Preview: Boston College

While it may be frustrating for some Notre Dame fans to see former Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan on the cover of the Playstation 3 version of NCAA Football '09, it's actually a good thing because it means that the Irish won't have to face him again this year. Ryan was 32 of 49 for 291 yards and two touchdowns to lead Boston College to a 27-14 victory at Notre Dame last year.

In his first year as head coach at Boston College, Jeff Jagodzinski was able to rely on the two-time All-ACC quarterback. Ryan capped his career with a record-setting senior campaign, which led to him being the first quarterback taken in the 2008 NFL Draft. Ryan set school-records for passing yards (4,507) and touchdowns (31), while being named ACC Player of the Year and receiving the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award given to the nation's top senior quarterback.

Jagodzinski won't have any such luxury in his second year at Chestnut Hill. Ryan is gone along with the Eagles' leading rusher Andre Callender and while Boston College brings back most of its receivers from last year, they will need to show dramatic improvement if they are going to make up for the loss of Ryan.

Boston College lost some key contributors from last year's defense including All-American safety Jamie Silva, but look for Jagodzinski to rely on his defense even more in 2008. The Eagles return senior linebacker Brian Toal, who sat out last year with an injury, and senior defensive tackle B.J. Raji, who did not play because of academic issues.

Boston College was ranked as high as No. 2 in the polls last year and the Eagles had a legitimate look at a National Championship season heading into November. The question now is whether Jagodzinski is going to be able to build on that this year or if he will first need to take a step back.

6-foot-4, 236-pound fifth-year senior Chris Crane will step in for Ryan at quarterback. Crane did not see much action in 2007, completing two of his four passes for 28 yards, but he did play in eight games in 2006. With two years as Ryan's understudy, Crane has far more experience than any other quarterback on the roster and boasts a strong arm and deceptive quickness.

Redshirt freshman Dominque Davis (6-4, 187) would give the Eagles a more versatile option behind center, but the staff feels that he still needs to work on his consistency throwing the ball. When Davis does get his shot he will be an exciting player who will make plays with his arm and his feet, but the coaches are hoping that won't be too soon.

With the graduations of Callender and L.V. Whitworth along with the loss of A.J. Brooks, who was suspended from school indefinitely after being charged with assault in Nov., the Eagles' top returning runner is fullback James McCluskey who had just eight carries for 14 yards last year.

True freshman Josh Haden enrolled for the spring semester and is listed as the number one tailback. The 5-8, 195-pound freshman was rated a four-star prospect by Scout and with his 4.4 speed, the Eagles will try to get him into the open field, but it is unknown how his body will hold up for a full college season.

Junior running back Jeff Smith could try to make a return, but it appears that his career may be over after suffering multiple concussions as a kick returner. Redshirt freshman Dan Mulrooney (6-1, 201) was moved to tailback to help with the lack of depth and will back up Haden. Senior walk-on John Siravo (5-9, 188) does not have any career carries, but was listed third on the depth chart in the spring.

McCluskey (6-2, 231) figures to be backed up by true freshman Jerry Kelly (6-0, 238) at fullback.

An inexperienced backfield can hurt a team in pass protection, so the Eagles' runners will have to grow up in a hurry. Also, Callender led the team with 76 receptions for 720 yards last year, which takes away a safety valve that Crane could have definitely used. Callender was especially effective against the Irish, rushing for 90 yards, gaining another 91 on receptions and scoring three touchdowns.

Even with the loss of Callender, the Eagles do bring back five of their top seven pass-catchers from 2007 including top wide outs junior Rich Gunnell (5-11, 196) and senior Brandon Robinson (5-10, 198). Gunnell emerged as the team's big-play threat last year, catching 63 balls for a team-high 931 yards and seven touchdowns. Robinson, who sat out the spring recovering from shoulder surgery, should be ready by fall camp and snagged 56 balls for 793 yards and five scores in 2007.

The Eagles also return juniors Clarence Megwa (6-1, 216) and Justin Jarvis (6-5, 196) who combined for 49 receptions, 629 yards and four touchdowns last season.

BC returns its starting tight end in senior Ryan Purvis (6-4, 260), who had 54 catches for 553 yards and four touchdowns to earn First Team All-ACC honors in 2007. Redshirt freshman Lars Anderson (6-3, 245) will back up Purvis and could be a factor in the passing game, but could also be a liability as a blocker.

Up front, BC graduated the entire left side of the line, including left tackle Gosder Cherlius, who was taken 17th overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. To fill that void, the Eagles simply shifted senior guard Clif Ramsey (6-6, 302) and sophomore tackle Anthony Castonzo from the right side to the left. Ramsey started 13 games at guard last year, while Castonzo became the first true freshman in 10 years to start on the BC offensive line. Castonzo started all 14 games and was named to the All-ACC Freshman Team by The Sporting News.

