BC football opens its season against a conference opponent for the second time under Steve Addazio, travels to the defending national champions, and plays another College Football Playoff participant on the road as well. Here’s everything you need to know about the 2019 schedule for the Eagles.
Bradley Smart: The season opener comes against the Hokies, a team that is looking to both avenge last year’s loss to BC in Blacksburg, Va., while additionally avoiding a similarly frustrating season as 2018. Virginia Tech suffered its first losing season since 1992, going 6-7 after a normally stout Bud Foster defense started to show cracks. Foster, who enters his 24th and final year as the team’s defensive coordinator, oversaw a unit that allowed the most points (31.0) and yards per game (438.6) in his extensive tenure.
Improving the defense—especially the run defense, which allowed over 200 yards per game—is arguably the biggest storyline and even more so since Foster announced his retirement. The Hokies will be older in 2019, as 18 of the 22 players on the two-deep last season were underclassmen. Virginia Tech is returning 86 percent of its tackles and 77 percent of its sacks, so it’s reasonable to expect an improvement and a bounceback season.
On offense, Virginia Tech will turn to Ryan Willis under center. Willis took over at quarterback after Josh Jackson broke his leg in the second game of the 2018 season. The redshirt senior had a strong run as a starter—he totaled 2,716 yards, 24 touchdowns, and nine interceptions, albeit with a 4-6 record. The Hokies have no shortage of capable targets, headlined by wide receivers Damon Hazelton and Tre Turner and tight end Dalton Keene. Another question mark, though, is at the running back position—there’s no true feature back. Last season, Virginia Tech had a running back clear 100 yards just twice, so it’ll be another committee approach with Deshawn McClease and Jalen Holston as the early leaders.
Overall, head coach Justin Fuente has not taken strides in his time with the Hokies, as they’re a program with hefty expectations. Fuente went from 10 wins in Year 1 to six this past year, but even with another round of transfers out, signs are pointing to a more promising year. Virginia Tech will likely be favorites in four of its first five games, so it has the chance to shake last year’s rocky stretch.
Peter Kim: The Spiders are the only FCS opponent on BC’s 2019 schedule. They finished 4-7 in 2018, the first season after star quarterback Kyle Lauletta—a fourth round NFL draft pick—left the program. This season, though, Richmond certainly has the potential to take a step forward. It returns four starters on the offensive line, as well as quarterback Joe Mancuso, a junior who threw for 1,185 yards and seven touchdowns while also leading the team in rushing. The Spiders will also have a dynamic rushing duo of Aaron Dykes and Xavier Goodall, both of whom missed significant time in 2018 due to injuries. The pieces are there for the Spiders to develop on offense, a unit that finished 97th in FCS in points per game last season, though Mancuso—who threw 10 picks in 2018—will have to improve his touchdown to interception ratio for that to happen.
Richmond also has a star on the defensive line in Maurice Jackson. The Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Preseason Player of the Year is coming off a 10-sack, 15-tackle for loss campaign. Couple his pass-rushing prowess with an experienced returning secondary, as well as linebacker Billy Caughell, who finished second on the team with 74 tackles in 2018, and the Spiders might be able to allow less than the 32.6 points per game they did last season.
Andy Backstrom: The Jayhawks haven’t won more than three games in a single season this entire decade. In fact, they have posted an 18-90 record during that span, registering two one-win seasons (2012, 2017) and, even worse, one zero-win campaign (2015)—Kansas was the first Power Five program to go winless since Washington in 2008. Even so, the Big 12 bottom dweller might be BC’s most dangerous gimme game opponent (that’s not saying much, though). And that pretty much solely has to do with the Jayhawks’ head coach: Les Miles.
The former Louisiana State head coach is taking over for David Beaty in Lawrence, Kan. Beaty was just 6-42 in his four years with the team, so anything Miles does will be seen as an improvement. Many believe Miles is past his prime, yet his resume speaks for itself.
