After first previewing players to watch, and following that up with games to circle on the calendar, we're back with the third and final installment of the season preview roundtable: the bottom line.
What will be Boston College's biggest area of improvement over 2014? What will be the area that could see the biggest drop-off? And finally, will the Eagles go bowling this season? How many wins do you expect? Let's talk about it.
Dan Rubin, BC Interruption
The passing game is getting a huge improvement with the switch in quarterbacks from Tyler Murphy to Darius Wade. Based on early returns in camp, Wade is showing flashes of his potential. He's been successful at hitting possession routes, and he's thrown a couple of bombs downfield. Depending on which wide receivers emerge, there's a chance this unit starts to piece together and play well. That they have weapons in the passing game at all is a massive improvement from last year when they had Tyler Murphy (who struggled throwing the ball, despite his elite running ability) passing to guys like Shakim Phillips (who had blazing speed but couldn't seem to get open) and Josh Bordner (worked hard and made the most of his opportunity in switching to TE but let's be honest—the guy was not a natural).
The biggest drop-off, however, is what might kill the biggest improvement. The offensive line still has so much new car scent on it, the odometer might not have moved at all. What worries me is that the improvements in the passing game will be fleeting shots of potential wiped out by a makeshift line. In a year or two they might be great, but that they're essentially returning no meaningful starts from last season isn't a great thing. Yes, Steve Addazio's coached up a unit in this situation before, but there's only so many times you can go to that well.
Call me the turd in the punch bowl, but I think BC goes 6-6 and misses a bowl game this year. I think it's a step back, one that I'm strangely okay with. I think we trust Steve Addazio and the process based on results from the last two seasons, and he's earned that trust more than any other coach I've watched. But I have a nagging, sinking feeling about this team. I fear the passing game won't quite be in sync, and I think there are big time issues on defense that may rear their head. I think the defensive line and running game are as good as they were a year ago—but they were only 7-5.
Excluding my upset scenarios from that discussion, let's consider the following wins and losses. BC "should" beat Maine, Howard, NIU, Wake Forest, and Syracuse. They "should" lose to Florida State, Clemson, Louisville, and Notre Dame. That puts them at 5-4 and needing two wins from the following pot: Duke, Virginia Tech, and NC State.
I think Duke is going to be a tough out, especially on the road, even if they'll struggle at quarterback. I think Virginia Tech's defense is going to be one of the best in the nation, and regardless of questions surrounding their offense and coaching may be one of the toughest outs in the conference. I think NC State's offense is wildly talented, even if it's propped up by a weaker non-conference schedule.
Still, unless BC comes up with a win they're "not supposed to get," they're going to need two wins in three games there, and I don't think they can beat Duke or VT this year. I think BC goes 6-6, thereby missing a bowl game.
For the record, I don't want that to happen since I don't want to spend the offseason talking about the schedule—which is exactly what will happen if the Eagles go .500 and are ineligible because of two FCS opponents.
AJ Black, BC Interruption
Biggest improvement? The passing game. Darius Wade is a much better thrower than Tyler Murphy, and I believe he has more weapons at his disposal this season. Will he be throwing the ball a ton? I doubt it, but I believe he will be more efficient. Where will there be a drop off? I have to say run blocking. It was almost perfect at times last year, with a young group it is going to make mistakes.
I think BC is going bowling again. They should crank out two easy wins against Howard and Maine, add in an upset win somewhere, and wins against NC State & Virginia Tech (I refuse to believe the hype for either of these teams), Syracuse and Wake Forest, and they should be 8-4 and end up in a bowl.
Rich Thompson, Boston Herald
The biggest improvement will be pass rush from the defensive front seven. The biggest downgrade will be at quarterback. The schedule at the front end will cost the Eagles; they will go 6-6 and miss a bowl game.
John Fidler, BC Interruption
The biggest improvement will be in the kicking game, there is no chance that Knoll is likely to have the same issues he had a year ago. Secondarily will be this team's ability to force fumbles. The Eagles were tied for 105th in the country recovering just five fumbles all year. The defensive line and linebackers should be a strength and should create some opportunities even if by accident.
The biggest drop off will be overall run game. Will be really difficult with the loss of the offensive line to generate what they did a year ago despite the stable of backs on the roster.
Two years in a row, I said no bowl game, was wrong both times and of course damn glad I was...so let's go 0-3 and say no the Eagles don't get there and for a lot of reasons. This team is going to have to rely on the run game the way they have the past two years, but without the benefit of having the strength in the offensive line they had previously. The QB play will be spotty and the receiving corps is just decimated. Defensively, the secondary which was the one glaring weak spot on an otherwise really solid group, is even weaker in 2015. The kicking game, though, improves. 5-7 and no trip to a bowl in 2015 and by the end of the year, there are some questions for the first time about what Addazio is doing, although I think that 2016 is the year the Eagles turn the corner for good and become a factor in the ACC Atlantic.
Grant Salzano, BC Interruption
PAT jokes aside, the biggest improvement will be passing game. We're not going aerial circus and we really never will, but that's not what BC needs. A bit more balance and a bit more accuracy when going to the air is needed will go a long way toward making BC a successful team. Wade has struggled a bit taking the reins in the early practices, but he's young and he's got a good arm. He'll settle in, especially with a couple warmups against FCS competition, and will give us a serviceable option through the air.
