For the 2018 Boston College Eagles, it’s time for the pieces to finally come together. Hot off a 5-1 clip to end the 2017 regular season, they return significant experience at almost every position. Expectations are the highest they’ve been in Chestnut Hill in nearly a decade. Boasting a Heisman hopeful among a handful of other elite position groups, this is head coach Steve Addazio’s best team – by a long shot – in his 6 years at the helm. A lack of depth as well as a difficult schedule will not make the journey any easier. However, if all goes according to plan this could end up as an historic year on the Heights.
Halfway through the summer, the Eagles have already seen six of their guys show up on various Preseason All-American squads, and their DB and OL units are roundly considered to be among the best in the nation. Both sides of the ball have their share of major strengths and a few potential question marks, so let’s take a closer look at the position groups that BC will trot out against UMass to open the season.
2018 Boston College Eagles Defense
Starting with the defense, the main highlight here is the DB unit. Like it or not, this is the best defensive backfield in the ACC (sorry, Miami). The Birds are returning most of their starters from last year’s rock-solid unit (3rd nationally in defensive pass efficiency, 12th in INTs (18), only 2 TDs allowed on passing downs all season). They’re led by safeties Lukas Denis (2nd team All-American, 2nd nationally with 7 picks) and Will Harris (Phil Steele Preseason All-American, started all the team’s last 26 games). The starting CBs (Taj-Amir Torres & Hamp Cheevers) bring slightly less seniority, but both still appeared in every game last season and started about a third of them, combining for 3 INTs and 49 tackles. Expect big things from this group all year, as they lay the foundation for what should be a tremendous Boston College defense.
Not to be outdone, the linebacker corps has aspirations to be tops in the conference as well. John Lamot (2017 ACC DROY by ACSMA), Kevin Bletzer (9 starts in ’17), and Max Richardson (23 tackles in 3.5 games, including ND and Clemson, prior to injury) will combine with a healthy Connor Strachan (a defensive star in years past who was lost to a knee injury last season) to bolster what should be the 2nd elite unit on that side of the ball. Depth is somewhat of a concern here, especially with 2 starters returning from season ending injuries. However, some adjustments have been made, including shuffling former RB Davon Jones to the 2-deep, should the injury bug return to the linebackers’ room.
Rounding out the defense is one of the bigger question marks on the roster – the D-Line. Historically, a cornerstone of successful Boston College teams, these guys were hampered by injury last year. Most notably was the lack of production out of 2018 2nd round pick Harold Landry. Still, this unit touts one of the brightest spots on the entire roster: Zach Allen.
A projected 2019 1st round pick, Allen might be the key to the entire defense. One of only two DL nationally with over 100 tackles in 2017, he also notched the 10th most TFL in BC history with 15.5. The hope is, like Landry in years past, Allen attracts enough attention from the opponents to let his brothers in arms go to work. Specifically, the Rays (Wyatt Ray and Ray Smith) may have an opportunity to do some serious damage in the trenches. With 29 career starts returning up front, this group could surprise some people in 2018. And if they do, look for BC to end up right near the top of FBS overall defensive rankings.
2018 Boston College Eagles Offense
On the offensive side of the ball, 2018 will be the AJ Dillon show. The sophomore Heisman contender comes into the year fresh off his ACC Rookie of the Year award. He rushed for 1589 yards, which was good for 7th nationally and 2nd in the ACC. What’s more impressive, he put up those numbers while only being the feature back for the second half of the season – 1256 of those yards came in the last 7 games of the year, good for 1st in the country over that span. Vegas still considers him somewhat of an outside shot to take home the Heisman (currently listed at 33/1), but with a full year of college strength training under his belt don’t be surprised to see him on stage in NYC in December.
Of course, making things significantly easier for the Connecticut bred running back are the 5 hogs up front for the Eagles. BC will return all 5 starters on the line. In addition, the RS senior, Jon Baker, who started all 25 games at center in the previous 2 seasons returns. He had a year-ending knee injury in the 2017 opener. The Eagles bring the 2nd most experienced O-line in the entire country. They’re led by future NFLer Chris Lindstrom with 36 career starts under his belt. They’re also coming off a tremendous 2017 campaign in which they allowed the fewest runs stopped behind the LOS (per David Hale). This unit should be the best in the ACC – and one of the best in the nation – when it’s all said and done. That will pave the way for a powerful running attack in 2018.
Also benefiting from their should-be All-ACC protection is sophomore QB Anthony Brown. In his freshman campaign, Tony Touchdowns shocked most BC fans by putting up Top 3 numbers in yards (1367) and TDs (11) amongst all freshmen QBs, prior to a season ending knee injury in in the 10th game of the year. According to Coach Addazio at yesterday’s media day, Brown should be a “full go” for summer camp, putting the worst of his injury concerns to rest.
He’ll have some weapons to work with, most notably senior TE Tommy Sweeney, projected to be one of the first TEs off the board in the 2019 draft. Combine that with the electric speed of WR targets Jeff Smith, Kobay White, and Michael Walker (also a preseason All American kick returner, and future Patriots 7th round draft pick), there is plenty of raw potential for this group to surprise the rest of the ACC. The passing game in general is by far the biggest question mark on this side of the ball. However, even a competent aerial attack should open up defenses more than enough for AJ to go to work. Very unlike what we saw with Andre Williams vs. 11 man stacked boxes near the end of his Doak Walker campaign in 2013.
The 2018 Outlook
With all of this in mind, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about BC’s chances in 2018. The schedule is not easy (18th toughest according to Phil Steele), and heavily backloaded. This includes a 4-game stretch of Miami/@VT/Clemson/@FSU starting in week 9. They’ll have a few good tests in the early going (@Wake/@Purdue/@NCSU/UL). But if the team lives up to our expectations, they should get through those without too many scares. That would have them heading into the bye with a 7-0 record, in the Top 25, and the best start since Matt Ryan led them to #2 in the country in 2007.
From there, we expect them to split the 4-game stretch from hell (we like @VT and one of Miami or @FSU). They’ll round out the year with a win over ‘Cuse to finish 10-2. This probably has them coming up just short of the ACC Championship Game – no team has won the Atlantic with 2 ACC losses since 2011. However, BC fans far and wide would be thrilled to see the Birds back in the national conversation. To quote Steve Addazio after dropping to 2-4 in 2017, “it will come together, and it will be beautiful.” This of course launched a 5-1 finish in 2017. And we fully expect the beauty to keep rolling in 2018.