One of Steve Addazio's main targets of the recruiting process is the concept of "building a fence." He wants to own the top recruits of New England and make Boston College synonymous with the entire region. He wants to outhustle and outwork any other school, thereby making five or six states the "home pipeline state" for the Eagles. So as the calendar turns out of the end of the 2014 football season and dawns the new day in 2015, it's worth taking a look at the state of college football surrounding the football program.
Chief among the competitors in the New England region are UConn and UMass. For those of you new to the BC landscape, both teams are members of "Group of Five" conferences, with the Huskies playing in the American Athletic Conference (aka The Artist Formerly Known As The Big East) and the Minutemen playing in the Mid-American Conference (aka The League That's Kicking Them Out After This Season).
UConn is coming off of a 2-10 season in which they finished dead last in the AAC, tied with co-last place finisher SMU (though SMU beat the Huskies in the final week of the season). There were improvements, though, in a sense that the purge was really on after a dead season under former head coach Paul Pasqualoni. The year after a head coach is fired really feels like a lost season because a team seldom succeeds and is usually trying to get rebuilt. It's the blank check season where nobody really notices the new head coach really received that.
Chandler Whitmore graduated, eliminating a gigantic hole at quarterback. That leaves Bob Diaco with Tim Boyle, a pocket-style passer who chose UConn over BC, UMass, Pittsburgh, and Florida. Boyle is a big, pocket-style passer, the kind of guy who wouldn't succeed in the Addazio system. That said, he still chose UConn over BC and is exhibit A of how a team recruits in its backyard. The success of Boyle as the signal caller will dictate just how hard it wil be for the Eagles to recruit in the Nutmeg State.
Here's the thing about Boyle, though: he wasn't Diaco's first choice to be the man under center, which means there could be a QB controversy this year. Casey Cochran was supposed to be new starter, but his career ended due to a concussion. If UConn can't build around Boyle, they're going to deal with mega setbacks to an offense that only averaged 15 points per game (second worst in the FBS) while averaging the 113th and 119th amount of yards in passing and rushing, respectively.
With this mess on offense, UConn isn't exactly addressing the issue. They recruited only a single QB, Tyler Davis (Bellmore, NY)—another big pocket passer at 6'4". He graded out to the 50th best QB according to ESPN and chose UConn over two FCS schools (Bucknell and Monmouth) and an FBS school you probably didn't know was FBS (Old Dominion).
As for BC, Elijah Robinson committed to the Eagles despite already having a couple of young QBs on the roster. BC was able to recruit him to The Heights over both UConn and UMass, along with Michigan State and Nebraska. Even if Robinson graded out the same overall as Davis, the selections of schools at his disposal are telling me a different story.
As for UMass, well, they're an interesting case study. The Minutemen did a much better job of finding talent and building an offense. They found a hidden gem in quarterback Blake Frohnapfel and found a legitimate pass-catching tight end in Jean Sifrin. UMass was able to install a strong offense that averaged the 11th most passing yards in the FBS at 311 points per game. Blake Frohnapfel threw for over 3,300 yards, and both Sifrin and Tajae Sharpe were legitimate threats downfield. Sharpe finished with over 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns.
For what it's worth, though, offense wasn't the problem. Had UMass had a kicking game or any semblance of a defense, they'd have been much better than a 3-9 record. They lost four or five games where they scored 30 or more points, including a 41-38 loss to Colorado, a 34-31 loss on a blown kick against Vanderbilt, a 47-42 loss to Bowling Green, and a 42-41 loss to Miami University that they led 41-21 at the half.
So how did UMass address their defensive issues? They recruited nine off-the-board defensive players who don't have any grades from ESPN. They picked up a safety rated as the 159th best, a kid out of Warwick, Rhode Island who didn't have any other offers listed. They did bring in a bunch of offensive linemen and a couple of running backs, though.
While this might be a bit of a thumping of the chest by a Boston College guy, I'm just reminding everyone that the point of recruiting is to address needs in order to build a program. Steve Addazio wants to build starting from the home region out. We've talked about how he's built the fence and is building the fence, and we've talked, at length, about how the top recruits from this region of the country can compete among the other elite parts of the country. This is proof that Addazio is owning the region and is building that fence.
The tricky part, as spring practice dawns on us, is to address the state of the program in relationship to some of the other programs. Now that Addazio has rebuilt BC as the preeminent force in the New England area (remember that a couple of years ago, UConn was substantially better in record and UMass was a "threatening" team announcing a move up to the FBS), it's time to make the jump. He's already started that by reaching out and beginning to recruit in Texas. With the fence built, spring practice allows us to take stock of the fact that when people turn their eyes to the northeast, they're going to see the Boston College brand. Now the next step is to build nationally, which is one of those things that will take longer to do.