Dan Rubin: Hey, AJ, the middle of the summer is always the worst. Even with the longer college baseball season, I’m stuck in a rut between enjoying some downtime and dealing with the boredom that comes from the dog days of July. Outside of the NFL continuing to railroad Tom Brady, I’m barely tackling anything on the gridiron at any level.
It’s not anyone’s fault. Nothing is really ramping up. How are you getting by for your football fix in now that we’re through the July 4th holiday?
AJ Black: There are plenty of football related things that keep me engaged. First and foremost I am elbow deep in Phil Steele’s annual guide. Also with conference media days/kick offs underway, I have found myself turning on ESPN/SEC network to listen to the coaches. My favorite moment so far was Bret Bielema of Arkansas telling the media that when he met Kevin Sumlin after Arkansas/Texas A&M’s big game last year, Sumlin said he had no words, and Bielema said he did “I might punch you”.
Dan, as camps are a few weeks away from kicking off, what would you say is the biggest storyline in college football this off-season?
Dan Rubin: There’s a ton of new head coaches this year, especially in power conferences. If there are 10 new coaches, there’s no way there’s going to be 10 vastly improved teams. So finding the right team to pick up the right pieces is going to be really fun to watch.
In the ACC alone, there’s new coaches at Miami, Syracuse, Virginia, and Virginia Tech. Of those four coaches, only one, Miami’s Mark Richt, is coming from a power conference. How those guys adapt to their new schools is going to be really interesting to follow, especially given the pressure at a place like Miami on a guy like Richt and the rebuilding efforts needed at ‘Cuse. Virginia is getting arguably the best football guy in Bronco Mendenhall. Virginia Tech might be in the best possible position with a guy like Justin Fuente.
That’s not including new coordinators or anything like that, but for the first time in a couple of years, things really feel wide open.
Speaking of offseason storylines, BC’s been no stranger in their own right. What’s been the biggest offseason development for you in Chestnut Hill?
AJ Black: I think BC’s biggest storyline over the summer has to be the changes in coaching as well. There was one major expected change when Scot Loeffler took over after Todd Fitch left the program, and an unexpected one as Don Brown went to Michigan and Jim Reid was given the reigns of one of the nation’s best defenses. Both of those guys have equally challenging tasks going into 2016. Can Loeffler put together a coherent offense that scores points, and can Reid continue to give BC an elite defense.
Add in Paul Pasqualoni, Anthony Campanile, Al Washington shifting to ST, and there was a ton of turnover for BC. Even in the offseason it has been fascinating to watch how these moves have paid dividends on the recruiting trail. All three of these coaches have received commits from players in their area, and these players have all spoken to the relationship with these coaches as a reason for their decisions.
Dan, speaking of turnover, let’s talk the defense. Last season BC had a Top 2 defense, depending on what metric you study. I think it’s a little unfair to expect the Eagles to have a defense that strong again. What do you think a realistic goal is for this defense heading into the 2016 season?
Dan Rubin: I’m torn. On one hand, there’s my heart telling me that BC had a top two or five defense last year and was the best defense in college football when you consider how anemic the offense was. Even with Don Brown’s departure and the departure of a couple of key players, a good chunk of the defense is back.
But it’s unsustainable to think they can do that year after year after year. You want to be at that point, but there’s a difference between being elite and being the best defense ever. There needs to be, as we’ve well learned, a healthy balance. I am okay with the defense regressing a couple of steps if it means the entire team is better off. A top 15 or top 20 defense sounds like a step back, but you’re realistically still one of the best statistical defenses in college football. It’s also unfair to call that defense a step back from one of the best units ever.
As long as the defense doesn’t fall off the map, I’m okay with expecting them to take a step back in some areas.
You’ve been following recruiting much more religiously than I have at this point. What are you finding are the new pipelines for the Eagles? Are they the same areas or has BC shifted its focus elsewhere to find the next crop of dudes?
AJ Black: That’s an interesting question. Looking at the current class I see a lot of the same pipelines BC has normally hit on: New Jersey, Ohio, New England, New York. But there has been some changes. The Eagles continue to push hard in California, Florida and Texas, but I haven’t seen many commit from those areas. It seems the northern high school recruits are pulling the trigger a lot quicker this year than in years past. Just glancing at the list, I don’t see a single recruit committed from SEC country, which isn’t alarming, just a change.
Final question Dan, there were so many things that went wrong for BC last year (minus the defense), what aspect of the game are you most excited to see change this year?
Dan Rubin: I’m pretty excited to see the offense. Over the past couple of months, I’ve done some video work with good friend of the program Mark Rogers, and when I’ve been talking about the offense, there’s the inevitable wisecrack and jokes we like to make. But when I get to talking about the offense, I get pretty excited about it.
Maybe I’m a “wikkid homah kehd” or at least a hopeful, wide-eyed, bushy-tailed optimist, but I don’t think last year is a fair assessment. As soon as 2016 ended, I tried to turn the page and wait for the long road to change. People demanded change. Well...we got change.
Boston College has a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback. That’s going to create new opportunities for wide receivers who aren’t necessarily the best in the world but hopefully can just be adequate. I think it’ll be good enough to open the door for the running game to go back to being smashmouth football. The offensive line is bulked up, and I think they’re going to make improvements.
I think the offense was so bad last year that the coaches absolutely had to address it, and they did. Now does that mean it’s going to work? Not by a long shot. But look at what’s been said and written about them. It’s going to give them a chip on their shoulder, even with their own fan base. For that, I look forward to the reclamation of its pride. I’ve long thought Steve Addazio can be a successful coach, and I’ve taken heat for it because I guess that makes me a “fan boy.” I look forward to seeing what he’s drummed up.
If it doesn’t work, then that’s on him, but he’s opened the program up for change that should be for the better this year.
NO HUDDLE OFFENSE
AJ: Dan, it’s summer time, but never too late to ask. Looking at January, who are you predicting will be the National Champion?
Dan: The SEC reclaimed its mojo last season, and I don’t see why they can’t do it again. Ok AJ, same question back to you.
AJ: I’m a big fan of quarterbacks, and I think DeShaun Watson could have a monumental year for the Tigers. I’m going with Clemson. Final question Dan, what is your favorite grilling meat of the summer?
Dan: There is nothing better than smoked ribs. You can go to the beach, let that sucker go for a few hours, get in a few epic games of whiffle ball and bocce, and drink like a fish until they’re done. Then it’s heaven on Earth eating every inch off the bone.