STAR POWER: Boston College's offense lost most of its star power when first-round draft picks Matt Ryan and Gosder Cherilus departed, but senior tight end Ryan Purvis did earn first-team all-conference honors last season while catching 54 passes for 553 yards and four touchdowns. It will be interesting to see if Purvis posts similar numbers now that he doesn't have the ACC player of the year throwing to him.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: The Eagles' lack of experienced running backs could allow true freshman Josh Haden to open his career as a starter. Haden – a four-star prospect whose brother, Joe, is a starting cornerback at Florida – arrived on campus in time for spring practice after being rated as the No. 3 all-purpose back in the 2008 recruiting season.
IT'S HIS TIME: Senior quarterback Chris Crane has spent most of his career waiting patiently behind Ryan, who developed into the best Boston College signal-caller since 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie. We're about to discover how much Crane learned during his long apprenticeship. Crane – who has good size at 6 feet 4 and 236 pounds – has made one career start, and went 18 of 35 for 155 yards and a touchdown in BC's spring game.
STRONGEST AREA: Crane will have plenty of experienced targets. Purvis could develop into one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the nation this season. Purvis and wide receivers Brandon Robinson, Rich Gunnell, Clarence Megwa and Justin Jarvis caught a combined 223 passes for 2,906 yards and 20 touchdowns last season.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: As promising as Haden looks, that he may be in the starting lineup for the first game of his career underscores Boston College's lack of depth at tailback. The Eagles could have a difficult time replacing Andre Callender and L.V. Whitworth, who combined for 1,304 rushing yards and 821 receiving yards last season.
OVERVIEW: This BC offense bears little resemblance to the team that led the ACC in total yardage last season. Three starters return on the line (T Anthony Castonzo, C Matt Tennant and G Clif Ramsey), but that trio can't make up for the inexperience and lack of depth in the backfield. BC's abundance of talent at receiver and tight end should help Crane's transition into the starting lineup, but the Eagles could struggle to run the ball for much of the season. BC may need to lean on its defense more than usual this season.
That's the rushing yards per game BC allowed last season. That figure was low enough to allow the Eagles to rank second in the nation in run defense, behind only Oregon State.
THE SCHEME: The Eagles run a base 4-3 set and do a lot of blitzing.
STAR POWER: Although he was somewhat overshadowed last year by Jo-Lonn Dunbar, junior linebacker Mark Herzlich had an exceptional season in his own right with 97 tackles and a team-high 12 tackles for loss. Now that Dunbar has moved on, Herzlich should make more of a name for himself. Herzlich should contend for all-conference honors as long as he repeats his performance from the Champs Sports Bowl, where he delivered 11 tackles and recovered a fumble.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: True freshman cornerback Donnie Fletcher – a three-star prospect from the powerhouse Cleveland Glenville program – arrived on campus in time for spring practice and could get a chance to play immediately because of depth concerns in the secondary. Fletcher won't start right away, but he should get some early opportunities to prove himself.
IT'S HIS TIME: Injuries have prevented senior linebacker Brian Toal from completely living up to the expectations that accompanied the former five-star prospect's arrival on campus. However, he has returned to action and has regained his health after sitting out the 2007 season. If he can stay healthy, Toal should emerge as one of the ACC's top linebackers.
STRONGEST AREA: Boston College's talent-laden line should get even more powerful with the return of senior tackle B.J. Raji, who missed the 2007 season for academic reasons. Raji also sat out spring practice while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but he recorded 16.5 tackles for loss and earned second-team all-ACC honors two years ago. Raji should join forces with mammoth tackle Ron Brace to give BC one of the nation's top run defenses for the second season in a row. The Eagles also welcome back end Alex Albright, who had 8.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss last season despite missing three games with a broken forearm.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: The Eagles lost three starters in the secondary. Free safety Jamie Silva earned consensus first-team All-America honors as a senior. Cornerback DeJuan Tribble picked off 11 passes the last two seasons, and cornerback Raji Morris started all 14 games last season. Senior strong safety Paul Anderson is the only returning starter. Junior free safety Marcellus Bowman has first dibs on Silva's job, while Fletcher, sophomore DeLeon Gause and juniors Roderick Rollins and Razzie Smith figure to be the top four corners.
OVERVIEW: Ryan's heroics last season overshadowed a fine performance by BC's defense, which ranked second in the nation against the run and was 20th in points allowed. That defense should get much more attention this season because it could have to carry the load while the offense tries to gain its footing. The addition of Raji and Toal could make the Eagles stronger than they were last season against the run, but Albright needs to deliver a big season rushing the passer to take the pressure off an inexperienced secondary.
Steve Aponavicius went 12 of 18 on field-goal attempts last season, but he doesn't have a strong leg. Aponavicius was only 6-for-12 from at least 30 yards out and has a career-long of 45 yards. BC is seeking a punter to replace four-year starter Johnny Ayers, who helped them rank 27th in the nation in net punting last season. The Eagles also must find a new punt returner because Silva and Tribble shared those duties last season. BC needs to shore up its return game after ranking 101st in punt returns and 102nd in kickoff returns last season.
Jeff Jagodzinski walked into an ideal situation for a first-year coach by inheriting one of the most talented Boston College teams in the program's recent history. To his credit, Jagodzinski delivered on those high expectations by leading the Eagles to the ACC Atlantic Division title. Jagodzinski benefits from having a talented staff that includes offensive coordinator Steve Logan, who helped Ryan develop into the first quarterback taken in the most recent NFL Draft. Frank Spaziani is one of the most underrated defensive coordinators in the nation. A holdover from former Eagles coach Tom O'Brien's staff, Spaziani built a defense that ranked second in the nation against the run last season.
at Kent State
at North Carolina State
at North Carolina
at Florida State
at Wake Forest
BC's early season schedule should allow the Eagles to stockpile plenty of wins. The Eagles will be favored in each of their first four games and have an excellent chance of carrying a 5-0 record into an ACC championship game rematch with Virginia Tech on Oct. 18. But the Eagles had better capitalize on those early season opportunities because their schedule gets a whole lot tougher down the stretch. There isn't one certain victory in the Eagles' last seven games. BC fans should be excited by a two-week stretch in November that includes back-to-back home games with preseason ACC favorite Clemson and rival Notre Dame.
Boston College should be talented enough on defense to get the Eagles back in a bowl, but their lack of firepower on offense could make it tough for them to repeat as ACC division champs. Clemson looks much more talented on paper. Of course, many people were saying the same thing last season. The Eagles also don't get any favors from a schedule that includes Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Clemson in consecutive weeks and features late-season road games with Florida State and Wake Forest. Boston College's defense should keep the Eagles competitive, but we're guessing they end up fighting it out with Wake Forest and Florida State for second in the Atlantic Division.