OVERVIEW: Montel Harris could end his career as the leading rusher in ACC history, but he basically has been the only offensive weapon for Boston College the past two seasons. BC ranked 109th nationally last season in yards per game and points per game. The Eagles' chances of competing for an ACC Atlantic Division title depend on whether they can provide Harris with a little more help. The new coordinator is Kevin Rogers, who had been quarterback coach with the Minnesota Vikings. He replaces Gary Tranquill, who retired after almost 50 years in the coaching profession.
AN INSIDE LOOK
THE LINGERING QUESTION: How much can the passing game improve? Harris is one of the nation's best running backs, but the Eagles can't put the offense entirely on his shoulders. That much should have been apparent long before a knee injury prevented him from carrying the ball in the Eagles' final two games last season. BC's chances of making a serious run at a conference title depend on whether Rettig makes enough strides to provide some balance to the offense, which would keep Harris fresh the entire season.
THE BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Rettig builds on the momentum he established late last season, Harris sets the ACC career rushing record, Kuechly wins the Butkus Award and BC ambushes Florida State in a Thursday night home game to win its third ACC Atlantic Division title in the past five seasons.
THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO: BC leans too heavily on Harris, who doesn't find much running room behind a rebuilt line. The Eagles stumble down the stretch and fail to reach a bowl for the first time since 1998.
STAT TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Boston College might not lead the nation in run defense again this season, but you can count on the Eagles finishing somewhere near the top. BC has ranked 26th or better in run defense for six consecutive seasons: 5th in 2005, 26th in 2006, 2nd in 2007, 7th in 2008, 14th in 2009 and 1st in 2010.
BACKFIELD: There may not be a more underrated player in the nation than Harris, who has rushed for 3,600 yards in the past three seasons. That puts Harris within striking distance of the ACC career rushing record held by former N.C. State star Ted Brown, who ran for 4,602 yards from 1975-78. Harris also has 21 career 100-yard games, six shy of Brown's ACC record. Harris leads all active FBS players in career rushing yards and carries (756). The Eagles also have a capable backup in Andre Williams, who filled in for an injured Harris and rushed for 185 yards in 2010's regular-season finale against Syracuse. BC needs a breakthrough season from QB Chase Rettig, who made nine starts as a true freshman last season. Rettig threw nine interceptions and only six touchdown passes, but he got better as the season progressed.
RECEIVERS: This receiving corps doesn't have much star power, but it does boast plenty of experience. Every wide receiver who caught at least one pass last season is back this year. Bobby Swigert (39 catches, 504 yards, four TDs) and Alex Amidon (16-338-2) enjoyed solid seasons as true freshmen. The Eagles also have a solid pass-catching tight end in Chris Pantale (31-338). Ifeanyi Momah (19-296-3) also has shown promise. BC should get a big boost from the return of Colin Larmond, who caught 29 passes for 596 yards and five touchdowns in 2009 before missing last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Larmond has good size (6-3/210) and also has the speed to be a deep threat.
LINE: BC could have a tough time replacing Anthony Castonzo (a first-round draft pick), Rich Lapham and Thomas Claiborne; that trio had a combined 10 seasons of starting experience. The Eagles do have a few experienced linemen in T Emmett Cleary, G Nathan Richman and C Mark Spinney. Cleary started five games at right tackle and five more at left guard last season. Depth is a concern.
OVERVIEW: BC returns seven starters from a unit that led the nation in run defense last season. The Eagles ended the 2010 regular season with a five-game winning streak in which they didn't allow anyone to exceed 16 points. They also held Nevada's third-ranked rushing attack below three yards per carry in a 20-13 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl loss.
LINE: The Eagles must replace three linemen (Alex Albright, Damik Scafe and Brad Newman) who earned substantial playing time last fall. But the Eagles do return junior E Max Holloway, who recorded 14 tackles for loss and four sacks to lead the team in both categories despite making only six starts. Senior T Kaleb Ramsey gives the Eagles anther experienced lineman; he's a disruptive force in the middle with some pass-rushing skills. While the Eagles annually boast an exceptional run defense, they need to mount more of a pass rush. BC ranked 90th nationally with 1.54 sacks per game last season.
