No team is ever benefited by injuries, but if there was one team that truly didn't need them, it was the Boston College Eagles.
Three significant injuries to senior tight end Chris Pantale, sophomore defensive back Al Louis-Jean and junior wide receiver Bobby Swigert, all before the season opener against the rival Miami Hurricanes this Saturday in Chestnut Hill, MA.
Now, missing three of their most important players, the Eagles are looking at an uphill battle in 2012, a season which may be a defining one for coach Frank Spaziani and many upperclassmen, including junior quarterback Chase Rettig.
Spaziani's tenure at Boston College hasn't brought a lot of success to a program which had previously stood alongside some of the best in college football. Three years into the Spaziani era, Boston College is 20-19 under the New Jersey native's leadership and is 1-2 in bowl games.
Spaz's lone bowl victory came in 2006, when he took over for Tom O'Brien after he left to take over head coaching duties at North Carolina State, when the Eagles topped Navy, 25-24, on a last-second field goal. The Eagles went 8-5 in Spaziani's first full season as head coach (taking over for the fired Jeff Jagodzinski), but BC lost to the USC Trojans, 24-13. One year later, BC finished at 7-6 after recovering from a 2-5 start with five consecutive victories to close out the year. The Eagles once again lost in their bowl game, 20-13, in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco, CA.
Last season, the Eagles missed out on a bowl game for the first time in 12 seasons, going 4-8 after dropping seven of nine to open the year. However, BC would win two of its final three games -- including a 24-17 victory over Miami in the regular season finale -- to close out the campaign.
Another disappointing season like last year's, and Spaziani might be updating his resume.
Rettig, meanwhile, took some steps forward in his second year under center at Boston College, but left a lot to be desired. Rettig accumulated 1,238 passing yards, six touchdowns and nine interceptions as a true freshman in 2010, finishing with a 105.5 rating, and boosted his numbers to 1,960 passing yards and 12 touchdowns in his second season, but was still picked off nine times. Many say that Rettig has the tools to be a competent quarterback in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but he'll need to put the pieces together in 2012 if he wants to elevate himself to that status.
Going into the season, it appeared that Rettig had an impressive arsenal to work with. Senior wide receiver Colin Larmond Jr. (1,220 receiving yards, nine touchdowns in career), Pantale (797 receiving yards, five touchdowns in career), Swigert (974 receiving yards, seven touchdowns in career) and fellow junior wideout Alex Amidon (558 receiving yards, three touchdowns in career) presented Rettig with a dangerous and diverse spread in the passing game. Now, with Pantale and Swigert on the sidelines for an unspecified amount of time, Rettig and company may have to rely more on the running game to move the chains if Larmond and Amidon can't get the job done.
Fortunately, the running game is also one of the Eagles' strengths. Montel Harris, the Eagles' all-time leading rusher, is no longer in the backfield, having transferred to Temple after being dismissed from the team following several violations of team rules. Still, BC has a trio of strong backs, led by junior backs Rolandan Finch and Andre Williams and sophomore Tahj Kimble. Finch tweaked his foot during a scrimmage in mid August, and his status for the season opener is unknown. Asife from that trio, the Eagles have another solid option in the ground game -- sophomore quarterback Josh Bordner. Spaziani used Bordner is several wildcat-style plays, and if Rettig and the primary backs don't have any luck, he can pose a legitimate threat to defenses.
All signs point to the offensive line taking a step forward from its shaky season last year. The O-line is anchored by senior left tackle Emmett Cleary and senior right tackle John Wetzel. Ian White, a sophomore, will snap the football to Rettig at center, and the 6-foot-5, 312-pound Bobby Vardaro will protect Rettig at left guard while sophomore Harris Williams will likely start at right guard.
On the opposite side, Kaleb Ramsey will anchor BC's defensive line after the senior defensive tackle missed 10 games because of injury last season. Ramsey will start at left tackle while fellow senior Dillon Quinn will start on the right side. Junior Kasim Edebali and sophomore Brian Mihalik will be the starting defensive ends. In the secondary, perhaps the Eagles' weakest unit (they used a backup quarterback to fill in during the spring game), the loss of Louis-Jean is a big one, but the show must go on. Jim Noel, a senior strong safety, anchors the group and is the only starting senior on the unit. Until Louis-Jean returns, sophomore C.J. Jones will take his place at the FC. Sophomore Manuel Asprilla will start at the BC, while sophomore Josh Keyes starts at FS.
Then, there are the linebackers. Luke Kuechly, arguably the greatest defensive player ever to play at Boston College, is no longer roaming the backfield at middle linebacker. Not surprisingly, Kuechly's loss will be a tough one to overcome for the Eagles. Fortunately for them, they are deep in that category as well. Kevin Pierre-Louis, the junior weak-side linebacker, is the most talented of the bunch. Junior strong-side linebacker Steele Divitto and sophomore Sean Duggan, Kuechly's replacement in the middle, can -- and will need to be -- disruptive throughout the season.
Nate Freese could wind up being an ace in the hole for BC, as the junior place kicker was booting 50-plus yard field goals during training camp and can put some points on the board when drives stall out. Gerald Levano, a senior punter, also has a strong, accurate leg. Spiffy Evans, a sophomore wideout, will return both kickoffs and punts to start the season for Boston College.
The pieces are there for a successful season, but as is always the case, health is key. The faster impact players like Pantale, Swigert and Louis-Jean get back into the mix, the better off the Eagles will be. Of course, the ACC isn't a cakewalk of a conference, and the schedule is very difficult at times. Boston College will likely need to have some bounces go their way if they hope to achieve their ultimate goal -- winning an ACC Championship and playing in the Discover Orange Bowl.
The early-season schedule is more favorable for the Eagles with opponents such as Maine (Week 2) and Army (Week 5). The toughest games of the year will, unsurprisingly, be against ACC rivals Clemson (Week 4), Florida State (Week 6) and Virginia Tech (Week 11). BC will also do battle with its bitter rival, Notre Dame, at Alumni Stadium in Week 10. All things considered, it could be a rough season for the Eagles if the bounces don't go their way. PROJECTED RECORD: (7-5, 4-4 ACC).