The second week of July marks the home stretch in the college football off-season. We are now just nine Saturdays away from watching the 2010 version of the Boston College Eagles football team run out of the tunnel and onto the Alumni Stadium turf. Sure, it still seems like an eternity away, but we can help pass the time by beginning our in-depth look into the key players returning in 2010.
In this week’s top five, we take a look at the five key players on the offensive side of the ball for the Eagles. These five players will make or break the Eagles' chances in 2010.
Topping the list is the Eagles' workhorse in the backfield. Harris carried the momentum of a solid freshman campaign into an even better sophomore season, rushing for 1,554 yards and 14 touchdowns on 308 carries. The highlight of the year came when Harris torched the N.C. State defense, rushing for 264 yards and five touchdowns (both school records) in a 52-20 romp of former coach Tom O’Brien’s Wolfpack. He finished the season as one of the ACC’s best ball carriers.
Current head coach Frank Spaziani will have to find a backup to lessen the load on Harris, as he’s really not a 25- to 30-carry back. Coach Spaz knows that he overused Harris last season, but that was partly due to the Eagles losing running back Josh Haden midway through the season. Hopefully a player like sophomore Rolandan Finch (5-foot-10, 201 pounds) or redshirt freshman Sterlin Phifer (5-foot-10, 213) can help ease the burden on Harris.
Harris was one of the Eagles’ lone bright spots in an otherwise forgettable season for the BC offense in 2009.
If the Eagles have any hopes of regaining the Atlantic Division title, they will have to get more consistent play from sophomore quarterback Dave Shinskie. Shinskie, a 25-year-old former minor league pitcher turned FBS starting quarterback, took the job for the last 10 games of the season. After 2008 starter Dominique Davis was ruled ineligible and transferred, the Eagles entered the 2009 season without a quarterback who had any starting college football experience. Shinskie took the reins and compiled a 6-4 record as a starter, throwing for 2,049 yards and 15 touchdowns to go with 14 interceptions.
Shinskie led the Eagles to consecutive victories in his first two starts against Florida State and Wake Forest, throwing for 439 yards and five TDs on 31-of-51 passing. Unfortunately, he also seemed to regress as the season went along with bad performances against Virginia Tech (a -22.2 QB rating, which I didn’t even know was possible) and North Carolina (a touchdown with four interceptions).
If Shinskie falters, he is backed up by fellow sophomore Mike Marscovetra and a pair of true freshmen quarterbacks in Chase Rettig and Josh Bordner.
3. Colin Larmond Jr.
Last season, Colin Larmond Jr. emerged as one of the best Eagles receivers. His 596 yards receiving was good for second best behind only school career receiving yards record holder Rich Gunnell’s 880 yards. Larmond’s 20.6 yards per reception placed him seventh in the nation in that category.
Now that Rich Gunnell has graduated, Larmond will have to set up as the Eagles’ go-to receiver in 2010. Despite all the experience in the Eagles’ receiving corps last year, Eagle wide outs were prone to dropping lots of passes. This year’s crew is probably just as experienced as last years, but will have to limit their mistakes if the Eagles hope to improve on their passing game that ranked 93rd nationally last season.
It may seem strange to list a left tackle on a list of offensive difference makers, but they say that football is won in the trenches. Castonzo anchors the BC offensive line which could be one of its best in years. BC has long been known for producing outstanding offensive linemen, and this year’s unit should live up to the lofty expectations.
Castonzo has started every game of his college career. He gave up only one sack in 650 assignments last year, and tops all sorts of preseason trophy watch lists and first team All-American selections. Castonzo will be instrumental in opening holes for Harris and the Eagles’ rushing game, as well as giving Shinskie time to make good decisions at QB.
If all the above things aren’t impressive enough, Castonzo is also a Rhodes Scholarship nominee. So he’s wicked smart, too.
If Castonzo is the all-star of the Eagles’ offensive line, OC Gary Tranquill will have to rely on Nathan Richman to hold the line together at center. This season, Richman is shifting from left guard to center to replace the Saints’ fifth round draft pick, Matt Tennant. Certainly, the hole in the line that Tennant leaves is no small one to fill. Richman will need to develop chemistry with Shinskie if the Eagles are to capitalize on the fact that nine of the top 10 offensive linemen return this season.
Honorable mention: RG Thomas Claiborne, TE Chris Pantale, RT Rich Lapham
Let us know who you think will make the biggest difference on this year's Boston College offense in the comments.