The offense struggled with consistency last season, putting up just 319.4 total yards per game, thanks in large part to inconsistency under center. That problem may rear its ugly head again in 2009, with the graduation of veteran Chris Crane and the early departure of sophomore Dominique Davis, who left school in the spring. Redshirt freshman Justin Tuggle (6-3, 208) will get the nod early on and only time will tell if he can be the type of leader Spaziani needs him to be. Spaziani will certainly need to be patient with Tuggle. "We have a young man that has never taken a snap in a game, really has never been coached, he was on the scout team last year." The other options under center come from a group including converted fullback Codi Boek and true freshman David Shinskie. The good news on this side of the football is the return of tailback Montel Harris, who set a school freshman record with 900 yards rushing last season. Harris will be joined in the backfield by fellow sophomore Josh Haden. Senior Rich Gunnell is the most experienced receiver on the roster after hauling in 49 balls last year, for 551 yards and four TDs. The team does return four starters along the offensive line and that will be a huge plus for whoever is under center. The offensive line is anchored by All-ACC Second-Teamer Anthony Castonzo (6-7, 287-pound junior) and senior center Matt Tennant (6-4, 294), who has started 28 consecutive games at the position.
DEFENSE: The BC defense was one of the nation's finest units in 2008, ranking fifth nationally in total defense (268.1 yards per game), while allowing just 18.4 ppg overall. With seven starters penciled in to return this spring, this squad was once again supposed to shine. The team did have to replace top-10 selection B.J. Raji, as well as fellow downlineman Ron Brace, but at least All-American and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Mark Herzlich was coming back. Of course by now, we all know that isn't going to happen, as Herzlich was diagnosed with cancer and is out indefinitely. There will be no way to compensate for the loss of Herzlich completely, but there is still talent on this side of the football and those players will need to step up and lead on the field. The likely candidates include veteran defensive ends Alex Albright (6-5, 245), who missed most of last year due to injury, and senior Jim Ramella (6-4, 245), who posted 35 tackles and four sacks in 2008. Despite the losses on both sides of the football and the team's inability to win the ACC crown the last two years, Ramella remains confident in what this team can achieve in 2009. "We expect to win the ACC. Anything less is a disappointment in our eyes. We're not sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves (that we lost the last two championship games). It is going to be a challenge but it is something we can achieve. We definitely have the ability and we hope to get over the hump this year." Senior LB Mike McLaughlin (89 tackles, four sacks in 2008) will highlight the play in the middle of the defense, although an Achilles' injury currently has him sidelined. Still, McLaughlin is on pace to return before the season begins and his healthy return to the field is a necessity. The secondary returns a great deal of talent in the form of cornerbacks DeLeon Gause and Roderick Rollins and safeties Wes Davis and Marcellus Bowman. Throw sophomore cover corner Donnie Fletcher (36 tackles, three INTs as a freshman) and safety Marcellus Bowman into the mix and the secondary may be one of the ACC's best this season. SPECIAL TEAMS: As far as the kicking game is concerned, the Eagles return both placekicker Steve Aponavicius (5-10 senior) and punter Ryan Quigley (6-3, sophomore). Aponavicius was a bit inconsistent last year, hitting just 14- of-21 field goals, with a long of just 36 yards. Quigley averaged just over 39 yards per punt as a true freshman in 2008.
OUTLOOK: While the BC offense was rather bland at times last year, the team did lead the ACC in non-offensive touchdowns with eight. Getting help in the scoring column by the defense and special teams will be a huge plus for the Eagles this season, at least until the offense finds its identity. The team opens with two favorable home matchups against Northeastern and Kent State and that could set the tone early on. Still, a road trip to Death Valley to take on Clemson is how Boston College will open ACC play on September 19th, before returning home for tough bouts with Wake Forest and Florida State. The Eagles will close out a grueling four-game stretch at Virginia Tech and could very well be in a conference hole that the team won't be able to dig itself out of. The second half of the season is a little more manageable, with road trips to Notre Dame, Virginia and Maryland and home games against Central Michigan and North Carolina to end the 2009 campaign. A .500 record is certainly attainable and another postseason bid is a possibility. However, the Eagles would have to play inspired ball all season long to find themselves in the ACC Title Game again. "BC is a great place", said Spaziani. "The longer I stayed there the more I realized that is where I wanted to finish my career. I worked all those years with Tom (O'Brien) and I never thought he'd leave, but he did. I applied for the job then because I wanted to stay and then this situation arose. This time it worked out. It's a great honor because it is such a great place." The team has all the confidence in the world in the new man at the helm and Spaziani is clearly not in it for the short term, rather relishing in the idea of keeping Boston College among the ACC elite both now and in the future.