As Boston College football nears its season opener against Northern Illinois on Saturday, sports editors and football beat writers Graham Dietz and Jack Bergamini give their predictions for the Eagles’ 2023 season.
Who is BC’s most important player(s)?
Dietz: If there was anyone in the off season who got you more fired up to watch BC football than Christian Mahogany, then who was it? The Eagles’ top NFL Draft prospect and offensive lineman has been adamant about one thing following his ACL tear back in May 2022: making a return to the Heights and lining up for the coach who believed in him when he was first recruited. Mahogany said on ACC Kickoff that “no amount of money could take me away,” and that he’d prefer to “finish his end goal” rather than become “a rental” with an arbitrary, high-profiting football program through NIL. Through the first eight weeks of BC’s 2022 season, the Eagles cycled through eight different starting O-line combinations. BC’s rush attack ranked dead last in FBS last season with 63.2 average yards per game and second to last in total rushing touchdowns with six. It’s time to rebuild a new staff in the trenches, led by Mahogany and offensive line coach Matt Applebaum. The Eagles’ 2021 offensive line, which included Mahogany and first-round NFL selection Zion Johnson, paved the way for running back Pat Garwo III, who accumulated 1,045 yards on the ground.
Bergamini: After last season’s debacle at the quarterback position, how could you not say Emmett Morehead, the Eagles’ presumed starter behind center? Morehead replaces Phil Jurkovec, who couldn’t make Zay Flowers’ historic season turn into anything more than three measly wins. Morehead comes in with a reinvented offense line and four starts under his belt as one of the ACC’s most unknown and potentially slept-on players with the chance to break out and make some noise. The Eagles have weapons in Ryan O’Keefe, Jaden Williams, Joe Griffin Jr., and George Takacs, and it’s up to the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Morehead to put the ball in their hands. If Morehead is stellar all season, BC can hopefully crack a bowl game.
What is the biggest difference between this year and last year?
Dietz: Unlike some FBS schools, BC’s roster changeover has been minimal. Fourth-year head coach Jeff Hafley repaired a significant hole at the Z receiver position—which Flowers left vacant—with O’Keefe, a transfer from Central Florida. The 5-foot-10, 174-pound wideout brings a comparable skillset to Chestnut Hill, as he notched 725 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns in 2022. Morehead made four starts last year in lieu of an injury-rattled Jurkovec, and the rest of the receiving, running back, and tight end rooms remain unchanged. As for the defense, Amari Jackson, Elijah Jones, and Cole Batson are primed for another year to prove themselves in the secondary and remain as Hafley’s go-tos. Names like Vinny DePalma, Kam Arnold, and Donavan Ezeiruaku aren’t new either. So what is different? The leadership is. BC’s coaching staff—most notably its new offensive coordinator Steve Shimko—needs to deliver. The new roster, which consists of Rob Chudzinski as associate head coach, Aazaar Abdul-Rahim and Sean Duggan as co-defensive coordinators, Applebaum, and Paul Rhoads as the linebackers coach, will need to transform a team atmosphere that was deflated in 2022.
Bergamini: The offensive line, essentially by process of elimination. The unit was so injured and limited last season that they could only improve, which they did. Hafley had been adamant throughout the spring season that transfers Kyle Hergel and Logan Taylor, along with Mahogany, Drew Kendall, Kevin Cline, and Ozzy Trapilo being fully healthy has created real competition among the O-line to compete and has created more depth. BC is always at its best when its strength is its O-line, and Applebaum has a chance to create a serious turnaround from last year’s squad if everyone stays healthy and plays to their potential. But the new coaching staff—or, more so, familiar faces taking on new positions—also has potential to whip the Eagles back into shape. Most importantly, Hafley seems sold on his group, emphasizing that this season will be more of a collective effort than it has been in the past.
What’s the best-case scenario for the Eagles?
