Boston College Eagles
Head Coach: Steve Addazio (17-21, also awesome at making Vines)
Previous Result: L 22-7 at Alumni Stadium (Chestnut Hill, MA) in 2004, BC's final year in the Big East (RIP).
Series History: BC leads 0-4
2016 Game Info: November 19 at BC
BC's Strengths: After many years of feuding, the Huskies poised to do gridiron battle once again with Boston College. The Eagles have an exceptionally stout defense that was top-10 nationally in every major category last year. Harold Landry is one of the best defensive ends in the country and has a chance to be a surprise early entry in next year's NFL Draft. Matt Milano and Connor Strachan combined for nine sacks and 30 TFL last year from the linebacker position, while 6-foot-3, 200-pound cornerback Gabriel McClary has the chance to be an absolute superstar.
On offense, while the Eagles were not great last year, they do return many of their top playmakers like quarterback Darius Wade, running back Jonathan Hilliman, and wide receiver Thadd Smith.
BC's Weaknesses: Boston College's offense was horrid in 2015, ranking 126th in the country by Football Outsiders' S&P rating. Wade only completed 50% of his passes, and the weapons around him are less than inspiring. Kentucky transfer Pat Towles was brought into camp to compete with Wade, but he reportedly looked awful in the spring game.
On defense, the Eagles lose some of their best players, including Broncos' 3rd round pick Justin Simmons and inside linebacker Steven Daniels. More importantly, coordinator Don Brown has moved to Michigan. Husky faithful know firsthand how Brown could improve a defensive unit. The Eagles defense may take a step back this year.
How They Match Up: Weird things tend to happen in rivalry games, and this is definitely one of those. The Huskies are going to have to figure out how to move the ball on an extremely stout Boston College team that, most notably, has a really solid duo of coverage linebackers who can take away most short routes. UConn will need to utilize traps and counters to get the linemen on their heels, and then hopefully crack a big play or two on the perimeter to win this game. Defensively, they just have to keep Wade from running and contain everything, and they should be fine.
Dan Rubin of BC Interruption was kind enough to answer a few questions to help us learn more about our new/old foe.
1) After two solid seasons in 2013 and 2014, BC took a step back in 2015. Why did that happen and what are the expectations going into this season?
Steve Addazio was really able to cobble together a roster capable of winning in both 2013 and 2014. In '13, he looked at the cupboard, saw a workhorse running back in Andre Williams, and rode it. In '14, he recruited quarterback Tyler Murphy as a fifth-year senior transfer, retooled the offense around an option running game, and rode it.
In '15, he really looked at the roster and saw a chance to install his offense with his guys. It was one of those situations where he was hoping to see progression through the year, take the handcuffs off the playbook, and open things up with guys who had been in the pipeline.
Then starting quarterback Darius Wade went down for the year in the third game of the year. After that, the running game took injuries to Jon Hilliman, Myles Willis, and Marcus Outlow. The wide receivers, who had injuries in the preseason, never came back. Without any veteran leadership, the entire roster, which was young to begin with, really suffered.
After a while, the wheels came off altogether and the team was forced to limp through one of the worst offensive seasons of all time.
I don't know what the expectations are going into 2016 because of that. Fans won't accept anything short of a bowl game, especially after Addazio brought in a new offensive coordinator in Scot Loeffler and a new quarterback in Kentucky fifth year transfer Pat Towles. But it's hard to look at this team and really pinpoint wins and losses, especially with last year's reality check.
2) Is Addazio on the hot seat at all with the fanbase or administration?
He is definitely on the hot seat with the fans. The fans are notoriously fickle, and they had no problem abandoning ship last year when the team hit the skids. The warning signs were there that the 2015 season could be a struggle, but nobody expected a 3-9 year with an offense that bad - especially with a defense that was as dominant as it was.
Having lost Don Brown to Michigan and having replaced Todd Fitch at the OC with Loeffler, there's a reasonable expectation that the team will improve - especially with Towles in camp. But it's hard to imagine the team all of a sudden going from 3-9 to 9-3.
With a weaker non-conference schedule, that makes it even harder to pinpoint. This is still a team in transition, and there are going to be ups and downs. If the team loses, fans aren't going to be willing to accept that. I can't speak to the administration, but I know rebuilding BC was not an easy task. So it begs the question if they're willing to have patience at a time when public opinion may potentially shift against their favor.
3) How is the quarterback competition shaping up?
I can't wait to see how it plays out. Patrick Towles transferred in this year for his final year of eligibility after starting for Kentucky. He's a big body who has scrambling and running ability, but he's more of a traditional pocket passer. That's not the type of QB that usually runs Steve Addazio's offense, though it's a better fit for a pro-style offense that they're probably installing this year.
Behind Towles is Darius Wade, who is a sophomore again after receiving a medical redshirt. I love Wade, and I think he's capable of being the quarterback of the future. Whether or not he pushes Towles remains to be seen, but he was outstanding in the spring game.