While at LSU, the now 65-year-old led the Tigers to 10-plus wins in seven of his 11 seasons with the program, even reaching two National Championships—one of which they won (2007). The problem was, Miles wasn’t really adapting to the game’s changes. Most of college football began to spread the ball downfield, and he stuck with the power run game. As ESPN writer Bill Connelly pointed out, in Miles’ final eight seasons with the Tigers, LSU’s offense ranked worse than 30th in offensive S&P+ five times. For a Tigers team that routinely brought in top-five recruiting classes, those results weren’t too great.
It’ll be interesting to see what Miles can do with Kansas in 2019 after inheriting the 70th-ranked recruiting class in the country. Unsurprisingly, he’ll likely rely heavily on his run game—more specifically, running back Pooka Williams. A four-star recruit, Williams rushed for 1,125 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman, even exploding for 252 yards on the ground in an entertaining loss to then-No. 6 Oklahoma. However, he’s just about the only well-known playmaker on the roster. Luckily, he has an experienced and hefty O-Line in front of him, headlined by four-star left tackle Hakeem Adeniji. But, with two new coordinators, a depleted front seven, and a number of JUCO transfers, Miles has his hands full. That said, he probably has one or two upsets up his sleeve.
Smart: In 2019, BC pulled in four of New Jersey’s top 25 recruits, per 247 Sports. Rutgers, meanwhile, got three. These two schools have high profiles in the state, and they’ll meet on the field for the first time since 2004 in Week 4. The game could have an impact on potential future recruits, but the Eagles will be decent favorites as the Scarlet Knights are coming off a particularly painful season.
Rutgers went 1-11 in 2018, continuing a trend of tough campaigns under Chris Ash. The head coach enters his fourth year with a combined 7-29 record, but he still has the full backing of the administration. The program is aiming to take a step forward after 30 first- or second-year players made their way onto the field last year.
A huge issue last season was the mighty struggles that the Scarlet Knights faced in the passing game. Artur Sitkowski, a true freshman, was thrown into the fire and hurled 18 of the team’s FBS-worst 22 interceptions. Rutgers ranked 124th in passing offense and finished the year with a -14 turnover margin, which is incredibly difficult to overcome. People are expecting Sitkowski to take steps forward this season, but the job isn’t his locked down yet—McLane Carter, a transfer from Texas Tech, has been taking first-team snaps.
The defense should be better than last season, with the linebacker position a particular strength. The group is anchored by Tysohon Fogg, who had 47 tackles a season ago and is the team’s captain. Yet the bigger issues lie on offense, as Rutgers finished last in its conference in rushing as well. It’ll need to be better there, especially with junior Raheem Blackshear returning. Blackshear led the team in both rushing and receiving and will again be a key cog in the offense.
Kim: BC beat the Demon Deacons on the road, 41-34, last season in a game that showcased the best of what Anthony Brown could offer. This season, the teams will meet at Alumni Stadium, and Wake Forest will have a new starting quarterback. Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson named Jamie Newman, a junior who started the final four games of 2018 after then-freshman Sam Hartman broke his leg, the starter at quarterback on Aug. 18.
Newman performed admirably in relief and won three of his four starts, including beating then No. 14 N.C. State on the road. He will be missing playmaking receiver Greg Dortch, who now plays for the New York Jets, but does have a couple of experienced targets in Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington to throw to. The two combined for 86 receptions last season and will be joined in the slot by Kendall Hinton, a former quarterback who was on track to start for Wake Forest before off-field troubles saw him suspended to open the 2018 season.
Leading rusher Cade Carney, who ran over BC to the tune of 116 yards on 18 carries when the two teams met last season, is also back for his senior season, though Wake Forest is attempting to replace three players who started a total of 112 games for the program on the offensive line.
The Demon Deacons run a 4-2-5 system on defense and are expected to play three safeties or cornerbacks in lieu of a third linebacker. Justin Srnad, the team’s leading tackler from a season ago, returns to man one of those two spots, though question marks surround who his partner will be. At cornerback, Essang Bassey, who has 34 career pass breakups, will provide a lockdown presence for a unit that should be one of the defense’s strongest.
Backstrom: It couldn’t get much worse for Louisville last season. Everyone knew that former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson was the heart and soul of the Cardinals, but no one could have anticipated quite as dramatic of a drop off as the one we saw in 2018. After winning eight or more games the four years prior, Louisville slid to an embarrassing 2-10 (0-8 Atlantic Coast) record in what ended up being Bobby Petrino’s final season with the program—that is, if he isn’t offered the head coaching job for the third time in his career.
