OK, I'll stop talking to myself now and get to writing a substantive post for the first time in months - Part I of a preview of the BC football season. As I did for the ACC basketball season, I'll give a preview of what to expect, followed by a prediction of how I think the game is going to come out. For this season, I'll do four posts, each analyzing three games. Much on my analysis will be based on ESPN's Blue Ribbon previews, which, if you have Insider, are very useful and you should check them out. First up: Northwestern, UCF, and Duke.
Game 1: vs. Northwestern, Sept. 3 12:00 PM
Rarely does an opening game in college football reveal much about a team's prospects going forward for the season, but this game will likely be an exception. Northwestern is the perfect test for BC, as its strongest units will match up against some of BC's most untested.
On offense, BC's somewhat depleted offensive line will have a handful to deal with, as Northwestern at times will put four fifth-year seniors on the line simultaneously. On the other hand, Northwestern's linebackers and secondary are not as strong, meaning the pressure will be on the offensive line to give Rettig time, Rettig to complete passes quickly and accurately, and the wide receivers to create separation and take advantage of mismatches. Each one of these units is somewhat untested, so it will be interesting to see which show they can compete and which (if any) fail to impress.
Northwestern's offense revolves around quarterback Dan Persa, who has put up borderline Heisman numbers both on the ground and in the air in recent years (but has been prone to injury). This means the pressure will be on BC's defensive backs, who were solid but unspectacular last season, to create time for the fairly untested defensive line to flush Persa out of the pocket and into the tackles of BC's speedy linebackers.
Amazingly, BC's most notable advantage might be on special teams, where Nate Freese and Ryan Quigley will likely outperform their less talented
Prediction: Loss. A number of things point to a loss for BC here. First, BC often starts out its first game sloppy and seemingly unprepared. Against the Weber States and Kent States of the world, this is survivable, but against Northwestern BC may be down two scores before they know it. Second, Northwestern's strengths correspond to BC's weaknesses almost across the board, which means that if even one untested unit on BC struggles Northwestern will likely be able to capitalize. Nonetheless, I think this game can be very helpful for the Eagles even if they lose, as it will reveal which units are ready for ACC play and which need more work. If BC defies my prediction and dominates this game, it will be a good sign that the Eagles have addressed many of the concerns of last year and should be a warning to the teams on BC's schedule that they will be better than expected. I, however, think this team needs a little more time to coalesce, and a tough opponent like Northwestern for the first game is too much, too soon.
Game 2: @ Central Florida, Sept. 10 8:00 PM
Once again GDF and Spaz showed gumption (although it's too early to tell whether this is a smart move to bolster BC's strength of schedule or an irrational show of confidence in an untested group) by scheduling a quality opponent early in the season, this time on the road. The Golden Knights do not quite possess the talent level of the Huskies, but make no mistake: this game will be another early challenge for the Eagles.
UCF's defense last year was quite good, but they've lost a lot of talent to graduation and, much like BC's offense, are largely untested. Much of the lost talent comes in the front seven for the Golden Knights, so expect Spaz and Rogers to give lots of carries to Montel and the other running backs. The Eagles can put up a solid offensive performance in this game, so long as Rettig can be consistent and the offensive line can create holes for Montel.
On the other side of the ball, UCF's offense is similar to BC's: a promising young quarterback, quality running backs, and an offensive line that has lost some depth. In many ways, UCF QB Jeff Godfrey is a slightly less talented version of Dan Persa (quick, athletic, and can score both running and passing), so at least BC will have recent experience against a similar type. UCF is historically much more of a ground-based team, however, so expect BC's defense, especially its linebackers, to play a more central role in this game. As long as the linebackers are as solid as they were last year (or at least close to it), the Eagles should be able to handle UCF's offense.
Prediction: Win. This game will be on the road in front of what will surely be a raucous night-game crowd, but UCF doesn't match up against the Eagles nearly as well as Northwestern does. I expect a low-scoring, hotly contested game that BC will pull out in the end. If BC does end up losing to Northwestern, they will have even more motivation to come out strong in this game and avoid a troubling 0-2 start.
Game 3: vs. Duke, Sept. 13 12:30 PM
Despite only winning three games last year under head coach Rick Cutcliffe, Duke is no longer a complete laughingstock in the ACC. (That title now belongs to Wake Forest until further notice.) Nonetheless, Duke still has a long way to go before contending in the ACC, and playing them is a good way to ease into ACC play for the Eagles.
For the third week in a row, BC will be facing off against an offense largely dependent on the skills of its quarterback. In Duke’s case, that’s junior Sean Renfree, who has the passing skills to be one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC this year (although that probably says as much about the state of the ACC as it does about Renfree). Regardless, BC’s defense should find itself challenged by Renfree and Duke’s talented group of receivers, especially given that the Blue Devils’ offensive line is much improved from a few years ago. The pressure will be on BC’s secondary to cover the Duke receivers long enough to let the D-Line and linebackers penetrate and force Renfree to move in the pocket, which is not one of his strong suits.
While Duke’s offense is much improved, its defense still leaves much to be desired. They don’t really have a standout player at any level of defense and, in only the third game of the season, will likely still be trying out different formations to see which work best with their many newcomers. As long as Rogers is even 50% more aggressive than Quantrill was last year against the Blue Devils, BC should have no trouble exceeding the frankly embarrassing 21-point showing the Eagles’ offense put up against Duke last year (and yes, I know BC won , but that was thanks to a great defensive showing and Duke’s general suckitude).
Prediction: Win. Duke’s offense operating at its peak might be scary, but BC’s stout defense should be able to limit it at least enough to let the Eagle offense outscore its Blue Devil counterpart. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a shootout in this game, but I frankly can’t see Duke putting its pieces together this early in the season and coming away with a win. If BC can’t beat Duke, it will be quite a long year in ACC play.
In sum, I predict a respectable 2-1 record to open the season, and I think if BC can achieve that the season will be off to a solid start. In the next few days, I'll preview the next three games of BC's schedule, where the Eagles face two patsies before heading into Death Valley for the next chapter in the always-competitive Clemson series.