The Orlando Sentinel's Matt Murschel and Coley Harvey are counting down the nation's Division I-A college football programs in their Preseason College Football Countdown. Murschel compiled the rankings based on factors such as returning letterwinners, returning starters, 2010 performance, coaching staff changes, strength of schedule and strength of the conference.
The Sentinel hasn't even gotten to the I-A halfway mark of their preseason countdown, but sadly the Eagles check in at number 69 in this year's countdown. Let's review what's said about this year's BC program:
"Look back: The top story coming out of Chesnut Hill, Mass. last summer revolved around the return of Mark Herzlich. The linebacker had been lost the previous season due to the revelation he had cancer. Completely cleared of it last May, he was able to get back on the field last fall. But while linebacker's story was inspirational, another linebacker was drawing attention for another reason: his play. Luke Kuechly, a unanimous first-team All-America selection led the nation with 14.1 tackles per game."
The look back focuses on Herzlich and Kuechly, but I think the bigger story was the Eagles streaky season -- two up, five down, five up, one down -- and the fact that this team was straddled with a below average OC and a offense that struggled to gain yards and put points on the board. I would have figured the recent coaching staff change at OC alone would have given the Eagles a bit of a boost in this countdown.
"Strengths: Kuechly is the heart and soul of the Eagles' defense. At middle linebacker, he is free to roam all over the field and hit whatever comes in his path. He had 158 total stops last year, good enough for second in the nation. Kuechly's sidekick, sophomore Kevin Pierre-Louis, may get his fair share of attention this season, too. Pierre-Louis averaged 7.2 tackles a game as a freshman in 2010. He was the second-leading tackler, behind Kuechly, on a team that was first in the ACC in total defense and rushing defense."
Linebacker is definitely a strength. But so is workhorse running back Montel Harris. Without Harris, the BC offense might have ranked dead last in every statistical category last season.
"Weaknesses: There are very few on this team, but one area to watch will be Boston College's offensive line. The offensive line just lost one of the nation's top tackles in Anthony Castonzo and must look for a way to replace him. Only two of BC's seven returning starters on offense play offensive line."
First, I agree that the offensive line is the #1 concern, weakness, what have you surrounding this year's team. But I'm also very confused. There are few weaknesses on this team, yet BC is still ranked in the bottom half of the country heading into the season? Which leads me to my next point ...
"Outlook: The Eagles likely won't win the ACC's Atlantic Division title, but they could be a darkhorse in the race for it. Defense will be the area where their identity is most made, but it will be incumbent upon Rettig and Harris to get the offense sound, as well. If they do that, the Eagles could make some unexpected noise in the ACC."
I don't think many are picking the Eagles to win the Atlantic Division, but when you take a look around the rest of the division, you struggle to come up with a division champ not named Florida State. Maryland will be strong, but will likely go through a bit of teething troubles under first year coach Randy Edsall. N.C. State lost a lot of leadership between R.W. and Nate Irving. Wake Forest? Still in straight-up rebuild mode, while Clemson is still coached by Dabo. You have to figure with an offensive overhaul, Boston College has as good a chance as anyone at challenging for the Division title next season.
The more troubling bit of this preview is not in the preview itself but where the Eagles fall in this countdown overall. Not only is BC ranked lower than Connecticut (WTF?), but the Eagles are also ranked lower than every 2011 opponent except for Wake Forest (97), Duke (99) and UMass (unranked, natch). BC is also the fourth lowest ranked team in the ACC (when you include Virginia at 86).
Depending on where the rest of BC's opponents fall in the countdown, and factoring in the home/road split, it's not a leap to project a 3-9 season for the Eagles given where BC falls in this preseason countdown. Could be 4-8 or 5-7 -- if a Northwestern or N.C. State closely follows BC -- but all signs point to some very low expectations for BC this season based on the Sentinel's preview.