Talent and experience will help steer the way through difficult slate
There were major swings in either direction, but in 2017 the Boston College Eagles found their usual level under head coach Steve Addazio.
In his fifth season at the helm, Addazio guided the Eagles to their fourth 7-6 season. Once again, the strength on offense was a running game that did not see consistent support through the air. The defense, as has also been a trademark, kept Boston College in games against some of the more talented teams on the schedule.
From a talent and experience standpoint, the 2018 team might be Addazio's best since taking over in ‘13.
But after a quick glance at the schedule, it's hard to envision a breakthrough season. The non-conference slate includes a road trip to face a rapidly-improving Purdue. In addition to the Atlantic Coast Conference's Atlantic Division foes, the Eagles are staring down the toughest crossover games imaginable with matchups against Coastal Division foes Miami and Virginia Tech.
A lot of breaks need to go their way for the Eagles to truly take the next step, but if there were any Addazio squad capable of doing so, it would be this one.
Here are three major reasons why:
1. Improved offensive skill positions
The majority of optimism revolves around AJ Dillon (above, right), who heading into his sophomore season will be one of the best running backs in the country and a legitimate candidate to break the 2,000-yard mark after putting up 1,589 and 14 touchdowns in 2017. But for as excited as Eagles fans can be about him, the team has two threats in the passing game that can complement Dillon well enough to force opponents to respect that aspect of the offense, as well. Also heading into his sophomore year will be wide receiver Kobay White, who caught 34 passes for 423 yards and two touchdowns. Combined with tight end Tommy Sweeney, a senior coming off a season where he grabbed 36 receptions for 512 yards and four touchdowns, the ups and downs through the air might have more of the former if the quarterback situation finds more stability.
2. Depth and experience along the offensive line
Injuries and inexperience caused the offensive line to have some major growing pains over the past three years, but the group began to turn a corner in 2017. Now, it appears that the core group returning can give the Eagles one of the best lines in the league in 2018, especially from a run-blocking perspective. Center Jon Baker missed a majority of the past season with a knee injury but will be back with a medical redshirt. He was replaced by Ben Petrula out of New Jersey powerhouse St. Peter's Prep, and the rising sophomore shined in Baker's absence. Along with other veterans like fellow center Shane Leonard, multi-positional blocker Chris Lindstrom, left tackle Aaron Monteiro and guards Sam Schmal, John Phillips and Elijah Johnson, the Eagles have a strong, deep group at one of the most important units on the field.
3. Front seven
Although the defensive tackles need to find more bodies other than Ray Smith, the rest of the front seven looks to be strong once again. On one edge, the Eagles return Zach Allen, who decided to come back for his senior year after posting 100 tackles, including team highs in both tackles for a loss (15.5) and sacks (6). Wyatt Ray anchors the other side, and on the second level the Eagles will be able to use their injury woes from this past season and turn them into a positive. Middle linebacker Connor Strachan should be fully recovered from a knee injury, while players like John Lamot and Kevin Bletzer round out a strong group that should again make the Eagles one of the top rush defenses in the country.
— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.