The depth of the position's been retooled to hopefully avoid having young guys play there again. Wade is in his third year in the program, so the term "sophomore" can be misleading. That means that unless the position is ravaged by injury again, which is what happened last year, they should be okay.
4) Who are some offensive playmakers to keep an eye on?
People forget that Jon Hilliman was one of the best running backs in the ACC during his freshman season. He ran for 860 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry while scoring 13 touchdowns. In comparison, that's right about what Andre Williams averaged before his senior year. Even though he's coming back from a fractured foot that robbed him of the majority of his season, he's had ample time to rehab.
If, and it's a big if, the offensive line can gel and develop, he should be a force. The potential setback comes, though, from that O-line, which had QBs on the run and couldn't open up holes. They weren't a cohesive unit last year, didn't have much consistency throughout the whole year, and didn't develop, which is something the coaches would admit up front. They have to get better, and at a place touting itself as O-Line U, you might find playmakers on the offensive line.
How Towles develops chemistry with receivers is going to be something to watch. Ben Glines and Chris Garrison were supposed to be the top receivers last year, but they missed the year entirely due, mostly, to injury (at some point, it seemed like they would be healthy enough to play, but given the way the year was going, the coaching staff decided to keep them redshirted). Thadd Smith was the team's top receiver last year, but anyone who watched college football knows that doesn't mean much.
As much as I preach against youth at some positions, Glines and Garrison are youngsters, as is Nolan Borgersen and Christian McStravick. The older guys aren't tremendous receiving threats, so unless someone comes from out of nowhere, there's a lot to keep an eye on. Jeff Smith, who was recruited as an ATH but started at QB last year because he was the next man up, couldn't complete a seven-yard pass, but he has lightning quick speed. He could be used on fly sweeps and jet options in the Loeffler offense.
5) BC's defense was highly rated across the board last year, is that expected to stay the same or have too many key players graduated?
There's no way BC can recreate the wheel with last year's defense. They were top-ranked in the nation despite having the world's worst offense, and it's the first time in recorded history you had the #1 defense paired with the dead last offense. It puts into perspective just how dominant they were. Over a four week span, the defense held Florida State, Northern Illinois, Duke, and Wake Forest to 14, 14, 9, and 3 points, respectively.
Yet somehow the team went 1-3 with their only win coming by a field goal over NIU. Later in the year, they got beat up a little bit, found a couple of guys on the injured list, and still held #4 Notre Dame to 19 points at Fenway Park. It was by far the most elite group you could find.
The good news for BC is that they return some key guys on the defensive line and secondary while having a clear succession plan where they've lost others. Steven Daniels is gone, for example, but Matt Milano should fill in for him. Justin Simmons is gone from the secondary, but they return nearly every other piece of the defensive backfield. Mehdi Abdesmad is off the line, but Truman Gutapfel is back - a guy who has the nickname "War Daddy."
I'm only concerned by the defense because 1) it's impossible to be that good again and 2) there's a new defensive coordinator. Don Brown, who you guys graciously donated to us back in 2013, is off to Michigan, replaced by Jim Reid, a guy who, like Brown, is a former FCS head coaching legend who is originally from the area. Reid was the linebackers coach at Iowa before coming to BC, and it'll be really intriguing if he phases in his defense or works with the base 4-3 BC's used for what feels like forever.
From my perspective, I don't think BC will be as good as they were last year, but if they're reasonably close, you have to assume they'll be better on offense, which will help. Can't get much worse.
6) Any restaurant or bar recommendations for Chestnut Hill and surrounding areas?
It depends on where you're staying. I'm a big fan of the Stockyard over in Brighton. There's a satellite lot at the WGBH building where people park and take school buses over to BC on game day, and the steakhouse is right across the street. That's a little higher class, though, and it will run you about $30 for a damn good piece of steak.
If you're looking to swill some brew, Union St. in Newton Centre is driving distance from BC, and there's a Miller's Ale House at the Arsenal in Watertown. Coolidge Corner Clubhouse in Brookline is pretty awesome, and I've seen Theo Epstein eating there. It's close to a place called Zaftig's, which isn't a bar per se but dishes out some grossly unhealthy meals like my grandmother used to make. Those are reasonably close to BC, which sits right at the junction of Allston/Brighton, Boston, Newton, and Watertown/points west.
My only recommendation is to pay attention to the train if you're taking that. The green line goes to Boston College, but you have to take train labeled with a B. If you're on a C or D train, you're not going to head towards BC. At the same time, if you're on the C or D trains, you have to double back all the way to Kenmore over by Fenway in order to get on the right train. The ride from Kenmore to BC can run you an hour because it's a street trolley car, and it runs right through Boston University, which has a number of fine establishments serving food and grog as well on Comm Ave. Boston might be small and quaint, but it can be hard to navigate and totally inaccessible.