Dietz: Best case scenario is bowl eligibility with a 7–5 record. BC missed bowl eligibility for the first time in seven years with a 3–9 finish in 2022. If Hafley replicates a season like that, his time on the Heights will likely be over. The Eagles’ schedule is the easiest in all of the Power Five conferences, according to ESPN. An opening night win over Northern Illinois and victories against Holy Cross, Virginia, Army, and Connecticut are musts in a best-case scenario season. ACC matchups against Louisville, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, and Virginia Tech are still tossups. Matchups against Florida State, Pittsburgh, and Miami will be difficult to capture. Hafley came to BC with defensive expertise after working as a defensive backs coach in the NFL and at major programs like Ohio State. His defense ranked third nationally in passing yards allowed in 2021 and the Eagles were top-30 nationally in six other defensive categories. Last season, Hafley’s defensively minded approach failed to overcome a budding quarterback with a paper wall O-line. If the offense can generate scoring plays consistently, this team has what it takes to go bowling.
Bergamini: An offensive line that stays healthy along with Morehead stepping up and becoming a top-five ACC quarterback. With Mahogany fully back and two key transfers coming in, Morehead should have plenty of reinforcements to protect him the entire season and potentially shine. If those two things happen, the Eagles should most definitely win more than two conference games. Wins over Louisville, Virginia Tech, and Pitt are all manageable, and if BC doesn’t collapse in non-conference games like it did last season, an 8–4 finish isn’t out of the picture. And even though ESPN ranks the Eagles’ schedule as the easiest in the Power Five, last season’s utter disaster prevents me from giving BC more than eight wins in a world where everything goes right.
What’s the worst-case scenario for the Eagles?
Dietz: The worst-case scenario for BC devolves from an injury at the quarterback position. We’ve seen this have a domino effect the past two years. Two seasons worth of injuries to Jurkovec couldn’t be messaged out of the system which spoiled like rotten milk. In 2021, BC began the season 4–0 and came just short of a national ranking. Jurkovec threw for 303 passing yards and three touchdowns on opening day. A game later, at UMass, he crumbled with a hand injury and so did the rest of BC’s tenacity. If Morehead suffers a similar fate in 2023, another disaster could unfold. I think there is no chance Hafley wins three games in a season again, so 4–8 is the worst case. Staying healthy in the offensive line department and keeping a stable signal caller will make all the difference.
Bergamini: Another 3–9 finish, which would likely put the Hafley era to an end. If the Eagles were to finish with six wins in a two-year span, that would also cause serious concerns about the entire state of BC Athletics as a whole. Another three wins would mean Morehead doesn’t become the trusted pass thrower Hafley is expecting him to become, and the offensive line additions disappoint along with being unable to stay healthy. And with the current state of college football—amid the transfer portal, NIL, and conference realignment uncertainty—a 3–9 season would be absolutely devastating to BC as a university. It’s not an understatement to say that this is BC football’s most important season in the last decade.
Dietz: Uncertainty tends to boil up when new coaches and transfers arrive, and that’s what this offense carries—Hafley is relying heavily on O’Keefe to be his playmaker, Kyle Hergel and Logan Taylor to be new plugs for the O-line, and a new scheme. But nothing can sour as bad as last season, so the five-to-six win range makes sense for this squad. The outcome of BC’s opening-day affair with Northern Illinois can change the narrative for the rest of the year, and the word “finishing” will be on Hafley’s mind. Hafley is 2–1 in opening-day matchups, with Rutgers handing him his sole loss in 2022. In that loss, BC did not finish the game, allowing the Scarlet Knights to score 16 unanswered points in the second half. It plagued BC for the rest of the season.
Bergamini: A 6–6 finish. That may sound disappointing to some, but it is a massive step forward from last year and would give BC its third bowl game under Hafley. The season won’t bring headlines or break any records—it’s more of a sigh of relief that disaster didn’t strike. The Eagles should be able to take care of their four non-conference games, consisting of Northern Illinois, Holy Cross, Army, and Connecticut (unless last year’s catastrophe haunts them). Fortunately for the Eagles, there’s no Clemson matchup this year, so they don’t have to worry about that. But I don’t see them getting past Florida State or Louisville. That leaves Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, and Pitt as tossups. Overall, I see BC winning two of those four and finishing .500, but wouldn’t be surprised if the win total ends up at seven either.