Louisville dropped the longtime head coach with only two games remaining, and Lorenzo Ward—who was hired in 2017 to coach the secondary—finished out the year as the interim. But Scott Satterfield, the former Appalachian State head coach, got the job in the offseason. In all likelihood, he’ll need some time to get the Cardinals back to where they were. It’s hard to say whether Louisville was worse on offense or defense last season. They scored just 19.1 points per game (123rd in the nation) and allowed 44.1 per game (128th). Without Jackson, the Cardinals’ offense was inept, and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder struggled all year to string together a competent defense.
On the bright side, Louisville has Satterfield, a coach who piloted one of the more impressive mid-major runs in recent memory. In his five years at Appalachian State, he guided the Mountaineers to three 10-plus win seasons and four bowl victories—well, the last one was actually won by interim head coach Mark Ivey, but you get the point. Satterfield’s bringing some familiar faces with him to Louisville. Dwayne Ledford (former Appalachian State O-Line Coach, 2012-15) will take over as the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator, and Bryan Brown (Appalachian State’s 2018 defensive coordinator) will run the defense.
Ledford will have to sort out the quarterback position. Last year, Louisville went back and forth between Jawon Pass and Malik Cunningham. Pass struggled with accuracy, and Cunningham was more of a threat as a runner. At the moment, though, the Cardinals are sticking with Pass. If he can improve, Louisville has the wideouts to generate passing numbers. Dez Fitzpatrick and Tutu Atwell combined for 55 receptions and 828 yards in 2018. Meanwhile, Brown is coming off a promising season with the Mountaineers, where Appalachian State gave up just 19.1 points per game (14th in the country). Patriot League Player of the Year and Colgate grad transfer T.J. Holl could be the face of a new-energy Louisville defense, but 2019 will most likely still resemble that of a rebuild.
Smart: BC’s Week 8 opponent will be adjusting to life after Ryan Finley, the three-year starter at quarterback who threw for over 10,000 yards and 60 touchdowns. The Wolfpack also lost 1,000-yard rusher Reggie Gallaspy II, 1,000-yard receivers Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Myers, and a trio of highly talented offensive linemen. That is a heck of a lot of offensive turnover, and while the defense is largely returning the bulk of its production, it will need to take another step forward to compensate for some likely hiccups.
Matt McKay, Finley’s backup last season, is the likely starter. He had a strong spring, stands 6-foot-4, and will likely be used in the run game more than Finley ever was. At running back, N.C. State has had three different players reach the thousand-yard mark in the last three seasons, so you can probably expect Ricky Person (barring a slow recovery from injury) or Zonovan “Bam” Knight to excel in that role. Replacing Harmon and Myers, two big targets, is hard. That said, Emeka Emezie had over 600 yards last season, and altogether it’s a strong, albeit young, group.
Protecting McKay could be interesting, as the offensive line is returning just 42 percent of last season’s starts. Throw in a new position coach, and the unit that has finished in the top six in sacks allowed the last two years could be in for a step back. Any adjustment period the offense goes through will need to be met by a good defensive effort, and that starts a sack-happy defensive line, a linebackers unit that is the best it’s been under head coach Dave Doeren, and an experienced secondary.
Overall, the Wolfpack are one of just 13 D-I teams to reach the nine-win mark in each of the last two seasons. Doeren has built a program that pushes a lot of talent to the pros, so you can expect them to experience similar success this season. Still, nine wins is no easy feat, and the Wolfpack could have a lot of new players to incorporate on one side of the ball.
Kim: The 2018 version of the Tigers was plenty good. They became the first college football team since Penn in 1898 to go 15-0 in a season, humbling national powerhouse Alabama, 44-16, in the College Football Playoff final to grab their second national championship in three years. Let’s not forget that their starting quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, was a true freshman. The Cartersville, Ga., native is back for more, and even though Clemson lost the entirety of its starting defensive line, noted Alabama-killer Hunter Renfrow, and starting left tackle Mitch Hyatt to the NFL, the preseason AP No. 1 is certain to still be dominant in 2019.
