As we inch closer to college football at a excruciatingly slow pace, we’ve connected with several colleagues at other college sports sites to get their take on ACC football, where their team stands, and how it impacts Clemson. In this installment we’ve connected with AJ Black, the editor and publisher of BC Bulletin. You can follow him at @AJBlack_BC and his site at @BostonCollegeSI
STS: Boston College was respectable under Coach Addazio, but they may have hit their ceiling with him. In comes new Coach Jeff Hafley, the former co-DC from Ohio State. What are your thoughts on the decision to move on from Addazio and then to select Hafley to take over? What’s the general tenor of the fan base on the move?
AJ: I think the timing was right, Addazio as you had mentioned had shown his ceiling at seven wins. Getting to bowls was nice, but he had one total Top 25 win in seven years (and the only one, USC, he won was due to the ingenious play calling of then OC Ryan Day). He was running an offense that worked against similar or weaker opponents, but never worked against teams that had more talent. The fans were ecstatic for the hire of Jeff Hafley, and moving on from Addazio. Hafley immediately provided a shot of adrenaline into a program that was stagnant, and fans were rushing to get season tickets.
STS: Uncharacteristic from what we expect out of Chestnut Hill, BC’s defense was awful last season. They struggled to pressure quarterbacks and the secondary didn’t create turnovers. Clemson scored 59 and Kansas tallied 48 points against the Eagles. How much of this can be rectified in year one under Jeff Hafley? What are the keys to doing it?
AJ: I think there were a few factors at play last year. BC graduated quite a bit of their defense from 2018, and most of the playmakers especially up front and in the secondary. Hafley is going to have quite a chore in front of him, but I think he has some guys to make them respectable. The linebacker group is stacked. Max Richardson may be one of the best linebackers in the ACC, while Isaiah McDuffie who missed most of 2019 will be looking to have a bounce back year. I like the secondary, and the talent is there, Hafley, a former defensive back coach will just need to coach them up a bit and not be afraid of moving on to guys that fit his scheme. Brandon Sebastian has lock down corner potential, while Josh DeBerry, Jason Maitre and Elijah Johnes should give him some options on the other side. If they can improve, the linebackers play to their potential, the defense shouldn’t be such a liability this year.
STS: It was unfortunate Anthony Brown got injured last season as things were clicking early in the season. Now he is transferring to Oregon and QB Dennis Grosel, who took over at QB last season, will try to fend off several competitors. The most interesting name in the mix is Phil Jurkovec, who is a 6’5” dual-threat QB that was rated as a 4-star coming out of PA. He went to Notre Dame but was stuck as the back-up behind Ian Book and transferred after two seasons in South Bend. Will he receive a waiver to play immediately? How do you think the QB position will shape up for the Eagles?
AJ: That waiver is the million dollar question. If he plays he will immediately start. I talked to the Notre Dame writer Bryan Driskoll about him and he raved, saying he could be a program changing quarterback for the Eagles. Good mobility, great arm and all the intangibles you would want out of a QB. But if he can’t go, the drop off will be precipitous. I really don’t believe that Grosel will be a long term solution and imagine that Daelen Menard or Matt Valecce could be the starter this season if Jurkovec can’t go. But they are a huge drop off from what the transfer can give him.
STS: Boston College has traditionally relied on a tough offensive line and a great running back like Andre Williams or AJ Dillon. With a new head coach and AJ Dillon off to the Packers, do you expect this offensive approach to change in 2020? How about long-term?
AJ: The offensive line is probably the best in the ACC. The Eagles are returning four starters from last year’s squad, two of which are projected to be top round picks (Tyler Vrabel and Zion Johnson). This year should be interesting, without spring practices I am interested to see how much Hafley and new OC Frank Cignetti Jr change up the philosophy. On paper they are still built to be a power running team, with David Bailey taking the reins after the departure of AJ Dillon. However, they have added some cogs to open things up. Zay Flowers, Kobay White, Ethon Williams and Taji Johnson should all be solid wide receivers, and Hunter Long is arguably one of the best tight ends in the conference. I guess it all depends on how much the staff gets to install this summer.
STS: After playing Kansas and Rutgers last season, BC has more games against lower-tier teams from top conferences this year. They’ll make a road trip to Lawrence Kansas to play the Jayhawks. They’ll also host Purdue. Ohio and Holy Cross round out their conference slate. They were unfortunate to draw possibly the two best teams from the Coastal Division: UNC and VT. What are your thoughts on their scheduling? What game you’re most looking forward to?
AJ: Redemption against Purdue and Kansas, who both hold wins over the Eagles will probably be the most interesting thing to look forward to out of that out of conference schedule. Ohio and Holy Cross do nothing to move the needle really. I really am looking forward to that UNC game, especially if Jurkovec can go. Jurkovec vs. Sam Howell should be a great exhibition of two of the better younger quarterbacks in the ACC. Opening against Syracuse, our rival should be a great way to kick off the season as well.
STS: Finally, let’s talk Boston College vs. Clemson. BC was 4-2 against Clemson in their first six conference matchups, but has lost nine straight since then. Clemson is obviously on an incredible run right now, but how high is Boston College’s upside? Can they become a major competitor in the Atlantic division? How long will it take them to reach their upside under Hafley?
AJ: I really need to see what Hafley can do one the recruiting trail and in game. Grabbing Phil Jurkovec and blue chip WR Jaelen Gill showed that he is capable of bringing BC up to the next level. However, we still need to see what he can do recruiting. The Class of 2021 has more athletes, with much more exciting intangibles, but they may grade out like a Steve Addazio class. But that is probably due to Halfey a) starting late with these kids and b) COVID-19 shutting down any sort of face to face visit. I think he needs some time, but I feel confident that Jeff Hafley has a much higher ceiling than Steve Addazio and with improved facilities, and better recruiting could have BC in much better shape, and ready to be a scrappy team ready to battle in the ACC in a few years.