As the 2012 season approaches, the 7th Floor will look ahead to each matchup. We will break down each opponent and size up how the Canes match up with said opponent. This is the first of a twelve-part series that will take you all the way to September 1st in Chestnut Hills, Massachusetts, so stick with us for the ride!
The 2011 season ended with a bitter and unceremonious upset loss at home to a 4-8 Boston College team playing for nothing but pride. A team that started its season with home losses to Northwestern and Duke and a road blowout loss to UCF. But that didn't stop the Eagles from being the hungrier, faster, and tougher team on that day in a shocking 24-17 loss at Sun Life Stadium. At 6-6, and with the university already withdrawing the school from bowl consideration as a pre-emptive measure to soften any possible sanction from the Nevin Shapiro investigation, the season ended in a surprisingly lifeless fashion. In many ways, it was a perfect finish to the disappointing 2008 recruiting class, one that never claimed an ACC Championship, much less put Miami back on the path of a return to greatness.
As a result, Canes fans have had a brown taste in their collective mouths and won't get a toothbrush and some mouthwash until September 1, when Miami kicks off a new season against those same Eagles.
Boston College Returning Starters: Offense - 10; Defense - 7
On offense, the Eagles will be without (yet again) all-time leading rusher Montel Harris, who was dismissed last month for repeated violations of team rules. A loss to be sure, but not one that the BC offense hasn't dealt with before. Last year, Harris played in two games before missing the remainder of the season with a knee injury. His replacements, Rolandan Finch (led the team in rushing last year with 705 yards at 4.5 ypc) and Andre Williams (546 yards, 4.2 ypc), return to pace the BC offense. Finch rolled up an astonishing 243 rushing yards in a win at Maryland last year.
They'll be running behind a big offensive line that returns four starters, including senior tackles John Wetzel and Emmett Cleary, both of whom are at least 6'7 and 300 pounds. Center Ian White and G Bobby Vardaro are both also listed at over 300 lbs. But can they improve upon a tepid 3.6 yards per carry last season?
Junior QB Chase Rettig returns to lead the offense, and head coach Frank Spaziani will be hoping for a big step forward from his signal caller from last year. Rettig completed only 54% of his passes for 1960 yards with 12 TDs and 9 INTs. Senior WR Colin Larmond, who averaged an impressive 15.5 ypc, should be his main target and will need to be the downfield threat to help keep defenses from playing closer to the line of scrimmage and smothering their running attack.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles will have a gaping hole to fill in the middle of their defense with the early departure of All-American MLB Luke Kuechly to the NFL. However, they have a few potential candidates to soften the blow, with Sean Duggan likely to get the first crack in the middle. The front seven returns five starters, with three defensive line starters coming back.
Strengths: Depth at linebacker. The starting group was very solid last year among SLB Steele Divitto, Kuechly, and WLB Kevin Pierre-Louis. Duggan steps in for Kuechly, and Nick Clancy, who led the Eagles in their spring game with 10 tackles, helps fortify a position of strength. Offensively, the Eagles should have the potential to run the football, behind a big offensive line and a pair of running backs who appear more than capable of carrying the load.
Weaknesses: Can they create an effective passing attack worth respecting? Outside of Larmond, the Eagles seem to lack the big play threat. WR Bobby Swigert is the most reliable target (led team w/44 catches last year). TE Chris Pantale was team's 3rd-leading receiver in catches and yards last year. The Eagles cracked 200 yards passing just twice last season - in home losses to Duke and Northwestern. Defensively, BC generated a paltry 11 sacks last season and seem ill-equipped to improve significantly upon that number.
Last Matchup with UM: Duh. In the aforementioned 24-17 season-ending disaster, the Eagles enjoyed a 38:24-21:36 edge in time of possession and 20-14 advantage in first downs in methodically wearing down Miami after the first quarter. Jacory Harris, who had looked like a completely different player in drastically reducing turnovers his senior year, lobbed 4 INTs to the Eagles in a fitting end to a disappointing career. Defensively, Miami had no answer for BC's conservative (but physical) offensive gameplan, which yielded 153 yards on 50 carries and 196 yards in the air, with 2 rec TDs by TE Pantale.
Questions for Both Teams: Is there a sense of payback for the Canes? Is the departure of a core of Miami Northwestern underacheivers addition by subtraction? Can the Canes find a go-to guy in the passing game if they fall behind early? How quickly will it take the Eagles to adapt to not having a machine like Kuechly in the middle of their defense? Can the Canes' interior duo of Curtis Porter and Darius Smith establish themselves early against BC's big offensive line and a run-first offense? Can Shayon Green carry over a hot spring into the fall and give the Canes' defense a dual-edged pass-rushing threat with Anthony Chickillo?
Players to Watch: For BC, Finch and Williams will be key, although Duggan's production in the middle will be interesting to keep an eye on. There is little doubt that BC will look to pound Miami on the ground as they did last year, so finding a way to slow down Finch and Williams should be task #1 for Al Golden and company. For Miami, are Allen Hurns, Rashawn Scott, or Phillip Dorsett ready to take the reigns as Miami's next big thing at WR? Given the departure of LaRon Byrd, Tommy Streeter, and Travis Benjamin, there is a lot of slack to pick up.
Matchup: Although it's still too early to tell exactly what this Miami offense should look like (or who will lead it under center), it gets a BC defense that struggles to generate pressure and is replacing an All-American in the middle.....both of which should help a new quarterback, along with an offensive line with plenty of talent remaining. The question for Miami offensively is can they move the ball through the air consistently if they fall into a hole. It's tough to count on a new quarterback to come out of the gate with a bang, especially on the road against a conference opponent. Miami couldn't get much going last year through the air against the Eagles with a lot more talent....but this BC secondary loses two starters (both of whom picked off Harris last year) in CB Donnie Fletcher and S Hampton Hughes.
Miami's defense has been the positive story of the spring, and there's still plenty of talent in the right places. Their toughness will certainly be tested early against a big and physical BC line, as there's no reason to believe BC will alter their gameplan much from the 50-rush/17-pass ratio that worked so well last year. If Porter, Smith, Chickillo, and company can maintain gap integrity and put the game on the arm of Rettig, with Vaughn Telemaque and Ray-Ray Armstrong patrolling the secondary, advantage Canes.