Thursday, June 3, 2010

2009-2010 Year in Review, Part I: Football

Now that our sports season for this academic year has essentially come to an end, I will take the next four articles to reflect. I will start with the big bucks sport: football.    Our national champions in hockey will be the next article, followed by basketball and then everybody else.

Like basketball ended up being, this was a year of change for the football program. Head Coach Frank Spaziani got his lifetime achievement award not long after ex-coach Jeff Jagodzinski crossed Gene DeFilippo the wrong way by interviewing with the New York Jets. Aside from the obvious, like new assistant coaches making their own changes, there was on the surface a smooth transition from the old regime to the new one. Spaziani was to bring a sort of continuity as he had served under the two previous coaches, though his demeanor differed from his predecessor. Jagodzinski was a sideline-dancing, we're-gonna-kick-your-ass-and-you're-gonna-like-it kind of coach, while Spaziani is cut more from the Joe Torre mold with a consistent demeanor most of the time, but also carrying some of that we-are-what-we-are mentality.

More importantly, in terms of results, Spaziani's first season and his predecessor's first season were not worlds apart, though Jagodzinski won the ACC Atlantic (he also had Matt Ryan). Spaziani, for what it's worth, saw his team overcome very low expectations to finish second in the division and make a bowl game.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Boston College had some fairly unsavory options in 2009: Dave Shinskie, a 25-year old true freshman who had been out of football for 7 years, Justin Tuggle and Mike Marscovetra, both of whom were raw and untested just like Shinskie. In the first few games of the season they all got their try-outs, but both opponents were so weak that one could not glean anything from them. The only way for BC to find out what it had last year was to watch their quarterbacks in action against top opposition in Clemson. They found out, alright.

Boston College's Week 3 game in Death Valley was one of the Eagles' worst offensive performances in the last 15 seasons. BC finished the game with 54 yards of total offense, whereas Clemson had PLAYS that went longer than 54 yards. The Eagle starter, Tuggle, was abominable, going 4/20 for 23 yards. Shinskie threw all of one pass in the game. Immediately, Eagles fans knew that they were going to have some trouble with this offense, keeping in mind that the defense had done a very admirable job in holding Clemson to only 25.

The Eagles had the next week at home against Wake Forest to respond. A loss would mean an 0-2 ACC start and the essential death of their season, while a win would at least indicate that they had a pulse. BC was ahead 24-10 with 4 minutes to play in regulation, but the defense folded twice and the game was tied. If it were not for Google Safe Search's least-favorite quarterback, Riley Skinner, fumbling the ball in overtime, the Eagles would have likely lost despite a respectable performance from the new starter, Shinskie. Indeed, it felt like more of a non-loss than a win.

The following week was a little more inspiring, as BC saw a big lead against FSU melt away but not enough to force overtime. It seemed as though the Eagles were getting into a bit of a groove. Unfortunately, the very next week, Boston College went down to Blacksburg and bombed, 48-14. Unlike the Clemson game which was a failure of the offense, the Virginia Tech defeat was a failure of the entire team from coaches to offense to defense and special teams. The game was 34-0 at halftime and not worth watching by halfway through the second quarter. Dave Shinskie had an appalling 1/12 for 4 yard game, though Mike Marscovetra had some nice garbage-time stats. It was the worst loss of the season.

At home against North Carolina State, the roller coaster went back up the tracks. Boston College punished former coach Tom O'Brien for the third straight time, but this time, Montel Harris was the doom-bringer for the Pack defense. Montel put the ball in the end zone five times and ran for 276 yards, both of which were Boston College single-game records. The bad taste of the Virginia Tech massacre was replaced by the joys of a TOB beatdown, but that wouldn't last very long, either.

The Eagles went out to Notre Dame for the last time for who knows how long in late October. Boston College pissed away a winnable game thanks in part to the prior week's hero, Harris, and also thanks to increasingly-unreliable quarterback Shinskie. Uncle Dave completed a little less than half of his passes and got picked off three times, including both of BC's final two possessions of the game. Harris, for his part, put the ball on the turf twice, including one drive where he lost the ball just short of the goal line: a score that, if BC had gotten, they might well have won. No Boston College team likes to lose to the hated Irish - and indeed, no BC team had done that in 9 years - but their five turnovers were too much to handle. While this loss meant nothing for the ACC race, and the defense surely did a fine job led by Luke Kuechly (who was continuing his emergence at this point), it was an annoying loss in what was becoming an annoying season.

Boston College continued its yo-yo season by going home and trashing Central Michigan, a team on the cusp of being ranked, by 21. Shinskie had a nice day, as did the defense, while highly-regarded quarterback Dan LeFevour did not. In fact, his coach benched him for the fourth quarter. The following week, BC went down to Charlottesville to face a Virginia team that could not score points to save its life. The Eagles, also quite offensively-challenged that day (thanks in part to the UVA defense), scraped by with a 14-10 win. The Wahoos had a late lead, but BC eventually prevailed in another one of those games that felt more like a non-loss.

Unfortunately, Boston College followed this two game win streak up in the same way that they had the first two times: with an unmitigated disaster. Dave Shinskie had told the media that he hasn't forgotten his high school Senior Day when he had a terrible game and blew it for his teammates. Furthermore, he was determined not to let it happen again. Yet on Senior Day 2009, history repeated itself. Shinskie threw pick after pick, and in total turned the ball over five times en route to an 18-point defeat at the hands of North Carolina. In the first quarter, UNC scored three touchdowns in the span of 2 minutes, 19 seconds; the last two directly after turnovers. Still, in spite of that, the defense did what it could to try to keep the team in it. Luke Kuechly far out-tackled every other defensive player that day, and Marty Bowman also put together a solid performance. By this point, we knew that the Eagles defense was quite respectable even without Mark Herzlich, and they were showing it. This loss eliminated BC from winning the division, though the following week, they closed out with a lukewarm performance in Maryland which was just good enough for a win.

Who knew that the Emerald Bowl against USC would be Pete Carroll's last game? Perhaps he did, but in any case, his team was ready to play. Boston College flew out to San Francisco for the game where they lost 24-13 in a game that felt like it had a relatively strange feel. In the battle of two freshman quarterbacks, Matt Barkley for the Trojans stole the show, though BC receiver Rich Gunnell closed out his collegiate career with a bang. Luke Kuechly (who else) and DeLeon Gause had good games on the defensive side, holding a normally-powerful USC offense to only 24 points. Still, the problem remained the offense and the quarterback position.

With April came the NFL Draft and the departures of several key seniors: Matt Tennant, Marty Bowman, and Rich Gunnell to name a few. At the same time came the Jay McGillis Spring Game, where we saw what the Eagles will be working with (partially) in 2010. I've made no secret about the fact that at quarterback, I think our defacto starter, Shinskie, was the weakest of the four quarterbacks on the field that day. The academic year started with a quarterback competition and ended with a quarterback controversy.

Boston College football was consistently inconsistent in 2009. A new coach brought continuity but some new faces brought uncertainty. We know that the defense was adequate and has the ability to be quite good, but the offense will remain a question mark. It was a remarkably predictable season which saw BC take a step forward and a step back every few weeks, over and over again. As we head into the 2010 football season, there are legitimate concerns about the Eagles finding a steady quarterback, the offensive line holding without Tennant, and the wide receivers picking up the slack for the departed Gunnell.  We will have to wait until next year for those answers.

Part two tomorrow: Hockey.

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