There has been quite a bit of ACC talk around here lately. The ‘Cats added Maryland at home to the 2012 hoops schedule, the women’s lacrosse team goes from beating Duke to now facing Maryland. And, of course, we’ve been keeping an eye on ACC football foe, Boston College (along with soon-to-be ACC colleague Syracuse). Today, we’re joined by Brian Favat of BC blog, BC Interruption. Let’s get in to it with our second home opponent of the season…
LTP: I read Presnap read’s #101 ranking of BC and then went to feeling sorry for Eagles fans as Paul Myerberg cast gloom and doom. I’m here to provide some potential optimism as NU is known to play exactly to the level of its opponent. – which can be great (see Nebraska) or horrific (see Army). Since we are now very familiar with one another after last year’s series rebirth, we can get in to it a little more. Let’s start on defense. Luke Kuechly, The best defensive player (in my mind) in CFB has departed early for the NFL leaving a huge void in both talent, heart and leadership for a “D” that was near the bottom in every ACC category last year. What scares you the most on “D” in 2012? What gives you a sense of optimism?
Brian: Let’s start with the glass half full. While there’s no replacing a player as talented or as productive as Kuechly was over his three-year career on the Heights (and thanks for the Kuechly compliment), BC is well positioned to have another strong year in the linebacking corps. Junior WLB Kevin Pierre-Louis has the tools to emerge from Kuechly’s shadow and have an outstanding year at LB. Sean Duggan and Steele Divitto also add to the Eagles depth at linebacker.
What’s freaking me out? BC’s D is dangerously thin in both the front four and the secondary. DE Max Holloway inexplicably jumped a year early, declaring for the NFL Draft only to go undrafted and get on with the rest of life. Kaleb Ramsey was granted a medical redshirt last season after battling multiple injuries. There is some talent on the line, but no depth. And the long-term prospects are even scarier for BC with an incoming recruiting class that includes no DTs.
The secondary is also short on experience. Only SS Jim Noel is an upperclassmen, with the rest of the defensive backs comprised of sophomores and redshirt freshmen. Again, there is some talent, including sophomore FC Al Louis-Jean Jr., but it is very raw.
As you noted, BC’s defense struggled in all aspects of the game in 2011. This is a defense that is not accustomed to struggling, particularly against the run, so it will be interesting to see how the Eagles D responds this season.
LTP: The revolving door at OC. I read that you know are entering in to the 4th OC in three seasons. Discuss what that means for this year. Should we look to BC circa Steve Logan era for hints on what we’ll see?
Brian: Former Kent State head coach Doug Martin is Boston College’s fourth OC in three seasons and fifth in five seasons. What it means is that we are asking our junior QB Chase Rettig to learn his third different offensive playbook in as many seasons. The big question is whether Rettig will respond to Martin or whether yet another change in the offensive playbook will only serve to confuse Rettig more and open up the possibility of a guy like Josh Bordner seeing more time.
Doug Martin is a Steve Logan disciple, so I think we’ll see some of Logan’s influence in the play-calling in 2012. But the tough thing to gauge is how well Rettig plays into this system. Rettig is more of your standard, drop-back pocket passer and doesn’t have the running ability of a guy like Chris Crane (who played under Logan at BC in 2008) or even Border.
The hope is that Martin adapts the playbook to play to the strengths of BC’s most talented QB on the roster, but the question in the minds of many fans is whether we’ll even see a significant change to the offensive play-calling under Martin. You can only cycle through so many different OCs with the same poor offensive results before you start to question whether it’s the OC that is the problem or the HC.
LTP: I’m amazed that RB Montel Harris (dismissed from team) is BC’s all-time leading rusher having played just over 2 full seasons (2 games last year due to injury). Now that he’s gone, is it the Andre Williams era or will it be a Northwestern-like RB by committee approach this September?
