Boston College was supposed to fall off the radar this season, with heavy graduation losses following consecutive bowl appearances under head coach Steve Addazio. But after a 17-14 win over Northern Illinois on Saturday—the same NIU that took Ohio State to the wire a week earlier—it might be time to reconsider BC’s prospects, not just these season, but in terms of what Addazio is building in Chestnut Hill.
Addazio took over a program that had collapsed, going 6-18 over 2011-12. It would have been easy to talk about rebuilding for a few years. That’s especially true in the ACC, which for all its flaws at the top, doesn’t have easy wins built in the schedule for a young team. Instead, Addazio established a new identity within the program built on power and running the football.
He got his first team to a bowl game in 2013 with running back Andre Williams going for over 2,000 yards, a year that should have gotten Williams the Heisman Trophy that instead to went to Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.
Williams had basically carried the ’13 team, so there were reasons to expect a letdown in 2014. Instead, Addazio again won seven games and his team played a thrilling Pinstripe Bowl with Penn State, with only a missed extra point costing the Eagles in a 31-30 loss.
Addazio won widespread praise for his coaching performance, but this was supposed to be the year he had to take a step back. Maybe it still will be—but with a 3-1 record, this Boston College team has all the markings of another bowl team built on being tough and physical. In short, another day at the office for Steve Addazio.
Boston College opened the season with tuneup wins over Maine and Howard. It was a loss that first caught my eye. On a Friday night ESPN game, the Eagles hosted Florida State, played tough defensively and only lost 14-0. The Seminoles couldn’t run the ball and Everett Golson couldn’t open up any kind of downfield passing game.
Then came yesterday against Northern Illinois. It’s true that the Huskies might have been drained after the near-miss in Columbus, but there’s no getting around that this is a good program and consistent winner. The BC defense was nothing short of outstanding. NIU, a physical team in their own right, managed just 2.3 yards-per-carry on the ground. The Eagle pass defense held Drew Hare to 11-of-25 passing and those completions only generated 81 yards. It was a complete shutdown performance.
The ultimate issue will be the offense. Jon Hillman ran for 119 yards yesterday, although as a team BC still averaged less than four yards a carry. With the passing game still a work in progress—and that description is being really nice—the rushing attack will need to control clock and prevent the defense from getting worn down as the season rolls on.
What the emphasis on running the football does is feed this program’s growing identity as one of the physically toughest in the ACC and it gives the team a cohesive sense of how they’ll win each Saturday. Play defense, control the clock and avoid mistakes. It has its limitations, but it’s better than grab-bagging week-to-week trying to find an identity.
The road to a third straight bowl game will still be a battle. Boston College hosts Wake Forest in two weeks and that’s the only game you can circle definitively and see the Eagles should win. The flip side is that an October 17 visit to Clemson is the only one you can circle definitively and say the Eagles should lose. It’s going to be about keeping games close and finding a way in close games, week after week, if this team is going to make it.
Of course one thing that could change the dynamic would be the development of a passing game. There’s a kid with a familiar last name taking the snaps. Troy Flutie, a freshman from Natick, just west of the city, is at quarterback. Wouldn’t it be appropriate if the next four years sees Doug Flutie’s son return Boston College to national prominence? There’s a firm foundation to build on, thanks to the identity put in place by Addazio.