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December 15, 2009There are similarities between Boston College and USC. Both are private research institutions located in major American cities. Both were founded during the 19th century, and both have picturesque campuses.
Both teams have had tremendous success in the postseason, with the Eagles going 8-1 in bowl games this decade. The Trojans are 6-2 over the same period.
Playing on the opposite coast, the Eagles are relative strangers to the Trojans, and with that in mind, here's an early look at the key components.
At Boston College, you're just not a "head coach." No, you're the "Gregory P. Barber & Family head football coach." Barber, a Boston College trustee endowed the head-coaching position. Yes, for $2.5 million, you too can have your name on someone else's job title.
Anyway, Frank Spaziani took over as Boston College's head coach this season after the Eagles' fired Jeff Jagodzinski for interviewing for a head-coaching job with the New York Jets without gaining the permission of athletics director Gene DeFillippo.
Spaziani has been coaching since 1969, and he's spent the past 12 years on the Boston College staff. Before being named head coach, Spaziani coached running backs for a season before being named defensive coordinator in 1999. He also was named interim head coach and led Boston College to a win over Navy in the 2006 Meineke Car Care Bowl.
The Eagle offense didn't have a very prolific year, especially down the stretch. In its last five games, Boston College scored more than 20 points just once.
Boston College is averaging 324.9 yards and 25.8 points per game.
Sophomore running back Montel Harris has had a fine year as the Eagles' primary rusher, running for 1,355 yards and 13 touchdowns. No other Boston College player has had more than 58 carries.
Like USC, Boston College starts a freshman quarterback, but unlike Matt Barkley, Dave Shinskie's not a youngster. After a stint pitching in the minors, the 25-year old enrolled at Boston College and started nine games this season. He completed almost 53 percent of his passes for 1,831 yards with 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Senior Rich Gunnell is Shinskie's top target, catching 54 passes for 750 yards and six touchdowns. Colin Larmond Jr. is the best downfield threat, averaging 21.8 yards per catch.
The Eagle defense had a nice season, holding opponents to an average of 19.4 points per game and 318.4 yards of offense. True freshman linebacker Luke Kuechly led the team with 142 tackles. He was also named the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
However, it's tough to say just how good the defense would've been had linebacker Mark Herzlich would've played this year. Herzlich, a 2008 all-American, has been battling Ewig's sarcoma, a form of cancer, since May 14.
Regarded as maybe the best outside linebacker in the country returning in 2009, Herzlich's presence has been missed off the field, but his story has gotten a lot of attention. He's still the inspirational leader of the defense.
In addition to Herzlich's courage, other Boston College opponents have honored him with gifts and financial support for Uplifting Athletes, a charity group that works with college football players to fund research for rare diseases. Donations from Clemson, NC State, Notre Dame, Florida State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, the ACC and the Orange Bowl have totaled nearly $32,000.
Without Herzlich, Boston College had the fourth-ranked defense in the ACC. The Eagles are particularly tough on the run, only allowing 104.4 yards per game.
The Eagle special teams have been pretty solid this season. The kicking game's been good, with Steve Aponavicius hitting 13-of-14 field goals. Punter Ryan Quigley is averaging 41.8 yards per kick.
Gunnell, the team's top receiver, is also a skilled punt returner. He's averaging 13.7 yards per return with a touchdown. Boston College has also done a nice job on kick and punt coverage.
The Eagles went 8-4 on the season, losing to Clemson, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and North Carolina. With the exception of Notre Dame, all three of those teams will play in bowl games.
Boston College's best win came over Florida State. Other than that, the victories were pretty ho-hum. The Eagles defeated, Northeastern, Kent State, Wake Forrest, NC State, Central Michigan, Virginia and Maryland.