It was common knowledge that when he took over last year, head coach Jeff Jagodzinski inherited a veteran team with a future first round, $72 million dollar quarterback, but now that much of that senior-laden group has graduated, the coach’s job is about to get a whole lot tougher. And now he’ll get to show why he’s one of the hottest coaches in college football.
Not only has Matt Ryan left the Heights for the NFL, but so have last year’s top two rushers, the best offensive lineman, and three Second Team All-ACC defensive players. However, two potential all-leaguers, DT B.J. Raji and LB Brian Toal, will be coming off the shelf after sitting out all of last season, and Jagodzinski made his name on being able to coach offensive players. There’s no real reason to expect much of a drop-off this year, if any.
After getting to the ACC title game and winning 11 games for the first time since 1940, the program should continue to expect eight-plus win seasons every year and be unbeatable in December bowl games. For the first time since 1996, neither Ryan nor Tom O’Brien is in Chestnut Hill, meaning Jagodzinski will have to be a leader, and not just a rebuilder.
The schedule doesn’t get especially ornery until mid-October, so new quarterback Chris Crane will have time to get acclimated in September against the likes of Kent State, Rhode Island, and UCF. So there will be time to get everyone’s feet wet in a critical stretch for a team with several major questions.
Can Crane, who had a good spring, be close to as good as Ryan? Will there be more of a running game? What will the Eagles do to help out pass rushing star Alex Albright with concerns about the other end? How quickly will all the good new recruits be a part of the show?
There’s no real reason to be too worried. There’s still plenty of talent to work around, the defense will be nasty, and Jagodzinski will do his part with Crane. In a relatively weak ACC, there’s no reason to shoot for anything less than a title and a BCS game. The program has stayed that good, even after the coaching transition.
What to look for offense: Scoring issues early one …and not just because Ryan is gone. Of course the quarterback will be missed, but even when he was chasing the Heisman, BC had trouble getting into the end zone. On top of that, there’s been a complete evacuation at running back, with a few recruits needing to shine, and two of the line’s best blockers are on NFL rosters. Even if Crane is up to the challenge, the Eagles will attempt plenty of field goals, putting even more pressure on Steve Aponavicius to be better.
What to look for on defense: A brick wall of a run defense. After yielding just 75 yards a game on the ground, the Eagles might be even stingier now that DT B.J. Raji and LB Brian Toal are back in the fold. The front seven is among the toughest in the country, meaning the secondary had better be prepared for plenty of attention. Teams will have to throw to win.
The team will be much better if ... a running game can be mined from an extremely young stable of backs. Whether it’s Josh Haden, the offense needs to establish a degree of balance to take some heat off the new quarterback and the passing game. Even the new-age BC offense needs to have success on the ground, especially in the post-Ryan era, after finishing 106th in the nation in rushing.
The Schedule: It's tough, but all the big ACC games, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Clemson, are in Boston. The road schedule is a breeze for a while going to Cleveland to face Kent State and later traveling to NC State and North Carolina, and then comes the problem in back-to-back November dates against Florida State and Wake Forest.
Best Offensive Player: Junior WR Rich Gunnell. Although he won’t blow you away with his size or speed, Gunnell simply makes plays, and typically at the most critical point in the game. The definition of a clutch player, he was always in Ryan’s crosshairs when the game was on the line finishing with 64 receptions for 931 yards and seven touchdowns. He’ll help Crane out immeasurably.
Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Brian Toal. DT B.J. Raji may have a little more upside with the NFL, but Toal is an emotional leader and the best football player on this defense. After a breakout freshman year in 2004, he has leveled off and even regressed, largely due to problems with his neck and shoulders. Those have been addressed with surgery and a year of rest, which the linebacker feels has him set up for a monster finale with the Eagles.
Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Chris Crane. While he doesn’t have to be Ryan for the Eagles to soar, he does have to protect the ball and get it in the hands of an underrated ensemble of receivers. Equally important, he must become one of team leaders and accountable in the clutch, which were two of Ryan’s strongest intangibles.
The season will be a success if ... the Eagles get to eight wins and extend their nation’s-best bowl winning streak to nine games. They could easily get off to a 5-0 start, but the second-half stretch of Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Clemson, Notre Dame, Florida State, Wake Forest, and Miami might be too much for a program looking for answers in the offensive and defensive backfields.
Key game: Nov. 1 vs. Clemson. What better way to announce that last year was no fluke than by knocking off the favorite in the ACC? Wake Forest and Florida State will certainly be in the hunt as well, but the outcome of this game will go a long way to determining the Atlantic Division champion. The Tigers will come in with something to prove after losing a heartbreaker to the Eagles in Death Valley last November.
2007 Fun Stats:
- Second quarter scoring: BC 123 – Opponents 60
- Average yards per carry: BC 3.4 – Opponents 2.4
- Net punting average: Opponents 37.7 – BC 36.9