Saturday, June 03, 2006
A REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENT OF: BOSTON COLLEGE
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered but not too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
- - - - -
Steady progression leaves BC poised to take wide open ACC Atlantic - but only if it hasn't started to bump the ceiling of its talent
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 43-19 (19-16 Big East/ACC) - 2005: 9-3 (5-3 ACC)
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 12 (6 Offense, 6 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: Even though he played a lot and started some last year, Matt Ryan could still be considered a first-year starter, and one going in with the most important hunks of his underrated receiving corps now graduated, as did the team's most visible player in years, all-star end/spawn of Predator Mathias Kiwanuka.
But the larger issue at hand is whether this can be something resembling a "breakout" season, with rewards of a division title and January bowl game. SMQ would hate to seem harsh on a program as consistent and as consistently overlooked as B.C., but the win totals since 1999 are 8, 7, 8, 9, 8, 9 and 9 - not bad, especially as the quality of those wins (and losses, too) has improved slowly at the same time. But whereas Tom O'Brien has been justifiably lauded for years now on the merits of his producing an uber-consistent winner without a whiff of gimmick from a deep pit of scandalous despair, approving nods will turn as quickly to grumbles of stagnation if last year - "nine wins and competitive against the big guys" - starts looking like a ceiling.
WHAT'S THE SAME: B.C. has been a happy home to slightly above average running backs who quietly hit 1,000 yards for a year or two before fading dutifully into relative obscurity for more than a decade now, through the Coughlin and Henning eras and on into the O'Brien Administration (or don't you remember Chuckie Dukes, Darnell Campbell, Omari Walker, Mike Cloud, Cedric Washington, William Green and Derrick Knight, 1,900-plus-yard career rushers all?), where a multi-player system has emerged the past two years every bit the equal of the single star approach: neither Andre Callendar nor L.V. Whitworth has been spectacular, but collectively they've piled up close to 2,800 and caught 38 passes apiece over the last two seasons, which ranks eerily alongside their predecessors. A.J. Brooks, too, (not to be confused with his teammate, incredibly-named fullback J. Survival Ross), ran for 319 yards as a freshman in '04 before mysteriously redshirting last year and apparently will rejoin the party. Three linemen who started every game in '05 are also back, so even if this is not a steamroller situation - Va Tech and North Carolina each basically stuffed the whole lot in consecutive B.C. losses, for instance - via two, four or six legs, or any combination thereof, it's as certain as these things can be that the Eagles are going to give Matt Ryan a chance by running the ball effectively the large majority of the time.
THE CATCH: Young Ryan was 5-0 as a starter, but leading receivers Will Blackmon and Larry Lester graduated, with Blackmon having just emerged after moving from corner as the only all-league type threat among the skill guys, which leaves the Ryan with Tony Gonzalez (28 catches) and the running backs as the only pass-catching experience. Gonzalez has a knack for the big play, but this offense might have a hard time matching last year's 245-yard passing average, and is due for some kind of genuine freak who lifts it above its "within the system" necessity, something all these short wideouts aren't going to provide.
STEADY AS SHE GOES: The defense loses its top pass rusher, but still returns ten solo sacks in tackle Nick Larkin, end Jake Ottolini and linebacker Brian Toal. It lost longtime starting linebackers Ray Henderson and Ricky Brown, but returns four of the other top six tacklers, including Toal and top guy Jamie Silva. Ryan Glasper and DeJuan Tribble each had a couple of picks last year. Think it's going to allow much more than the 16 points it gave up in '05? Not bloody likely, although the loss Kiwanuka and tackle Al Washington is going to put even more pressure on a secondary that was tenth in the ACC against the pass. Three returning starters there - one of whom, Silva, played closer to the line much of the time, anyway - could stand to improve a bit if (or, more likely, when) the pass rush suffers.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: The running game is the backbone of the offense and did OK in the Jay McGillis Spring Game, but in general the Eagles decided to let it ride: Ryan threw 53 passes, completing 37 for 289 yards and a touchdown, and his team lost to backup Chris Crane's White squad, 27-17, behind his 9-13, two-touchdown performance.
More importantly, the anonymous receivers got involved, with redshirt freshman Clarence Megwa catching a touchdown among a game-high seven passes, Kevin Challenger and Brandon Robinson had five passes apiece, and another freshman, Rich Gunnell caught a short touchdown. The only guy who didn't get in the mix was Gonzalez, who apparently was most waiting and ready for the game (though he is a pretty good guy, if you read that interview).
So, what's up with the secondary, then?
REASON FOR HOPE: Good running game will keep the offense among the most balanced in the country; the defense is a consistent strong point that's going to be fine.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: Still no home run hitter, which won't matter most of the time but could be a problem against the league's top-tier teams, who still have better overall speed and talent; Kiwanuka's impact was more than his numbers and will be sorely missed against the run and pass
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... Robert Forster, whom The Onion recently described as one of "Ten Character Actors Who Should Be In Every Movie":
Which sounds more or less like the Eagles under O'Brien, who's rejuvenated the program just as Quentin Tarantino did Forster's career in Jackie Brown. The top prize, however - an Academy Award, a conference championship - has remained glaringly elusive.
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... There doesn't appear to be enough firepower on hand to break the nine-win barrier, but there's enough experience to match it and possibly slip past Florida State for the ACC Atlantic title in the process. It's the next logical step.
- - - - -
Previous absurdly premature assessments:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: Brigham Young...April 6: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 17: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 22: NC State...April 23: Arizona ...April 24: Memphis...April 26: Louisiana Tech...Apr il 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...UL-Lafayette...May 11: Akron...May 13: Michigan State...May 15: Air Force...May 17:Stanford...May 18: Georgia Tech...May 21: Connecticut...May 23: Purdue...May 25: Navy...May 27: UCLA...May 28: New Mexico State...May 29: Tennessee
- - - - -