For Boston College, head coach Steve Addazio wants to see if his team's late-season momentum from 2016 can carry into this fall. Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey would like to see some hope that his team, which made six straight Mid-American Conference (MAC) title games, can get back to that level after placing third in the West division last year.
There are other smaller issues that need to be resolved (we will get to those in a minute), but these teams can find out a lot of in regards to the bigger picture from how they perform right away.
Boston College at Northern Illinois
Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 1 at 9:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBSSN
Spread: Boston College -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback derby
At the time this post was written, neither Steve Addazio nor Rod Carey had named a starting quarterback for this game. In both cases, the teams are down to two candidates. For Boston College the decision will come down to redshirt freshman Anthony Brown or redshirt junior Darius Wade. Northern Illinois will go with either junior Ryan Graham or sophomore Daniel Santacaterina. Wade had the better spring game for the Eagles, but Brown has made up plenty of ground in fall camp and may have the higher upside. The Huskies have had awful luck when it comes to injuries at the position lately, and both Graham and Santacaterina were forced into action because of this at earlier points in their career. It's possible all four will see snaps Friday night, but both coaches would like to see someone pull ahead and take control of the job.
The Eagles received their best news of the offseason when defensive end Harold Landry decided to spurn the NFL and return to Boston College for his senior season. The preseason AP All-American led the nation with 16.5 sacks as a junior, including three combined against Clemson and Florida State alone. With other capable rushers up front like Wyatt Ray and Zach Allen, the Eagles have the type of front four that can create pressure all night. Northern Illinois has three returning starters on the offensive line, but it is a relatively young group with no seniors. This could be its biggest test of the season in that regard and will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game.
3. Backs at it
The best way to counteract that Boston College pass rush for Northern Illinois will be to find an effective ground game, and that will have to come from senior Jordan Huff. Last year, he carried the ball 111 times for 703 yards (6.3 ypc) and five touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, this may be the deepest group of running backs Addazio has had in his tenure in Chestnut Hill. Junior Jon Hilliman, sophomore Davon Jones and true freshmen Travis Levy and A.J. Dillon have all impressed in camp, and the offensive line is at its healthiest and most experienced in three years. Like the Huskies, the best friend for BC's quarterbacks will be production from those backs.
This is far from a must-win game for Rod Carey, but Boston College has a new athletic director in Martin Jarmond, and he will have a close eye on just how much progress Steve Addazio has made in now his fifth year with the Eagles. There are plenty of 50/50 games on BC's schedule, and a loss here – knowing that teams like Louisville, Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech all loom in the distance – would significantly hurt Addazio's prospects going forward. It may be a cliché, but it's true in this instance: whichever team figures out its quarterback situation the fastest probably has the best chance to win. That said, the Eagles look to be a little better up front on both sides of the ball and have the best player on the field in Harold Landry. Although the atmosphere for a home Friday night game will give the Huskies a nice boost, it's not something the Eagles haven't seen before. Expect BC's offensive line to assert itself and give its deep stable of backs enough room to wear the Huskies down in the second half. It should be close, but for an opener, give the slight edge to the visitors.
Prediction: Boston College 24, Northern Illinois 21
— 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.