Biggest dropoff will obviously come as a result of the very green offensive line, but I'm not really all that concerned with it. Total rushing yards will go down as a result of Murphy no longer being on the field, but we'll still have a good enough running game to win games.
If we didn't have the two FCS teams on the schedule I would be totally confident that we would be at least 6-6 and find ourselves in the postseason. I'm less confident with needing 7-5, but I still think we'll get there. The key, as it was a couple years ago, will be to come out of the first half of the season with only a loss or two. Realistically, whether the Eagles are bowling is going to depend on BC snagging three wins out of FSU, NIU, Clemson, Louisville, VT, NC State, and Notre Dame. I think they'll just barely find them.
Eric Hoffses, EagleAction.com
The question about where there will be dropoff is an easy one, the offensive line. I think the interior of the line will be OK but they have some serious question marks on the outside right now.
An area of improvement from last year would be the defensive line. It was pretty good last year but I think the ceiling with the line is really high this year, especially with Landry and some of the freshmen. They could be really good. I think it's definitely within the realm of possibility that BC gets to 7 wins. The most important thing is not losing these home games that they are expected to win: Maine, Howard, NIU and Wake Forest. To me, all of those games have to be wins. If they lose one of them, I don't see them making it.
Secondarily, they really need to win the NC State game, and maybe the Virginia Tech game too. And then they'll have to pull off a road win or two. Under Addazio, they've shown that they can win on the road, so it's doable.
Brian Favat, Blogfather Emeritus
In terms of where to expect to see the biggest improvement, I'll avoid the obvious answer of special teams and go with receiving. Wade is a very different QB from Murphy and new OC Todd Fitch should be able to utilize his talents through the air and on the ground in new ways this season. The biggest beneficiary will be in the receiving corps, where I expect to see guys like Charlie Callinan, Sherm, and hopefully Bobby Swigert putting up much bigger numbers than last season. The team's leading receiver at the end of the year will hopefully have more than 346 yards on the year.
As far as drop-off, I think the run defense will take a slight step back from its dominant form in 2014. The run defense will still be solid, but I expect a little more balance this year in terms of effectiveness against the run vs. the pass. Improvement on pass defense, slight step back on run defense.
BC will not go bowling, though there is a slight chance they could get a waiver at 6-6 and make the postseason. The margin for error is really, really small this year. I'd feel more confident predicting a bowl without the raised bar for bowl eligibility, but winning 7 of 12 seems a little difficult. Call it wins over Howard, Maine, Northern Illinois, Wake Forest and Syracuse. A surprise win over Virginia Tech but losses to both Duke and N.C. State. The Eagles finish the year 6-6. Commence the gnashing of teeth if the decision to schedule two FCS teams keeps BC out of a bowl.
Joe Gravellese, BC Interruption
I'm going to go ahead and predict that BC makes every single one of their extra points this season. That'll be a big area of improvement. I also think Addazio will be able to once again work with the talent he has available to reshuffle the offense, which I think this year will come in bolstering the passing attack by using the various weapons he has at his disposal. We're not going to be chucking the ball down the field and we'll still be a run-heavy team, but it'll be a tricky and intelligent short passing game that keeps defenses honest while they're getting slammed with the Hilliman battering ram.
That said, it's hard to underestimate just how much Tyler Murphy and the experienced offensive line meant for the run offense last year, and it's difficult to imagine the running game being anywhere near as good as it was last season. The things Murphy was able to do certainly made life easier for the running backs when they got the ball. If we only had a good passing attack too, the offense could have been unstoppable. Alas, we'll never know. But I think the increased balance this year should keep the offense OK, if not great.
I have spent all summer being bullish about BC's chances to surprise people and be pretty good this season. My reasoning was that the two areas that seem weakest on paper—offensive line and the secondary—can be overcome: I trust Addazio to coach up the line, and use the buffer of two glorified preseason games to get the team ready to go for the ACC slate; and we really haven't had much talent in the secondary for a long, long time now, and the defense manages to do OK. With a fearsome front seven, we can shut down the run and put pressure on QBs enough to make up for it.
That said, I'm getting a little skittish with my long-held 8-4 prediction now that the season is approaching and I overanalyze and fret about things that look bad in preseason practice. I also know 8-4 with this young unit is going to require BC winning a lot of close games and stealing a couple of games that people think they won't.
I'm sticking with it, though. While this team looks to be a bit of a drop-off from last year's talentwise, last year's team was statistically one of the more unlucky teams in the conference and could easily have won a couple more games. Even without getting into "what-ifs" like what-if-Bordner-caught-that-pass-against-Clemson or what-if-Murphy-caught-that-pass-against-FSU, it's very easy to just swing one play in each of the Colorado State and Penn State games last year and see BC ending up, say, 9-4 instead of 7-6. So even with a dropoff, a little better luck, some close wins, and, I think, a slightly easier schedule will land BC at 8-4 this season. Oh, and we're going to beat Notre Dame. I like our chances when Notre Dame wears green jerseys. Even horribly ugly ones.