Sports editor Bradley Smart, associate sports editor Peter Kim, and managing editor Andy Backstrom convened to answer several pressing questions about the upcoming BC football season.
Who is BC’s most important player?
Andy Backstrom: A.J. Dillon, no question. If it wasn’t for the 6-foot, 250-pound back, Steve Addazio might not have a job at BC, the Eagles certainly wouldn’t have recovered in 2017, and the program’s offense wouldn’t be nearly as dynamic. In a down year, Dillon—who missed two games of the 2018 campaign and left the final four with a left ankle injury (BC was 2-4 in those contests, by the way)—still rushed for 1,000-plus yards and 10 touchdowns. The Eagles are deep at running back, but Dillon opens up the passing game like no one else on the team.
Bradley Smart: In seven wins last season, Anthony Brown completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, threw 14 touchdowns to just one interception, and had an average passer rating of 156.1. In losses? Brown averaged a 108.6 passer rating, 50 percent completion, and eight interceptions to six touchdowns. Dillon is incredibly important, but consistency at quarterback is key.
Peter Kim: It has to be Anthony Brown, right? He completed just over 55 percent of his passes last season, and that number surely has to improve for the Eagles’ offense to take the next step forward. An elite quarterback is the great equalizer, especially in college football, and if Brown can produce at close to elite levels, this BC team will also take the next step.
Who is an unheralded BC player that will have a big impact?
AB: John Phillips has some big shoes to fill, but according to Addazio, he’s more than up to the task. The graduate student, who has played in 36 games at BC—10 more than any other player on the Eagles’ O-Line—is taking over for Chris Lindstrom at right guard. This offseason, right tackle Ben Petrula has received the most praise of the BC linemen, even earning a spot on the All-ACC Preseason Team, but Phillips will be the anchor of the line, at least in terms of experience. And he could have just as big of an impact as his upperclassman teammate.
BS: The linebacker position is BC’s deepest defensive position—even with the loss of Connor Strachan. So expect the position unit, led by Isaiah McDuffie, to play a big role in preventing a step back defensively in 2019. McDuffie was second to Strachan in tackles (85) last season and is poised to follow in the steps of Ty Schwab, Matt Milano, and Steven Daniels and rack up tackles this year.
PK: Tate Haynes. Haynes, the starter at cornerback opposite Brandon Sebastian, has a chance to become the latest quality defensive back that BC has produced this decade. He and Sebastian are certainly the tallest and probably the most athletic cornerback duo that the Eagles have had in the Steve Addazio era. If Haynes performs well in his first season as a starter, he could certainly mask some of the deficiencies BC might have elsewhere on defense.
What’s BC’s biggest weakness?
AB: BC has churned out three NFL draftees at the defensive back position in the past two years, and five total since 2016. The good news is, the Eagles have a knack for developing great defensive backs. The bad news is, it’s time to replenish—something the program will have to do without Anthony Campanile, the coach who made BC look like a DBU of sorts. Cornerback Brandon Sebastian is the only returning starter in the secondary. The Eagles have the talent to soften the blow, but growing pains are inevitable. Whether or not they’ll go away is the question.
BS: Brandon Sebastian is the lone returning starter in the secondary, which could prove to be a weak spot for the Eagles. Sebastian is very talented, coming off a season in which he finished seventh on the team in tackles and snagged two interceptions, but the rest of the unit is very unproven. Also, there’s the fact that talented defensive backs coach Anthony Campanile was hired away by Michigan and newcomer Eric Lewis took a long, winding road to Chestnut Hill.
PK: Rushing the passer. With the loss of Zach Allen and Wyatt Ray to the NFL, the Eagles have zero proven commodities at edge rusher. Right now, the two deep is filled with inexperienced players (Joey Luchetti, Marcus Valdez, Brandon Barlow) and a graduate transfer who hasn’t played since the 2016 season (Richard Yeargin). Until one or more of them step up, edge rusher has to be considered BC’s biggest weakness.
What’s the best case scenario for the Eagles?
AB: The Eagles win the opener against Virginia Tech, walk all over Richmond, Kansas, and Rutgers, and then take down both Wake Forest and Louisville to start the season 6-0, ranked inside the AP Poll for the second straight season. Brown flourishes under new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, and Dillon stays healthy, while the defense—albeit imperfect—makes enough stops and forces enough turnovers to complement one of BC’s best offenses to date. Despite the backloaded schedule (BC’s final five opponents combined for a 49-18 record in 2018), the Eagles win two of their final six regular games, finishing the regular season with a chance to reach the nine-win mark for the first time since 2008.