Junior center Matt Tennant (6-4, 284) is back for his second season as a starter. Sophomore guard Thomas Claiborne (6-3, 330) and sophomore tackle Rich Lapham (6-8, 324) will add some size and replace Ramsey and Castonzo on the right side.

Junior Pat Sheil (6-6, 283) and redshirt freshman Nathan Richman (6-6, 274) will back up at tackle with junior Nick Rossi (6-6, 294) and redshirt freshman John Elliott (6-4, 280 as reserve guards and senior Bryan Murphy (6-6, 294) backing up Tennant.

Offensive line will not be as large of an area of concern as the skill positions, especially quarterback and running back, will be. Crane has the experience to be a steady presence, but if the Eagles are unable to get some quality play behind him they could be in trouble.

With all of the attention that was paid to Ryan last year, the accomplishments of the BC defense went largely overlooked. The Eagles finished as the No. 2 team in the country against the run (75.5 yards per game), No. 19 in total yards (329.4) and 20th in scoring (20.4).

Boston College returns just four full-time starters from that unit, but a number of players are back with significant experience and the returns of Toal and Raji could mean that the best two players on this year's entire roster were unavailable in 2007.

Raji (6-1, 325) was an NFL prospect before he sat out last year and will be a force in the middle along with senior Ron Brace (6-3, 325). Sophomore Damik Scafe (6-3, 305) and senior Jerry Willette (6-5, 282) will rotate with Raji and Brace. The interior combination is a good start as the Eagles try to duplicate last year's statistics against the run.

There are more questions at end though, especially after Jagodzinski kicked projected starter Brady Smith off the team when he was charged with sexual assault. Junior Alex Albright (6-5, 235) is back after registering 38 tackles, 10 for a loss and a team-high 8.5 sacks as a sophomore. Junior Jim Ramella (6-4, 247) will replace Smith.

Ramella started the last three games of the season last year and finished the year with 19 tackles. He played in all 12 games as a true freshman, but sat out the 2006 season with a shoulder injury, so he has two years of eligibility left. Junior Austin Giles (6-3, 291) is the younger brother of former Notre Dame center Zach Giles and will provide depth at end along with sophomore Brad Newman (6-2, 250).

Toal has played the majority of his career at BC in pain and probably could have played last year, but elected to go through with the surgery and come back closer to 100%. If Toal (6-0, 238) can return to the player he was before his shoulder injury, he could easily be the best player on the team.

An All-American coming out of Don Bosco Prep, Toal entered 2006 on the Bednarik Award and Butkus Award watch lists before it was announced he would miss the season. Toal has 180 career tackles from his weak side position and has been featured as a running back in goal line situations.

Junior Mark Herzlich (6-4, 238) played the strong side last year where he recorded 97 tackles, including 12 for a loss. Herzlich will have some competition from junior Kevin Akins (6-2, 220), who has plenty of experience.

Junior middle backer Mike McLaughlin (6-0, 250) started just three games last year, but was fourth on the team with 64 tackles. Sophomore Darius Bagan (6-2, 233) will back up McLaughlin with senior Robert Francois (6-2, 245) backing up Toal.

The Eagles return senior strong safety Paul Anderson (6-1, 208), but he is the only full-time starter back in the secondary. Anderson was fifth on the team with 58 tackles last year and has played in 37 games since he arrived in 2005.

Sophomore cornerback DeLeon Gause (5-11, 174) played well in the place of injured DeJuan Tribble last year against Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech, but Gause will now have to do that on a full-time basis. Juniors Roderick Rollins (6-0, 178) and Razzie Smith (5-10, 186) will battle for the other corner spot. Both Rollins and Smith have seen extensive time as reserves, but the staff is hoping that one will be able to step up as a starter.

Junior free safety Marcellus Bowman (6-2, 214) has the biggest shoes of anyone to fill in replacing Silva. Bowman sat out the first five games of 2007 with injury and played sparingly when he did return. No one is expecting him to replace Silva's team-high 125 tackles or eight interceptions, but he will need to have an impact.

The secondary is undoubtedly the question mark on defense. BC was great against the run in 2007, but the Eagles ranked 88th in the country against the pass, allowing 253.9 yards. With only one player with a full season of starting experience back in the secondary, expect teams to take their shots against BC through the air.

Senior Steve Aponavicius returns as kicker. Aponavicius was 2 of 3 on kicks from 40-49 yards last year, but just 12-18 overall and he missed four extra points. The punter figures to be sophomore Billy Flutie. The nephew of BC legend Doug Flutie also doubles as a receiver.

Smith was a weapon in the return game and if he is unable to come back, look for Haden and Gause to get a chance.

Boston College has won the last five meetings between the two Catholic schools, but unless the Eagles prove that they have a solid running game and are at least respectable against the pass, Notre Dame could have the upper hand in this one.

The Irish get the Eagles in the middle of a crucial conference stretch. BC has games against Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Clemson before the Nov. 8 matchup with the Irish and finishes the regular season with contests against Florida State, Wake Forest and Maryland.


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