LINEBACKERS: The Eagles boast the nation's most prolific tackler in Butkus Award finalist Luke Kuechly. He made 183 total tackles last season - 20 more than anyone else in the nation. He also led the nation with 110 solo tackles. As a true freshman two years ago, Kuechly ranked second nationally in total tackles (158) and solos (87). While Kuechly already has achieved stardom, sophomore Kevin Pierre-Louis is on the verge of getting there. Pierre-Louis ranked second on the team with 93 tackles last season as a true freshman. Sophomore Steele Divitto and junior Nick Clancy are competing for the other starting spot. The Eagles will miss the inspirational leadership of 2008 ACC defensive player of the year Mark Herzlich, but Kuechly and Pierre-Louis still give them one of the nation's top linebacker duos.
SECONDARY: Senior CB Donnie Fletcher is an All-ACC candidate who picked off five passes and recorded 56 tackles last season. Sophomore C.J. Jones heads into the preseason as the other first-team cornerback, but watch out for true freshman Albert Louis-Jean. Dominick LeGrande and Jim Noel are back after splitting time at strong safety last season, though Noel currently is listed as a second-team corner. Junior FS Okechukwu Okoroha has starting experience after stepping in for an injured Wes Davis for the final six games last season. Boston College ranked 19th in the nation in pass efficiency defense last season.
BC has one of the nation's top young kickers in Nate Freese. As a redshirt freshman last season, Freese went 22-of-25 on field-goal attempts, with a long of 49. Although he was just 1-of-3 from at least 40 yards, Freese was almost automatic (21-of-22) inside 40 yards. Ryan Quigley is back as the punter after helping BC rank 34th nationally in net punting last season. Quigley led the ACC with 26 punts inside the opponent's 20. The Eagles were 20th nationally in kickoff coverage and 26th in punt coverage last season, but they also lack a dynamic return man. Boston College was 118th in kickoff-return average and 104th in punt-return average.
THE RECRUITING SIDE
Average national ranking past five years: 40th
Buzz: Boston College recruiting went as expected - a middle-of-the-road class of prospects who could be better than expected. CB Albert Louis-Jean and TE Brian Miller headline the group and are local prospects. BC also went to familiar stomping grounds in New Jersey and Ohio for other players. LB Steven Daniels from Ohio will be joined by his teammate Sean Duggan at BC and Jersey native Connor Wujciak could play defensive end or tackle. In 2012, BC will be filling a small class but already have commitments from two top offensive linemen in Win Homer from Virginia and Frank Taylor from Pennsylvania. The biggest need this year appears to be at running back. - MIKE FARRELL
Boston College may have a future star in Louis-Jean, a four-star prospect from Brockton, Mass., who backed out of a commitment to Miami after the Hurricanes fired Randy Shannon. Louis-Jean enrolled in time for spring practice and wasted no time making an impression on the coaching staff. He heads into the summer as a second-team cornerback and could move into the starting lineup before long.
Boston College plays four of its first five games at home, and the Eagles better capitalize because the schedule gets much tougher the rest of the way. The Eagles face Clemson, Virginia Tech and Maryland - all on the road - in successive October games, though they do have a week off between Clemson and Virginia Tech. They then return home for a Thursday night game with Florida State, the ACC's preseason favorite. Boston College plays host to North Carolina State the following week before closing the regular season with back-to-back trips to Notre Dame and Miami. Even the early-season schedule isn't quite as easy as usual. After opening the 2010 season with Weber State and Kent State, Boston College hosts Northwestern and travels to UCF in its first two games this season.
Last season, Boston College started slowly and surged down the stretch. Don't be surprised if the Eagles follow an opposite pattern this season. The schedule certainly sets up for that kind of scenario. It's easy to imagine Boston College stumbling a couple of times during that three-game road trip in the middle of the season, and those season-ending trips to Notre Dame and Miami also look troublesome. That schedule makes it tough to imagine the Eagles losing five straight, then winning their last five regular-season games, as they did last season. But it wouldn't be a surprise if the Eagles end up with the same record they had last season. A 7-5 record looks realistic for this team. Harris should set the ACC rushing record and Kuechly will be one of the nation's top tacklers again, but a lackluster passing attack hurts.
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