Boston College Eagles (2000: 7-5)
The following team preview is provided by Blue Ribbon. For the nation's most comprehensive look at this and all Division I-A teams, be sure to order the 2001 Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, on sale now at 1-800-775-2518.
Coach and programBoston College has won 15 games, including a bowl, the last two years. Things look like they're rolling in the right direction. The Eagles successfully replaced their lost defensive stalwarts. They uncorked an offense that scored 40 or more points four times. They demonstrated depth and an improved overall talent level. Sounds like sustained success to us.
"I think we're almost to that point," coach Tom O'Brien said. "This year will prove whether we are. Our biggest losses are up front on offense. If we replace those guys and have a good offensive line, then we'll have a pretty good football team."
The question at hand is whether the Eagles will get past the "very good" stage.
Boston College is making progress, but it remains behind the better Big East teams. Miami and Virginia Tech are clearly the league's class, and the Eagles are in a cluster with Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia behind the two leaders.
O'Brien certainly isn't in trouble, but he understands the urgency. An ex-Marine with a decidedly all-business attitude, he isn't about to let his team take some steps backward, even if he doesn't offer a ringing promise of grandiose 2001 success. And he sees the progress. This year's spring drills featured good competition at most positions.
"At a lot of spots, there was either no clear-cut starter or a lot of guys the same," he said. "We had some competition, and we have some guys who can play and want to do it."
BC has some talent on offense, even if its line is shaky. Tailback William Green gained 1,164 yards and scored 14 times last year. Wideout Dedrick Dewalt averaged 17.8 yards on his 38 catches last year and has true defense-stretching potential. And O'Brien is confident that junior Brian St. Pierre is a worthy heir to Tim Hasselbeck, a two-year starter. The defense is still young, but players like middle linebacker Scott Bradley and corners Lenny Walls and Will Poole have the potential to be standouts.
BC hasn't been to three straight bowl games since the Doug Flutie era in the mid-1980s. A reprise of those days would establish this team as a perennial achiever and answer O'Brien's immediate questions. That doesn't mean he won't be back with a fresh set next year. That's just the way he is.
OffenseO'Brien has every reason to believe St. Pierre (6-4, 213) will do the job for his Eagles. He completed 47-of-77 passes for 543 yards and four scores last year and has one start under his belt, which came last year at Notre Dame. In that game, a 28-16 Irish victory, St. Pierre was a solid 15-of-29 for 172 yards, a pair of scores and two interceptions. The previous week, against Temple, he replaced the injured Hasselbeck and completed 11-of-16 for 155 yards and a score.
An experienced crop of wideouts should make St. Pierre's transition a little easier.
The main man is Dewalt (5-9, 180), who led the team with 38 catches and averaged a strong 17.8 yards per catch. Dewalt scored eight times, including twice on plays of 75 yards or longer.
Last season, the Eagles pounded and flashed their way to 201.0 rushing yards per game, not quite Oklahoma circa 1977, but not bad in today's pass-happy climate. They used a two-pronged weapon, Green and Cedric Washington, who has since graduated. Now, it's Green's show, and the 6-1, 215-pound junior has a chance at some pretty big numbers.
The Eagles have some work to do on the line in replacing a trio of starters, but it's not as if O'Brien doesn't have any good news up front.
Junior center Dan Koppen (6-3, 288) was a second-team All-Big East selection last year, his first as a regular in the middle.
Defense and special teamsThe big question mark is experience on the inside. While there is talent and potential available, the Eagles will still be going primarily with second and third-year players at tackle.
The starters should be sophomores Keith Leavitt (6-6, 312) and Tom Martin (6-4, 271). Martin started five games last year, including the bowl win over Arizona State. He made 28 tackles, four of which came in enemy backfields, and showed the potential to be a disruptive force inside.
Linebacker is another strong spot for the Eagles, because experience abounds.
Expect the strong side to be manned by 6-1, 221-pound senior Scott Bradley, who missed the last half of the 2000 season with a knee injury. O'Brien is counting on Bradley to be a big part of the defense this season and that is quite possible, given his 1999 performance. Bradley made 59 stops that year, including eight for loss, and had five sacks.
BC is in good shape in the secondary, too, although there may not be as much depth as there is among the linebackers. There is still experience and talent. Both starting cornerbacks return, as does junior free safety Ralph Parent (6-2, 210).
Kicker Sandro Sciortino (5-10, 200), a sophomore, has the leg to be a big-time kicker, but he needs to improve his confidence and consistency.
Bottom lineThe Eagles open with a visit from West Virginia in an early league game that neither team wants. Seven days later, BC will be in Palo Alto to play Stanford, which should be improved from last year's mediocre finish. If the defense and ground game arrive on time, that tough stretch could result in a 2-0 start and considerable momentum. Misfire out of the gate, and BC might find itself 0-2 and struggling to reach the six wins necessary for inclusion in the postseason party.
The key -- after the tough start, of course -- will come in October and early November, when the Eagles play home games against Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Miami in a four-week stretch. Win one (or more) of those, and the Eagles are on their way.