Brian: The situation at RB is still a bit fluid as Andre Williams was injured for this year’s spring game. Rolandan Finch got a bulk of the carries this spring and could jump Williams on the depth chart. Though both Finch and Williams are juniors, the health and depth at the position is a cause for concern. As we’ve seen with the Montel situation, Spaz says “you can never have too many running backs.” The problem is that BC doesn’t have one RB in the incoming recruiting class and I’m not sure sophomore Tahj Kimble is an every down back.
LTP: BC has become somewhat Wisconsin-like in producing OL NFL players. Should ‘Cats fans expect more of the same from the BC line or will it be more like 2011 all over again?
Brian: The glass half-full outlook on the offensive line is that as a unit, the line will improve in 2012. BC hired Ohio State’s long-time offensive coordinator and OL coach Jim Bollman to coach the line, moving Sean Devine from OL coach to tight ends coach. Hopefully Bollman will coach up the line, a line that didn’t buy Rettig a whole lot of time and struggled to get much of anything going during the first half of last season.
That said, the program still has to replace key contributors to the line from last season including senior center Andy Gallik and LG Nathan Richman. It looks as though BC will turn to sophomore Andy Gallik to anchor the line at center and sophomore Bobby Vardaro takes over for Richman. Vardaro actually started over Richman at the end of last season, so there is some experience there.
LTP: You’ve seen what Kain Colter can do as he made his first career start last year. You may not know that we have the most loaded WR depth and talent in school history in my opinion. However, our OL is still suspect and our secondary is full of question marks. What match-ups unit-wise do you like and dislike?
Brian: One can’t be very comfortable with the matchup of Colter and the Wildcat running backs after NU torched the Eagles D for 227 yards and 3 TDs in last year’s season opener. The BC run D went from the nation’s best to middling at best in the span of one season. I also don’t like the NU WRs going up against the Eagles secondary, though Colter and NU didn’t have a ton of success in that phase of the game against BC last year.
BC’s DL vs. NU’s OL seems like a wash to me.
The two areas where I can see the Eagles having success are in the aforementioned linebacking corps as well in the passing game. If Martin is successful in getting the offense to a level where you at least have to respect the pass, I think that can only up things tremendously for BC both on the ground and through the air.
LTP: Frank Spaziani. He seems to be on the quasi-hot seat from fans, but has apparently the undying support of AD DeFillippo. After posting the best ACC record since 2005 heading in to last year, BC faces a potential back-to-back sub .500 year reversing the trend of 12 straight bowl games. Is it fair to say the fan base and fringe Boston area fans will start sliding off the bandwagon with another season like last year? Will Spaziani be in danger of getting axed if they do?
Brian: I think the slide has already begun in earnest. DeFilippo didn’t mince words when he backed Spaziani as coach back in December, and I think his trolling comments pushed many off the bandwagon already. GDF has now inextricably linked his career at BC to the employment of Frank Spaziani as head football coach, so as long as he is still BC’s Athletics Director, I think there’s any number of ways he will spin a say, 5-7 or 6-6 season as improvement.
What is far more likely is if BC has another sub .500 years and fan support and season ticket sales decrease significantly, you’ll see both gone by the end of the 2012-13 season.
LTP: Fair of unfair? I’m from the BC area and have always contended the two schools – NU and BC are very similar. Both on the outskirts of a major market, frenzied pro sports town. Both good academic, private, schools who struggle mightily to fill the stands despite playing big-time college football (defining BCS as “big-time”). Both share an equal disdain for That Team From South Bend. Do you suffer from the same frustration regarding the inability to consistently sellout? Is it fair to say that despite 12 straight bowl seasons and the best record in the ACC for six years that all it takes is a 2-year slide back to erode the progress?
Brian: Totally fair. I graduated from both Northwestern (Kellogg) and BC (undergrad) and have also noted the many similarities between the two schools and the football programs. Both play in a tree-lined suburb of a major US city. Both are located in rabid professional sports towns. Both are great schools academically.
