Who are the starting wide receivers?
Darius Wade may have the talent to throw, but that means nothing if he has no one to throw to. The Eagles lost their three leading receivers from 2014—Josh Bordner, Dan Crimmins, and Shakim Phillips—to the inevitability of commencement. Injuries have also hampered the wideout crew, as freshmen Ben Glines and Chris Garrison, and junior Harrison Jackson have all been slowed by various ailments.
Look for Thadd Smith to be Wade’s favorite target this season. The two connected throughout a 7-on-7 football tournament at IMG Academy, and have reportedly developed excellent chemistry. The sophomore receiver from Yeadon, Penn. did not have a catch as a freshman, but has a good a chance to be the Eagles’ leading receiver in 2015.
In the slot, the team will feature the speedy Sherman Alston, who will again look to electrify the Eagles as a versatile option for short-yardage catches and jet sweep packages. On the edge, BC will trot out senior David Dudeck, but expect BC’s tallest receiver—6-foot-4 sophomore Charlie Callinan—to work his way into the starting lineup. -M.S.
Will the offensive line stick together the whole year?
No. As it stands, almost the entire lineup is for grabs, aside from Harris Williams at right guard, with seven guys listed by Addazio as fighting for a start. Even if the Eagles can find a clear starting five for game one, expect a lot of change this year from this line.
Most of the line has played in multiple positions throughout the spring and fall camps, so the flexibility is there. If Frank Taylor fails at center, for example, Jon Baker can step in and the whole line will shuffle.
Most importantly, BC’s top two recruits this year are Wyatt Knopfke and Anthony Palazzolo, and although they have not featured in first team reps this preseason, they are not far behind. With the loss of all five starters from last year, Addazio brought in these two, plus Aaron Monteiro and Chris Lindstrom, for a reason. It would not be surprising to see one of these freshmen break into the starting lineup. Given the current state of the O-Line, they most likely won’t have to wait until an injury to get a chance. -J.S.
Will BC improve its special teams numbers?
Put bluntly, BC’s special teams unit was abysmal last year. After getting a nearly perfect season from Nate Freese in 2013, Steve Addazio cycled through three different kickers in 2014 after none of them proved successful. Senior Alex Howell is the alpha male this season, and under the guidance of new special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler, there seems to be nowhere to go but up.
Howell, Mike Knoll, and Joey Launceford missed a combined seven extra points last season, a feat that seems nearly impossible to replicate. Just as historically great seasons are unlikely to occur again, historically bad ones aren’t likely to be repeated, either. Howell will also benefit from (seemingly) having some job security, as the random cycling last season prevented any one player enough reps to gain confidence.
With one clear kicking option going into the season, the Eagles have to expect more consistency from the special teams. Added up, the missed extra points and field goals could make the difference between a 5-7 season and an 8-4 finish. -T.D.
Will BC have a top-5 defense?
The Eagles were as stingy as anyone about giving up yards on the ground in 2014, allowing the second fewest yards per game in the country. With BC returning five of its front seven, the Eagles should have another good go at minimizing holes.
The real inconsistency last season was in the secondary, where BC had to shuffle its depth charts. Even while not placing in the top-50 in yards allowed through the air, BC still finished 11th overall. Other than senior FS Justin Simmons, who led the team in tackles last season, and junior CB John Johnson, the secondary will be filled with second-year players taking on expanded roles.
Addazio seemed pleased with their progress in preseason, and if the guys can get comfortable in the first two games against Maine and Howard, they could shape up in time to quiet a Winston-less Florida State. It would be challenging to break the top five even with an improved secondary, but BC certainly has room to go up overall. -A.G.
Can the Eagles win on the road?
Home field advantage is a highly touted phenomenon, something that can tip an even game into a decisive victory. For whatever reason, besides the Friday night upset against USC, BC didn’t have a good time at home. They went 3-4 at Alumni Stadium, the third smallest stadium in the ACC with a capacity of 44,500 seats. The only two other wins came against FCS opponent Maine and weak ACC opponent Syracuse (a game played while most students were home for Thanksgiving break).
Away from Alumni, the Eagles went 4-2. Besides the heartbreak of the Pinstripe Bowl, BC missed an upset of No. 3 Florida State by just three points, making BC one of the better road teams in the country.
This year, the Eagles have just five road games, including tough back-to-back away games against Clemson and Louisville. With two other winnable games against Duke and Syracuse, and then a matchup with Notre Dame at Fenway, BC should have a decent shot at getting another winning record away from the Heights. -A.G.
Who will BC’s breakout stars be?
Wide receiver has been a position of weakness for the Eagles since the days of Matt Ryan. Alex Amidon has been the only BC receiver to achieve 1,000 yards receiving in a single season since 2004, and last season, no receiver finished with more than 350 yards. Interestingly, the biggest boost to the BC receiving corps this season will be a player who entered camp as a quarterback.
Elijah Robinson has the best chance to be this year’s breakout star. With no clear-cut No. 1 receiving option on the team, Darius Wade will likely target all of his options in the first few games in search of chemistry with a select few. Having spent all of his football career on the other end of the passing game, the former quarterback will need some time to adjust, but he comes into the season with unique knowledge about the offense.
Last year, Josh Bordner went from being a backup quarterback to the No. 1 receiving option in Tyler Murphy’s offense. Elijah Robinson might be on track to make a similar move of his own in the next few years. -T.D.
Will Hilliman account for more than 50 percent of the running back carries?
Right off the bat, this question is a difficult one given the fact that Addazio has been cautious with Hilliman in preseason and has allowed Myles Willis to carry first team duties. That alone makes you point toward more involvement from Willis, who has impressed.
However, Hilliman accounted for 51.7 percent of the running back carries in his breakout season last year, and things should continue more or less the same.
A more balanced offense with Wade’s passing ability should decrease the heavy load on the run game. Last year, the running side of the offense was crowded. Tyler Murphy ate up almost as many carries as Hilliman, and Sherman Alston and Marcus Outlow were also contributors. Eliminate Outlow, who we haven’t seen much of, decrease the number of QB carries, move Sherm into more of a receiving role, and the backfield belongs solely to Hilliman and Willis.
With slightly less burden on his shoulders, Hilliman should pick up where he left off last year, despite a push by Willis behind him.
No sophomore slump here, Hilliman continues to be the man. -J.S.
How many games will BC win?
It’s hard to imagine a lot of disappointment in each of the last two seasons from both the BC coaching staff and fans. The Eagles had two very different teams in each of Steve Addazio’s first two years, and still reached a bowl game in successive years with 7-6 records.
Hopefully they’ll be content with that result again this year.
BC won three of its four ACC road games, against two inexplicably overrated teams (Virginia Tech and North Carolina State) and the perennially disastrous Wake Forest. The loss was to Florida State—BC only fell by three points, and that team had far more strengths than the one Jimbo Fisher will trot out this season. They’ll now play each of those games in the friendly confines of Alumni Stadium.
Though the Eagles had a tougher time at home than on the road in 2014, that may have to do with its level of competition in Chestnut Hill. And their road slate continues to look tough—Duke, Clemson, Louisville, and Notre Dame all had winning records last season. That being said, if the Eagles can pull the upset in one of those games—and with a strong defense and dynamic running game, they can—there’s a good chance BC will return to that seven game mark.
Pretty good for a rebuilding year. -M.S.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor