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Review The Preview: Grading Sporting News' Assessment Of Boston College

Previously on Review The Preview ... College Football News.

Boston College comes in at number 34 in Sporting News' countdown of the top 100 college football teams of 2010. There's not much in here that we don't already know about this team, but on the whole, they do a decent job of previewing the Eagles. The author for BC's preview is Matt Hayes.

As a national writer for the Sporting News, it's impossible to nail every detail about every team. But the most egregious error occurs in just the second line of the preview. BC's 2010 projected record is actually just a copy and paste job from the number 35 team in the Sporting News' countdown (Arizona). I've emailed the author but until that gets fixed, we lose a bit of the context for the rest of the preview.

Why we know we're right

What SN says:

When was the last time Boston College underachieved? For that matter, when was the last time Boston College went into November without a chance of winning a conference championship? In the last 11 years, the Eagles have won less than 8 games once -- when they won seven in 2000. No matter the coach, the formula is the same: recruit smartly, redshirt almost exclusively, develop players and win with experience. No wonder longtime assistant Frank Spaziani moved into the role of head coach so smoothly, and even an inexperienced—and often overmatched first-year quarterback Dave Shinskie—couldn't keep BC from competing for the ACC title. With a year of experience, Shinskie will play better and BC will again be in the thick of the ACC race in November.

What BCI says:

It's nearly impossible NOT to overachieve when BC is annually picked to finish middle of the pack in the Atlantic Division, considering the Eagles have won the division twice and finished second the other three seasons.

In the ACC, BC's gone into November with a chance to win the Atlantic Division every year in the league. In BC's first year in the league, the Eagles lost any hope of winning the Atlantic Division on November 5, dropping a game at UNC 16-14 to fall to 3-3 in the ACC. Despite Florida State losing that day to N.C. State 20-15 to drop the 'Noles to 5-2 in conference, FSU had wrapped up the division by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker over BC. BC would go on to beat both N.C. State and Maryland to finish 5-3 and in a tie with FSU for first.

In 2006, BC went into the regular season finale with a shot at the Atlantic Division title. On Thursday, November 23, BC -- needing a win and a Wake Forest loss -- dropped a heartbreaking 17-14 decision at Miami to give Wake the Atlantic Division title (Wake would go on to beat Maryland two days later anyway). Finally, just last season, BC put themselves in a situation not dissimilar to 2006. Heading into a home game with UNC, BC needed to win their final games and hope from a little help from Clemson in the form of a loss to either N.C. State or Virginia. BC got embarrassed at home by the Tar Heels, and BC's Division title hopes ended on November 21.

The "redshirt almost exclusively" practice definitely took two years off, when Jags stepped in and was very much of the philosophy that you play the best 11 players on either side of the ball. And I'm not sure how much Spaz really subscribes to the old TOB philosophy. Clearly, BC has recently benefited from starting players as true freshmen, even if it was out of necessity at times. Consider: Kuechly, Harris, Castonzo, Quigley, Shinskie.

Why we might be wrong

What SN says:

If Shinskie takes significant steps, we could be very wrong—as in, wrong who wins the ACC Atlantic. BC is again strong on the interior of both lines, and will play physically and control tempo with the hard running of TB Montel Harris on offense, and active aggressive linebackers (see: All-American candidate Luke Kuechly) on defense.

What BCI says:

Even if Shinskie doesn't take significant steps, there are several things working in the Eagles favor this coming season. At face value, Shinskie seemed to regress as he got more starts under his belt. But I think this had more to do with the quality of the opposing defenses than the wear and tear of a long college football season. Consider that Shinskie's five worst performances -- based on QB rating -- were against defenses that finished the year ranked 6, 12, 40, 51 and 52 in total defense. His five best performances? Those came against Northeastern and defenses ranked 108, 83, 75 and 43. Even Shinskie himself noted that he was swarmed by the Virginia Tech defense and he didn't know what he was seeing.

This season, Shinskie will face the toughest defenses of the season at home, and that's a very good thing. Shinskie had much more success in home games (4-1) than road/neutral games (2-3) last season. Based on last year's total defense statistics, the only two programs that Shinskie will face on the road that finished in the top half of the FBS are Syracuse (37) and N.C. State (55).