That said, I don’t think BC has reached the same levels of frustrations as Northwestern football fans have with the inability to consistently sellout. As Myerberg indicated in one of his articles profiling BC football last week, a majority of Boston College football’s problems have been self-inflicted wounds. Back when the Eagles were winning with regularity, BC was still able to fill Alumni with 90-95 percent capacity crowds. With the recent downturn in the program, attendance has dropped off, but I think if BC starts winning again and wins with a consistency that they did for more than a decade, attendance will rebound. A change in the leadership of the program would also improve attendance, as would the rest of the ACC stepping up in football.
Northwestern football is a bit of a different animal in that NU is located in arguably the hub of Big Ten country. I attended a few games while at Kellogg and I couldn’t help but note that Ryan Field is usually half-filled with the opposing team’s fans during Big Ten play (with the exception of when teams like Indiana or Purdue come to town, I guess). BC doesn’t face that same issue as the ACC’s northernmost outpost and has to rely on locals, sidewalk alumni and a large portion of the fan base that doesn’t currently live in the greater Boston area (think: New York, Philadelphia, DC).
The other difference, as far as I can tell, is that Boston College’s undergraduate schools have a much larger influence and impact on the school as a whole than NU’s undergrad school. This might be just my perception, but Northwestern seems dominated by some fantastic grad schools (Kellogg, Medill, Feinberg, etc.). I always felt that the school and the department could do more to target the grad school population in an attempt to mobilize graduate students to come to Ryan Field on Saturdays. I would also focus more on the families of the North Shore and less on trying to be “Chicago’s Big Ten” team.
LTP: Road trip factor. Where does the trip to Evanston rank on the BC fans’ road trip scale for 2012?
Brian: BC football has six road games in 2012. The two non-conference games are @ Northwestern and @ Army. In ACC play, we are @ Florida State, @ Wake Forest, @ N.C. State and @ Georgia Tech. Northwestern does have the whole Chicago thing going for it, so I’d say the trip to Evanston is a solid #2 or #3 destination. The two trips to North Carolina won’t be appealing if the season doesn’t go as planned (both are in November, N.C. State is Thanksgiving weekend). Since Georgia Tech is in the other division, BC hasn’t played in Atlanta since 2007 so that will likely be a popular road trip this season.
The football program is putting on the LTP equivalent of Sailgate for the @ Army game. The trip to Evanston probably falls somewhere in the @ Florida State and @ Army range, and does have the early season factor going for it.
It’s #1 for me though. I’m really looking forward to going back to Evanston after being away for two years.
LTP: Great! We look forward to having you in Evanston this season, that is as long as things go like they did last year! We look forward to reconnecting once we get closer to September 15. Thanks for joining us.
LTP Ticket Challenge
Finally, some movement! We’ve been creeping along to the 20% of goal mark for NEW season tickets on our way to our goal of 200. I’m going to keep priming this pump so if you’re annoyed by it – too bad – help us get there! Esther, an NU law prof, stepped up with a season ticket and she’s recruiting friends to join her. I’ve got news of two more folks purchasing a pair of NEW season tickets and they’ll be getting shoutouts this week which means we’re four away from 40, or 20% of goal. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org your conversion story or how you upgraded your package to then recruit new season ticket holders and we’ll give you props right here.
LTP N Flag Project
Bonus points go out to Paul (’87) for a pair of photos of the “N Flag” in Beantown including this one from the finish line of the 2012 Boston Marathon. Paul also offered up a great shot by the Paul Revere statue which will be added to the map. Be sure to send in your photo of the Northwestern flag and we’ll add it to the map with more than 250 other N flags from around the world! Email us at email@example.com .
These Are The Times
Several of you forwarded THIS article in last week’s New York Times on Northwestern’s women’s lacrosse camps throughout the northeast and how much of a gold mine it has been for recruiting and extending the brand of both our program and Kelly Amonte Hiller. It’s forbidden to have football or basketball camps outside of certain geographically restricted areas, but not so for lacrosse. With the ‘Cats annually winning the national title it is only a matter of time before this gets put under NCAA scrutiny. A great read here.