Lawrence has nearly all his weapons back, including the dynamic receiving trio of of Amari Rodgers, Tee Higgins, and Justyn Ross. The three combined for 2,511 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2018, and terrorized an Alabama secondary that included NFL draft pick Deionte Thompson. The combination of Lawrence and his three excellent wideouts alone would be more than enough to strike fear in the heart of any defensive coordinator, but the Tigers also have one of the best running backs in the country in Travis Etienne. The speedy junior amassed 1,675 yards and 24 touchdowns on just 204 carries in 2018. In other words, he averaged over eight yards a carry, and a touchdown every 8.5 touches. Clemson will have no shortage of offensive dynamism in 2019.
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers’ biggest strength is likely its secondary, where they return both starters at safety as well as A.J. Terrell, a fantastic outside cornerback who returned an interception for a touchdown against the Crimson Tide. Derion Kendrick, a converted wide receiver, will probably start on the other side. Clemson did have to replace its entire defensive line, but Xavier Thomas, a former five-star recruit who recorded 3.5 sacks in backup duty last season, will step right into a defensive end role to provide a ferocious pass-rushing presence.
Backstrom: Dino Babers did what the three Syracuse head coaches before him couldn’t: get the Orange back to the AP Poll and the 10-win mark, a feat that it hadn’t achieved since 2001. Following back-to-back 4-8 seasons, which included flashes of potential, Syracuse finally broke through last year, ranking as high as No. 12 in the AP Poll, winning 10 games, and defeating West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl. The question is, can the Orange do it again?
Syracuse will be without dual-threat Eric Dungey, but there won’t be a drop off at the position. Tommy Devito, a four-star recruit who backed up an injury-prone Dungey in 2018 and appeared in seven games. The Ramsey, N.J., native was far from perfect—he completed just 50.6 percent of his passes—but he did enough to give Orange fans confidence heading into this season. For instance, against Florida State and North Carolina, granted two weak ACC opponents, he went a combined 22-of-35 for 325 yards and four touchdowns, all while throwing just one pick.
Devito will have some help, too. Syracuse is returning three of its top-four wideouts from last year, namely Sean Riley, who hauled in 64 receptions in 2018. The Orange will have to replace running back Moe Neal’s production (155 caries, 869 yards last season) if it wants to maintain somewhat of a balanced offense. Despite losing three starters on the offensive line, that task might be more doable than many might assume. After all, Syracuse came into 2019 with three linemen who have made a combined 71 starts.
Syracuse’s success this season will likely hinge on the play of its defense. The Orange’s linebacking corps took a hit this offseason, but it’s so strong in the trenches and on the back end that the team should be just fine on that side of the ball. Defensive ends Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman, coupled with a secondary led by Andre Cisco, can create nightmares for opposing quarterbacks. To round it all out, Syracuse has the best placekicker in the nation—Andre Szmyt converted 30-of-34 field goal attempts as a freshman last year—and, as a whole, a pretty darn good special teams unit. On paper, the Orange look nothing short of intimidating.
Smart: Much like Virginia Tech, the Seminoles endured their first losing season in quite some time in 2018. FSU went 5-7 during head coach Willie Taggart’s first year in charge, finishing below .500 for the first time since 1976 and missing a bowl for the first time since 1981. The problems the Seminoles faced can be traced to the offensive line, where injuries and departures just absolutely derailed their offense. FSU’s quarterbacks—Deondre Francois and James Blackman—were chased around the field and the running backs had nowhere to go, so it led to 361.2 yards (109th nationally) and 21.9 points per game (113th).
This year, though, things are looking brighter for the Seminoles’ and their offense. Taggart introduced three new coaches on offense and will hope Blackman can take a step forward in 2019 with better protection up front. The offense is now in the hands of Kendall Briles, who has found plenty of high-scoring offensive success during stints at Baylor, FAU, and Houston. The go-to guy through the air will be Tamorrion Terry, who BC fans are well aware of after he caught a 74-yard go-ahead touchdown pass against the Eagles last season.
