The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Today at No. 94: Boston College
Coach: Frank Spaziani (20-19, fourth season)
2011 record: 4-8 (3-5 in Atlantic Coast Conference, ninth in ACC)
Look back: The 2011 season ended on a high note for the Eagles, after going on the road and knocking off Miami, 24-17, in the year’s final game. It was the perfect send-off for now former linebacker Luke Kuechly, who was drafted last month by the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the NFL Draft. In many ways, the win also was the perfect summation for the season that had just passed. The week before, Boston College dropped a close contest to non-conference rival Notre Dame, 16-14. The week before that, the Eagles nipped a surging North Carolina State team by four. Finally, as the year was coming to an end, they were showing promise. But earlier losses to UCF (by 27; the Knights finished with just five wins), Duke (the Blue Devils finished with three wins), Northwestern and Florida State (by 31) made the year feel more like a failure than a year of hope.
Offensive starters lost/returning: 2/9
Defensive starters lost/returning: 4/7
Key losses: LB Luke Kuechly, RB Montel Harris, DE Max Holloway, CB Donnie Fletcher, P Ryan Quigley
Top returnees: QB Chase Rettig, WR Bobby Swigert, TE Chris Pantale, WR Coin Larmond, RB Rolandan Finch, RT Emmett Cleary, LB Kevin Pierre-Louie, DE Kasim Edebali, PK Nate Freese
Strengths: With the quarterback-receiver tandem of Rettig, Swigert, Larmond and Pantale coming back this fall, the Eagles appear set in the passing game. Last season, Rettig threw for more than 1,900 yards and had 12 touchdowns. What could bolster the Eagles’ pass offense even more, is if they get a strong attack from the ground game this season. If there is any area of the team that is currently an uncertainty, it is Boston College’s rushing offense. The announced offseason departure of a presumably healthy Harris had many around the ACC scratching their heads. Projected to be last season’s conference player of the year, Harris was a sturdy tailback who could have helped bring stability to the Eagles’ offense.
Weaknesses: As a result of Harris’ departure, it could be easy to consider Boston College’s running game an area of weakness. Senior Rolandan Finch hopes to convince the nation otherwise. Last season, in Harris’ absence from a near-season long injury, Finch led all Boston College ballcarriers with 705 yards rushing.
While the rushing game may — or may not — be a weakness for the Eagles, their defense does appear to be an area of concern. The departure of the nation’s reigning tackle leader, Kuechly (191), means the Eagles have quite a tall task awaiting them on that side of the ball. How well can they replace Kuechly? Will it be a collective effort? Or can one single player step up and fill his void? Those are the biggest question marks for Boston College’s defense entering this season. Despite having Kuechly, the Eagles still ranked 11th in the ACC in sacks, tackles for loss and passing defense. They were sixth in rushing defense.
Outlook: Boston College can have a successful season, but all of that will rest on how well the Eagles run the ball and defend opposing offenses. The departure of Kuechly leaves a major hole in the middle of their defense. Can the play well without him? Absolutely. Seven 2011 starters return on that side of the ball this season. Boston College’s schedule could be the key, though, to whether or not a bowl appearance is in the cards. Road games at FSU, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and North Carolina State will not be easy. Home games with Clemson, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech won’t be cakewalks, either. By the end of September, the Eagles should have a clear understanding of where they stand and what type of team they will be.
Sept. 1 Miami
Sept. 8 Maine
Sept. at Northwestern
Sept. 29 Clemson
Oct. 6 at Army
Oct. 13 at Florida State
Oct. 20 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 27 Maryland
Nov. 3 at Wake Forest
Nov. 10 Notre Dame
Nov. 17 Virginia Tech
Nov. 24 at North Carolina State
Rest of the countdown: