In recent weeks, Boston College coach Frank Spaziani's seat has gotten a little warm. Superfans have started to come out of the woodwork calling for Spaziani's job. I guess that's what happens when you start a promising season 2-5, your program having lost five straight, including the first four conference games.
As is customary, while fans and alumni are on the front lines of any coaching criticisms, national bloggers and local beat writers typically come to the aid of a beleaguered coach. This is exactly what ESPN's Heather Dinich did, rushing to Spaziani's defense by claiming that Spaz inherited many of the Eagles' problems and is not the cause of them.
So the logic goes: You can't judge a head coach on a year and a half of work. Spaz still needs time to build his program. There was a gap in recruiting talent when BC went through three head coaches in a span of four seasons, and that perceived lack of talent is starting to rear its ugly head.
Is there truly a lack of talent that is primarily responsible for the Eagles' five-game losing streak? Can a drop-off in talent quickly turn a 3-0 record against Florida State, N.C. State and Maryland into an 0-3 ACC deficit?
Let's focus on the offensive side of the ball -- the unit that has struggled the most for the Eagles -- and take a position-by-position look at the 2009 Eagles and the 2010 Eagles to determine whether there is truly a lack of talent.
2009: Dave Shinskie, Justin Tuggle, Mike Marscovetra
2010: Dave Shinskie, Mike Marscovetra, Chase Rettig, Josh Bordner
Dinich claims that the quarterback position has been troublesome, citing the losses of Dominique Davis, Chris Johnson (who?), Justin Tuggle and Codi Boek, who moved from quarterback to fullback. Were any of those QB candidates ever really the answer? Dominique Davis is having success this season at East Carolina, but Davis was more of an academic casualty than anything Jags created (and Spaz inherited). Justin Tuggle saw limited time in the first half of 2009, filling in for an injured Dave Shinskie, but Tuggle was never really the answer either. Tuggle completed just 35.1 percent of his passes and struggled mightily against Clemson on the road. I had to look up who Chris Johnson was, and Codi Boek has never been a legitimate threat to assume the QB1 duties at BC. Boek has had every opportunity to climb the depth chart with the revolving door of quarterbacks and hasn't.
That leaves Shinskie and Marscovetra, who struggled through the Eagles' first three games of the season, and freshmen Chase Rettig and Josh Bordner. Rettig is now the starting QB and has shown much more upside than Shinskie and Marscovetra who, remember, were on the roster this year. It stands to reason that Shinskie and Marscovetra would improve from 2009 to 2010. Since they didn't, isn't that on the coaching staff?
Verdict: 2010 Talent > 2009 Talent
2009: Montel Harris, Josh Haden, Rolandan Finch
2010: Montel Harris, Sterlin Phifer, Andre Williams
The transfer of RB Josh Haden is also cited as a reason why the Eagles have struggled this year, as Montel Harris has had to carry a bulk of the load in the BC run game in 2010. Haden averaged 30.4 ypg through seven games before deciding to transfer and leave the program. Conveniently left out is the fact that Haden transferred primarily because of the coaching staff -- he felt slighted when it came to getting touches. The straw that broke the camel's back was Harris' 27 carry, 264 yard, five touchdown performance against N.C. State, a game in which Haden got just two carries for seven yards. The week following BC's 52-20 win over the Wolfpack, Haden left.
Sterlin Phifer and Andre Williams have been somewhat serviceable in relief of Montel Harris, but the Eagles' running game has struggled mightily, even though Spaz now has some relief for Montel. BC's rushing offense ranks 105th nationally, even with the services of Montel Harris. A year ago, after Week 8, BC ranked 64th. Still, Harris is on the team and I think that when the BC offensive line finally starts to click, the combination of Phifer and Williams are at least as good as Haden proved at BC.
Verdict: 2010 Talent = 2009 Talent
Receivers and Tight Ends
2009: Rich Gunnell, Colin Larmond Jr., Justin Jarvis, Chris Pantale
2010: Bobby Swigert, Johnathan Coleman, Alex Amidon, Chris Pantale
This is the first area where there has clearly been a drop-off in talent. The Eagles might have been able to survive the loss of the school's all-time leading receiver, Rich Gunnell, and Justin Jarvis, but were dealt a serious blow in fall camp when Colin Larmond Jr. was lost for the season to injury. The Eagles got Ifeanyi Momah back at WR, but he hasn't been very effective.
Verdict: 2010 Talent < 2009 Talent
2009: Anthony Castonzo, Nate Richman, Matt Tennant, Thomas Claiborne, Rich Lapham
2010: Anthony Castonzo, Nate Richman, Mark Spinney, Thomas Claiborne, Rich Lapham
The Eagles' offensive line has been incredibly inconsistent this season. And that's been incredibly frustrating, considering BC returned four of five starters from a very good offensive line in 2009. Now, I'm not underestimating the importance of the center position to set the tone of the line and keep everyone on the same page. BC lost a good one in Matt Tennant, who is now playing on Sundays in New Orleans.
Still, there's really no reason that a line that returns that many starters and is anchored by All-American and Rhodes Scholar LT Anthony Castonzo shouldn't be playing better. Don't you have to look at coaching when a unit as experienced as the Eagles offensive line continues to struggle?
Verdict: 2010 Talent = 2009 Talent
In summary, that's two units that in my opinion are as talented as the 2009 Eagles, one unit that has improved (albeit not a great deal) and one unit that is much worse. However, that one unit is probably the least important of the four. And without a competent quarterback to get them the ball, will continue to struggle.
I would submit that this year's Eagles offense is just as talented as last year's team, a team that won eight games and didn't struggle nearly as much on offense. It's also not like BC has played a schedule of college football world beaters, either. BC lost to Notre Dame 31-13, a team that just got waxed by a mediocre Navy team. BC lost 44-17 to N.C. State, a team they beat with virtually the same offensive players (except for at the receiver positions) 55-20 a season ago. Finally, the Eagles are coming off a 24-21 home loss to Maryland, against an offense every bit as anemic as BC's.
If the Eagles offense is just as talented as it was a year ago, don't you have to look in other directions to figure out what is different?