Defensively, FSU returns eight of its top-10 tacklers, which is promising after a shaky year—the Seminoles were last in the conference in pass defense and didn’t do much better against the run. The name to know is Marvin Wilson, who will aim to replace NFLer Brian Burns’ on the front line and has the potential to do it well. The secondary will be a work in progress, especially seeing as they gave up 30 touchdown passes last season (fifth-highest in FBS), but the potential to grow is there. Taggart isn’t on the hot seat, as last season simply got away from him, but he will want to climb back into bowl eligibility or risk an inglorious tenure.
Kim: The Eagles will renew their biannual rivalry with the Fighting Irish in South Bend in 2019. The preseason AP No. 9, Notre Dame is coming off a 12-1 campaign in which its only loss was in the College Football Playoff semifinals to eventual national champion Clemson.
This season, Notre Dame returns quarterback Ian Bush, who took over midseason for Brandon Wimbush and threw 19 touchdown passes, as well as four starters along the offensive line. Playmaking receiver Miles Boykin has moved on to the NFL, but Chase Claypool, who caught 50 balls and recorded four touchdown passes, looks poised to emerge as a go-to target. Tight end Cole Kmet was primed for a breakthrough campaign before breaking his collarbone in training camp. While he recovers, it’s likely Brock Wright will step into his shoes as the No. 1 tight end. The Irish also will have to replace Dexter Williams, a running back capable of big plays. He broke off a 97-yard touchdown run against Virginia Tech and rushed for 941 yards in 2018. With Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr.—who has seen game action in each of the past two seasons—they believe they have two backs capable of filling in.
Defensive coordinator Clark Lea certainly has some talent to replace, after linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te’Von Coney, cornerback Julian Love, and defensive tackle Jerry Tillery departed for the pros. Luckily for Lea, he has a handful of excellent pass-rushing defensive ends, including Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem, that can offset the talent losses. The safety duo of Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott, who combined to pick off six passes last season, will also provide excellent cover on the back end.
Backstrom: The Panthers returned to the postseason and won the ACC Coastal in 2018, but it’s not as good as it sounds. Pittsburgh capitalized on an unusually weak division, posting a 6-2 record in conference play, en route to a trip to the ACC Championship game, where it promptly fell, 33-7, to eventual national champion Clemson. A loss in the Sun Bowl left Pittsburgh with a 7-7 record (yes, Pittsburgh was just 1-3 in non-conference regular season games) and a whole lot of question marks.
Under head coach Pat Narduzzi, the Panthers have had a fair number of highs and lows. They’ve upset No. 3 Clemson in 2016 and No. 2 Miami in 2017, in addition to rattling off a four-game win streak that handed them the Coastal in 2018. That said, they’ve also been embarrassed by Penn State back-to-back years, nearly lost to Youngstown State in 2017, and still have yet to win a bowl game under Narduzzi. It’s looking like the program’s in for another up-and-down season this fall.
Kenny Pickett, the star of Pittsburgh’s upset win over the Hurricanes in 2017, is back for his second full year as the team’s starter. Consistency will be key for the junior. Amid the Panthers’ four-game win streak last year, Pickett was great, completing 64 percent of his total passes against three opponents—Duke, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest. But in the other 11 games, that clip dipped to 57 percent, and so did his touchdown-to-interception ratio. Fortunately for the upperclassman, he still has his top-two wide receivers, Taysir Mack and Maurice Ffrench. Not only that, but he’ll also have the guidance of former Massachusetts head coach and quarterback guru Mark Whipple, who will serve as the Panthers’ offensive coordinator.
Defensively, Pittsburgh (albeit better down the stretch) took a step back in 2018, allowing 27.8 points per game. This year, the Panthers’ first-team will have a bevy experience, but the injury bug could force unproven underclassmen into the field of action. Already, Pittsburgh’s taken a hit. Earlier this month, defensive end Rashad Weaver suffered a season-ending ACL tear. Even so, the Panthers’ D-Line has some potential, and—with its hit-or-miss secondary—there’s a chance Pittsburgh can show improvement on the defensive side of the ball. Whatever happens, 2019 could very well shape the Narduzzi era.
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Senior Staff