BC is extremely solid on the offensive line, but I'm not sure how strong they'll be on the interior of the defensive line. Despite being a senior, DT Damik Scafe has battled nagging injuries throughout his career and is still pretty unproven. Behind him, Kaleb Ramsey is still considering whether he wants to return to the program this fall. Senior Brad Newman has only started 6 games in his career, and the supporting cast at DT -- Dillon Quinn, Conor O'Neal, Bryan Murray, Dominic Appiah -- are all young with very little experience. Defensive line and in particular DT will be a weakness of this year's Eagles unit unless players like Scafe and Quinn step up and have breakout, injury-free seasons.


Our confidence level in this pick

What SN says:

Fairly strong. The Eagles need help at wideout, and Shinskie will have to cut back on turnovers and poor decisions for BC to return to the conference championship game. The passing game will be a work in progress, and may not have enough over a rough stretch to start season (Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, at N.C. State, at Florida State) to give the team balance on offense.

What BCI says:

It's hard to critique a confidence level in a pick considering that we know what SN projects for Arizona but have no idea what they project for BC. We can only guess that SN thinks BC will go 9-3 (6-2 ACC) this season considering their ranking of Virginia Tech (12), Florida State (14) and Notre Dame (29) -- all ahead of BC. SN is extremely bearish on the rest of the Atlantic Division, ranking N.C. State at 54, Clemson at 61, Wake Forest at 86 and Maryland at 89 (the lowest in the ACC). Clemson seems far too low at 61, especially with a talented defense, and Florida State, a team coming off a 7-6 season, seems way, way too high. I think BC easily goes 2-2 in their "rough stretch to start season" and 3-1 is probably not out of the question. Fairly strong is far too strong for a confidence pick, particularly for an overachieving team with a favorable ACC schedule.


Judgment day

What SN says:

Sept. 25 vs. Virginia Tech. This has become one of the ACC's best games since the two teams joined the ACC. The Hokies embarrassed the Eagles last year, and BC wants to reestablish a physical presence in the series.

What BCI says:

I completely disagree here. Judgment day for the Eagles this season is October 16 at Florida State. BC can lose their regular season game against Virginia Tech and still win the Atlantic (assuming that FSU drops at least 1 game to a Coastal Division opponent - at Virginia, at Miami, North Carolina ... probably a safe assumption). But it would be hard for BC to pick themselves up off the mat and still win the division if they loses to Florida State. Also, if you consider recent history, the regular season matchup between the Eagles and Hokies hasn't been all that important to both program's goals of winning the conference.

I do agree that BC-Virginia Tech has become the best game in the ACC since 2005. 


Coach's job security

What SN says:

Strong. Spaziani did more than most thought he could after the surprising firing of successful coach Jeff Jagodzinski, and the players respect him. Like Tom O'Brien and Tom Coughlin before him, he must prove he can identify recruits geared toward the longtime philosophy of the program—and develop them.

What BCI says:

Yep. Spaz isn't going anywhere after this season. It would take a catastrophic, Andre Ware-like season for GDF to even think about replacing Spaz. Even if the Eagles turn in a 2-10 season, Spaz's job seems pretty safe. At least this year.


Grading the positions

What SN says:

QB (C), RB (B+), WR/TE (C), OL (B+), DL (B+), LB (A), DB (B), ST (C+).

What BCI says:

On offense, SN's grades for the QB and WR/TE positions are fair. I disagree with a grade of B+ for both the offensive line and running back. BC returns 4 of 5 starters on the offensive line (and 9 of the top 10 linemen) and has had another year to learn the offense. This will probably be one of BC's best offensive lines in the last several seasons. Harris rushed for 1,457 yards despite BC's deficiencies at QB. Both units should be easily be in the A / A- range (e.g. Steele ranks BC's O-Line 13th best in the country going into the season).

With all the uncertainty going into the season on the defensive line, I would actually go lower than a B+ on the DL. The linebackers certainly worked for and deserve their A. No arguments with a B grade of the defensive backs, though I think they will improve on last season despite the losses of Rollins and Bowman.

Special teams a C+? I realize we need to replace Aponavicius but with his limited range, I think BC will find a decent replacement in either Freese or Quigley. Quigley has quickly become one of the top 2-3 punters in the ACC. C+ seems a bit harsh considering the return of Quigley. I don't think we'll see that big of a drop off in the return game, with Harris and Gause replacing Jeff Smith and Rich Gunnell, respectively.