been a head coach at either the college or pro level and has to keep up the consistency of the program. Boston College has won eight straight bowl games and has graduated an extremely high percentage of their football players. O'Brien had a more reserved personality while Jagodzinski is a tad more enthusiastic than his predecessor.
"He wants his team and program to put a dent into the Boston sports market," Chevallier said of Jagodzinski. "O'Brien loved to make excuses that you're never going to be on the level of the Red Sox or Bruins or Celtics. Jagodzinski's whole thing is, ‘Why not?' At his introductory press conference, he said he wanted to get off a plane in Kansas and have some guy come up to him and say, ‘Hey, BC, we love what you guys are doing this year.' He has a vision for program while I feel like O'Brien just wanted to pick up his paycheck and retire."
Jagodzinski hired Steve Logan as the offensive coordinator. Last season, the BC offense was a middle-of-the-pack offense nationally, ranking 46th in scoring offense. Logan is expected to open it up a bit more, especially with quarterback Matt Ryan returning for this senior season.
"I think Steve Logan really brings something to this offense," Chevallier said. "As much as a breath of fresh air Jagodzinski is, I think Logan might be more. BC fans were stuck with the old offensive coordinator for a long time where it was off tackle, up the middle and a pass short of the sticks on third down. The team wasn't fun to watch. But with a gunslinger like Ryan and a lot of young, athletic receivers, the offense has the potential to put up a lot of points."
Ryan is coming off an impressive junior year in which the Eagles were 25th in the country in passing offense. The 6-5, 220-pound signal caller threw for 2,942 yards and 15 touchdowns in addition to completing 61.6 percent of his passes. For his accomplishments, Ryan earned All-ACC First Team honors in 2006. What is more amazing is that Ryan played most of last season with a broken foot. Now, fully healthy and with a new offensive coordinator, the senior is expected to take the Boston College offense to the next level.
"Ryan really has the potential to have a career-type of year," Chevallier said. "He has the potential to be better than last year and he had a broken foot pretty much the whole season. If he can stay healthy, he has the system and weapons to succeed."
Chevallier said Logan will let Ryan audible from the line of scrimmage, a feature the quarterback wasn't allowed to do last season. Eagle fans will also see three and four wide receiver sets in the new system. BC must replace Tony Gonzalez, who caught 43 balls for 491 yards and five touchdowns in 2006. But 5-9, 177-pound wideout Kevin Challenger is back after leading the team with 47 receptions for 543 yards and five scores. Chevallier expects big things out of junior Brandon Robinson, who nabbed 36 balls for 490 yards and a touchdown.
"He really showed flashes of taking that next step to be that No. 1 guy," Chevallier said of Robinson. "I think this is the year he steps up and does it. Brandon Challenger has great hands but not the best speed. This system, though, will be a lot of running good routes and getting open."
The tight end might benefit from a more pass happy offense. Both Ryan Thompson and Ryan Purvis are back. Purvis, a junior, caught 29 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns last year. Thompson is the better blocker of the two and caught just 12 balls last season. A third option at wide receiver could be sophomore Clarence Megwa, who nabbed only 12 passes in 2006 in limited action as a freshman.
At running back, L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender combined for over 1,400 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns. Whitworth is the bigger, prodding back at 6-0, 222 pounds while Callender possesses more speed and shiftiness at 5-11, 204 pounds. These two players also caught 54 passes out of the backfield. Still, Boston College was 92nd in rushing offense last season and other options could be on the way. Chevallier believes junior A.J. Brooks and sophomore Jeff Smith could get looks because of their speed. At fullback, there is a starting spot to be earned.
Along the offensive line, three starters return but two players who were picked in the third and fourth round of the NFL Draft must be replaced. The new offensive system requires zone blocking and it remains to be seen if the boys up front can handle the blocking scheme. Senior Gosder Cherilius will move from right tackle to left tackle to protect Ryan's blind side. Chevallier thinks Cherilius is the next in a line of great BC offensive linemen.
"Any big board you look at has him in the first round of the NFL," Chevallier said. "He has great footwork."
Senior Ryan Poles is back at a guard spot while senior Kevin Sheridan returns at center. That gives the Eagles needed experience among their three returning players. Sophomore Patrick Sheil and junior Clif Ramsey are battling for the other tackle position while senior Tom Avenski might have the inside lead for the guard spot opposite Poles.
Boston College was 26th in rush defense, 59th against the pass but 14th in scoring defense. Nine starters are back to help keep opponents out of the end zone again. Maybe the most important person back on this side of the ball is defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, who was retained by Jagodzinski from the O'Brien staff.