BS: The schedule is extremely backloaded, so this season could follow a similar trend to 2018. Best case, BC takes care of business against Virginia Tech in the season opener and starts to heat up. If Brown takes a step forward, Dillon is fully healthy, and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian seamlessly slides in, the Eagles very well could be 7-0 entering the Oct. 26 matchup with Clemson. Don’t expect an upset, and the rest of the year is tricky, but BC could knock off Florida State and Pittsburgh to finish with nine wins for the first time under Steve Addazio.
PK: Anthony Brown takes a big next step forward, completing roughly 65 percent of his passes in Mike Bajakian’s more diverse offensive scheme. A deep and talented running back room takes some of the load off A.J. Dillon, allowing him to be injury-free. Defensively, one or more of BC’s edge rushers step up and become feared pass-rushers, while the Eagles’ linebacker group, led by Isaiah McDuffie and Max Richardson, becomes a dominant force. BC starts the season 7-0, with big wins at home over N.C. State and Virginia Tech. A back-loaded schedule cools them off a bit, but the Eagles still finish the regular season 9-3, finally cracking the seven-win mark under Steve Addazio.
What’s the worst case scenario for the Eagles?
AB: Brown doesn’t improve, or, worse, suffers a major injury—he tore his ACL in 2017 and sustained a scary hit against Clemson last year that landed him in the hospital with an internal body injury. (BC’s second and third-string quarterbacks from 2018 transferred this offseason, so Addazio will have to hope his signal caller stays upright.) As a result, Dillon is left to carry the load and manages a season similar to last. Defensively, Bill Sheridan’s guys “gel” in non-conference play, but their major weaknesses—first seen in the opener—are masked by the weak three-game stretch, leading to a collapse in ACC play. The Eagles win their gimme games, only to steal a lone conference victory, finishing 4-8, with Addazio’s job in jeopardy.
BS: The defense has too many cracks, Brown doesn’t take a step forward, and too much of the burden is placed on Dillon. The season starts on a sour note with a loss to Virginia Tech at home, and while the Eagles cruise through their next three games, they then slip up against Wake Forest in a similar manner to last year’s Purdue loss. Louisville is a likely win, but then it’s a disaster stretch to end the season where the Eagles drop six straight and finish just 4-8—and that’s likely it for Addazio.
PK: Despite a positive training camp, when the regular season rolls around Brown hasn’t improved meaningfully enough to compensate for a ton of lost talent on defense. BC’s pass rush is non-existent, and a secondary with three new starters can’t mask the defensive line struggles, allowing opposing quarterbacks to carve up the Eagles. It starts with a season-opening loss to Virginia Tech, and snowballs from there. BC goes winless in the ACC, bringing back flashbacks to the 2015 season, and finishes the year 3-9, with wins over only Richmond, Rutgers, and Kansas.
How do you see this season ending?
AB: Even if Brown and Bajakian click, and the Eagles’ offense puts up remarkable numbers, it’ll be difficult for BC to compete in the Atlantic Division without an experienced defense, particularly toward the end of the year. In fact, four of the Eagles’ final six opponents rolled out top-50 scoring offenses in 2018. I think BC loses its Week 1 matchup against VTech before bouncing back with three straight non-conference wins. Then, a defeat to Wake Forest will be followed by victories over Louisville and North Carolina State, giving the Eagles a respectable 5-2 record. But four consecutive losses to Clemson, Syracuse, FSU, and Notre Dame will leave the Eagles with one final shot to clinch bowl eligibility. I think they get the job done at Pittsburgh, ending the regular season 6-6, in reach of their sixth seven-win season in the past seven years.
BS: At this point, it seems like you’d be a fool to bet anything other than seven wins for Addazio & Co. I think the most likely outcome is similar to last season, where the Clemson matchup is hyped up because of BC’s frontloaded record going in. The Eagles should have five or more wins entering the toughest game of the season, but it’s set up to be another frustrating loss that leads to a slow end of the year. BC’s most likely record is 6-6, but I’d take the over considering the fact that Addazio has landed at the lucky number seven in five of his six seasons.
PK: As it usually is, I can’t imagine the Eagles hit either their best or worst case scenario. The most reasonable prediction is that the offense, spearheaded by a more accurate Brown, takes a step forward, while the defense (and especially the defensive line) takes a step back. A relatively easy start to the season gets the Eagles off to a hot start (think 5-1, or even 6-0), but man does that back half of the schedule look brutal. There’s a not-unreasonable chance BC goes 0-5 down the stretch, though they’ll likely win at least one of those games. It all adds up to a familiar record for BC, 7-5.
Featured Image by Michael Dwyer / AP Photo