It's a new era for the Boston College Eagles as both longtime head coach Steve Addazio and the school's leading rusher, AJ Dillon, are no longer with the program. So Saturday's home opener in Alumni Stadium against the Texas State Bobcats marks quite a different look for the Eagles, although there won't be any fans on hand to get a first live look due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Just the same, supporters are hoping the Eagles are new and improved under Jeff Hafley after Addazio was let go for a mediocre 42-42 record in seven seasons.
They looked the part last Saturday when they went on the road and dumped favored Duke 26-6 in Hafley's head-coaching debut. But more improvement is needed to compete in a heightened ACC this season, making this non-conference affair against the Bobcats important as Boston College looks to maintain its early-season momentum.
As for Texas State, the Sun Belt member also is looking to get better after going 3-8 in Jake Spavital's 2019 debut. It certainly doesn't help the head coach of a program that's won just 13 games in five seasons to return only nine starters. But last week's 38-17 win over ULM in conference play gave the Bobcats their first win of the season after losses to SMU and UTSA
But last week's 38-17 Sun Belt win over host Louisiana-Monroe helps the Bobcats' cause after a close loss to SMU and a heartbreaking loss in double overtime to UTSA.
Texas State at Boston College
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. ET
Spread: Boston College -18
When Texas State Has the Ball
Junior quarterback Tyler Vitt is trying to prove he's the right leading man for Spavital's attack. He's started the season with promise, piling up 602 passing yards with six touchdowns. Two of those came in last week's Sun Belt win over ULM when he went 14-for-21 for 256 yards through the air while adding another 82 and a score on the ground. His efforts resulted in him being one of eight quarterbacks to receive Manning Award Stars of the Week honors.
But finding success against a Power 5 defense should prove a little more daunting for Vitt and the Bobcats' offense. Yes, Boston College endured its troubles on defense last year — with a bad pass rush helping produce the worst defense in the ACC both in terms of total yards and passing yards allowed per game — but it was a different story last week against Duke.
The Blue Devils managed just six points at home and serve as a beacon of hope for the Eagles who are now under the direction of Hafley, a defensive-minded coach who most recently served as the co-coordinator at Ohio State and has several years of NFL coaching experience, and new coordinator Tem Lukabu.
So the Eagles' D — featuring leading tackler Max Richardson and senior John Lamot as keys to a staunch linebacking crew — would seem to offer a step up in challenge, especially for a Texas State offense that was hurt by a weak offensive line and, not coincidently, offered up the second-most interceptions in the nation last season.
Witt and sophomore backup Brady McBride, a transfer from Memphis who missed the last two games under COVID-19 protocols, were expected to hook up with big junior targets Trevis Graham and Javen Banks.
But so far, it's been senior receiver Jeremiah Haydel with 15 catches for 215 yards and three TDs on the season, thanks to a whopping 152 yards and two scores on six grabs last week against ULM. Haydel also had a 91-yard punt return for a score vs. UTSA earlier.
Out of the backfield, it's freshman Calvin Hill leading the way on the ground for the Bobcats with 202 yards and two TDs on 37 carries (5.5 ypc). Overall, Texas State is averaging 37 points per game but has yet to face a defense of this caliber.
When Boston College Has the Ball
It's been run-run-run with AJ Dillon carrying the load, but even though he's now in the NFL, it's not like the Eagles don't have another bell-cow back to lean on. But even with the presence of junior David Bailey, a load to tackle at 6-foot, 236 pounds, Boston College knows it has to improve its passing attack in order to compete in the improved ACC. The Eagles were 13th in the conference and 113th nationally in passing offense in 2019.
But there's new hope in the huddle in Notre Dame transfer quarterback Phil Jurkovec. The sophomore brings a big arm, size, and athleticism to Boston College's attack and he showed it all off in last week's win over Duke.
Jurkovec went 17-of-23 for 300 yards and two touchdowns (he did throw an interception) and now faces an inexperienced Texas State defense that's giving up 33 points and nearly 500 yards per game.
Jurkovec and wide receiver Zay Flowers got on the same page quickly, connecting six times for 162 yards and a touchdown. But the quarterback will need more than one reliable target, which is where tight end Hunter Long hopefully comes in, especially with senior wideout Kobay White sidelined by a knee injury. Long is a big (6-5, 255) target who led the team with 509 receiving yards last season, averaging an impressive 18.2 yards per catch.
Meanwhile, Bailey was held to just 51 rushing yards and a touchdown on 18 carries against Duke but should be able to break out against a Bobcats defense that's surrendering 191 yards on the ground per game in the early going. As a complement and sometimes injury fill-in for Dillon last season, Bailey put up 844 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, averaging a healthy 5.7 yards per attempt.
Boston College should be able to improve to 2-0 fairly easily before getting into the meat of its ACC schedule. But the Eagles can't look ahead to North Carolina next week or Texas State could put up some points on them.
"You coach them hard," Hafley told reporters earlier this week. "I mean... there's a lot of stuff on the film that we have to clean up.
"When you win a game, that's the best time to coach them the hardest ... you know ... because they should be locked in and they shouldn't take it personally. And that's what we need to do after the first game. There are going to be some first-game mistakes, and we need to correct them."
Texas State likely offers Boston College that chance to iron out the wrinkles on either side of the ball. Indeed, whether it's Vitt or McBride at the controls for the Bobcats, they and the team as a whole face a tall task on the road against a Power 5 program.
"We've got to get better," Spavital told the Austin American-Statesman. "We are still far from playing our best football, but we played together as a team for the first time. I was pleased that we ended up coming out with the win (last week) because these kids deserve it right now."
It might be their last one for a while.
Prediction: Boston College 30, Texas State 10
— Written by Todd Saelhof, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports editor/writer for Postmedia in Canada. Follow him on @ToddSaelhofPM at #CollegeFootballFrenzy.
(Top photo courtesy of Boston College Athletics)