All four defensive linemen are back. On the edges, Nick Larkin holds down one of the defensive end spots. Larkin has started 25 straight contests and finished with 33 tackles and three sacks in 2006. Sophomore defensive end Austin Giles was second on the team last year with 5.5 sacks. Sophomores Brady Smith and Alex Albright should be in competition for the other starting defensive end spot. In the middle, there is a lot of beef. DT Ron Brace is 6-3, 343 pounds while fellow lineman B.J. Raji isn't far behind at 6-1, 337 pounds. Raji notched 23 tackles last year, including 8.5 for losses.
"Raji is deceptively athletic for that size," Chevallier said. "He probably played a little heavier the year before and that hurt some of his mobility. Jagodzinski wants both guys on both the offensive and defensive lines to trim down a little. As for Brace, you don't call his name a lot but he does a lot of things. He opens up room for Raji and other guys to play plays."
Boston College has one of the best group of linebackers in the conference. This is even with the uncertainty of Brian Toal, who missed spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery. Toal totaled 50 tackles, including 4.5 for losses and intercepted two passes last season. But it's up in the air if the outside linebacker will give it a go this year.
"It's looking like he's going to redshirt," Chevallier said. "The interesting thing about that is that four years ago, if Toal had to redshirt his senior season, it was going to be a problem. It turns out BC has done a hell of a job recruiting linebackers. In addition to retaining Spaziani, the Eagles retained Bill McGovern. To any BC fan, he was the best position coach under O'Brien. Even with that, Robert Francois was an animal last season and all over the field when he played."
The leader of the group is Jolonn Dunbar. Last year, Dunbar led the team with 92 stops, 7.5 for losses, and added two sacks. The senior is back at middle linebacker and teams will be well aware of No. 40.
"He thinks he's in the best shape of his life coming into this summer," Chevallier said of Dunbar. "He really got his feet under him after the first few games and all of his big plays came in the second half. Against Maryland, he scored two touchdowns. He's a playmaker, a nose for the ball and got speed sideline to sideline."
As Chevallier stated, if Toal can't go, expect Francois to be in the lineup. The junior registered 52 tackles in 2006. At the other outside spot, Tyrone Pruitt returns for his senior season. Pruitt notched 48 tackles last year, including five for losses.
There are two bright spots in the secondary and two question marks. CB DeJuan Tribble is one of the top defensive backs in the ACC. Last season, Tribble intercepted seven passes in addition to 49 tackles. The senior stands at just 5-9 but teams would be wise to throw in the opposite direction because of the hole BC has at the position. Sophomore Roderick Rollins, who played in six games last year, might be first in line to start. Whoever starts opposite Tribble will be seeing the vast majority of passes in their area.
"The cornerback position opposite Tribble was a black hole last year," Chevallier said. "Rod Rollins is a guy that might step up as a sophomore. I like what I saw out of him last season. There are a lot of young athletic guys back there that maybe can slide over and play cornerback. If there is one question mark, it's the corner spot opposite Tribble. Teams won't be throwing at him too much."
Jamie Silva returns at free safety after ranking third last season in tackles with 57. Silva, a senior, also intercepted four balls. There's a starting spot to be earned at strong safety. Junior Paul Anderson and sophomore Wes Davis are in the race for the position. Davis has more experience after totaling 20 tackles in 2006.
This should be an area of strength for Boston College. All four specialists return, including punter Johnny Ayers. The senior averaged 42 yards per boot last year and put a third of his punts inside the 20-yard line.
"Johnny Ayers really had a good season last year," Chevallier said. "As a freshman, he got thrown into the fire because BC was having all types of long snapping problems. He's steady and consistent now and that's all you can ask for."
At kicker, Steve Aponavicius returns after making 8-of-11 kicks last season, including the game-winner in the victory over Navy in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. But the junior will have competition in the form of incoming freshman Billy Bennett, who was the nation's top-rated high school kicker. In the return game, the Eagles were 5th nationally in kick returns, led by Jeff Smith, who averaged 28 yards per return and took one to the house for a touchdown. Tribble handles the punt return duties.
Boston College has three cupcakes before the October 13th meeting while the Irish have road games at Purdue and UCLA before welcoming in the Eagles. Can Notre Dame match BC's intensity, which appears to have been a problem in past meetings? Just how good is Matt Ryan? Will the Irish quarterback, whoever it is, finally be getting comfortable in the starting role? How will Jagodzinski fair in his first year as head coach? Notre Dame fans badly want to beat Boston College because of the Eagles recent success in the series. For BC supporters, this will remain high on their list of important games. But because of the closeness of BCS appearances the past three seasons, Chevallier doesn't think it's the end all anymore.
"I think if you asked me that question four years ago, people would have said that was THE game and BC's Super Bowl," Chevallier said. "I think it is to some level but when a fan base is so close to a BCS game three years in a row, people start to realize beating Notre Dame is great but most BC fans might want to beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg than the Irish in South Bend."