I’m a big fan of Boston College’s season win total to go ‘over’ seven in Year 2 of the Jeff Hafley Era. As of July 13, BetMGM had a -125 price tag on the ‘over.’
BC finished 6-5 both straight up and against the spread in 2019, but one of the losses was a 34-28 setback at top-ranked Clemson in a game the Eagles led by 18 points at one point and were ahead 28-13 at halftime.
Another defeat came at home to No. 12 North Carolina, which saw its lead cut to 24-22 in the final minute. With Boston College attempting to tie the game on a two-point conversion, the Tar Heels forced a turnover that they took all the way back for two points and won by a 26-22 count.
Four of BC’s five losses came against ranked teams, including a loss at Va. Tech and a 45-31 home defeat vs. then-undefeated and second-ranked Notre Dame.
This year’s schedule isn’t nearly as daunting, but let’s talk personnel before breaking down the 12-game slate.
Hafley’s team returns nine starters on offense, eight on defense and all of its key special-teams players. BC has bolstered its talent base with the addition of six transfers and a recruiting class that featured a pair of four-star players.
The Eagles’ team strengths include the quarterback position, their wide receivers, the offensive line and their secondary. In Phil Steele’s National Unit Rankings in his preseason magazine, he has BC’s QBs ranked seventh, its offensive line ranked ninth, its WRs ranked No. 18 and its secondary ranked No. 29.
Lindy’s preseason magazine has the Eagles’ offensive line ranked as the second-best in the country behind only Ohio State’s. This unit features senior offensive guard Zion Johnson and junior center Alec Lindstrom. Steele’s mag has Johnson as a first-team preseason All-American and dubs Lindstrom as a preseason second-team All-American.
Third-year sophomore OT Tyler Vrabel was a fourth-team All-ACC selection in 2020, and Steele’s mag has him as a preseason second-team All-ACC choice. Senior OG Ben Petrula was a second-team All-ACC pick last year. Therefore, it’s clear that BC has four future NFL o-linemen.
This group is assigned to protect the best QB this program has had since Matt Ryan. That would be fourth-year sophomore Phil Jurkovec, a 6-foot-5, 226-pound former four-star recruit who transferred to BC after two years at Notre Dame.
Jurkovec was outstanding in 10 games last season, completing 61.0 percent of his passes for 2,558 yards with a 17/5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He produced 352 rushing yards before subtracting lost yards from sacks. Jurkovec also had three rushing TDs to demonstrate that he moves well for a big guy.
He quickly created chemistry with one of the nation’s premier WRs in Zay Flowers, who had 56 receptions for 892 yards and nine TDs last season. Flowers, a first-team All-ACC pick in 2020, also ran for 41 yards and one TD.
Junior WR CJ Lewis had 28 receptions for 460 yards and five TDs last year, while Jaelen Gill started seven games and hauled in 29 catches for 435 yards and one TD. After tearing his ACL and missing all of 2020, senior WR Kobay White is back. White has 27 career starts and 1,409 receiving yards to his credit.
Star tight end Hunter Long has moved on to the NFL after catching 57 balls for 685 yards and five TDs during his senior campaign. The Eagles are hoping an FCS transfer can help fill his immense shoes. Trae Barry, a 6-foot-6 target, started 24 games at Jacksonville St. over four years, producing 1,610 receiving yards.
If Jurkovec gets injured, BC has a solid backup in junior Dennis Grosel, who has eight career starts and a 15/6 TD-INT ratio.
Hafley’s specialty is the defensive side of the ball. He didn’t have the practice time to install his new schemes because spring practice was cancelled going into his first year.
There are still concerns on this side of the ball, especially with the losses of star linebackers Isaiah McDuffie and Max Richardson. McDuffie and Richardson combined for 206 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 2020.
Three transfers came out of spring practice listed as starters. Safety Jaiden Lars-Woodbey had 105 tackles and started 22 games at FSU over the past three years. Nose guard Khris Banks and LB Isaiah Graham-Mobley bring plenty of experience from Temple, which hosts BC in Week 3.
Graham-Mobley has 151 career tackles, while Banks contributed 33 tackles for Owls over the last two years.
Cornerback Josh DeBerry was BC’s third-leading tackler last season with 44 stops. He also had two tackles for loss, six passes broken up and one interception. Fourth-year junior CB Brandon Sebastian has 28 career starts and broke up a team-high 10 passes in 2020.
The non-conference slate is soft, as BC opens at home vs. Colgate. Then the Eagles play back-to-back road games at UMass and at Temple. Although neither of those contests has been lined yet, we can expect Hafley’s squad to be a double-digit favorite in both spots. Next, Missouri comes to Chestnut Hill.
I expect BC to go at least 3-1 in non-conference play with its date vs. the Tigers representing a game that could go either way.
In Week 5, the Eagles return to Death Valley for a second straight season. This is the only game on the schedule that appears unwinnable but as we already noted, Clemson was extremely fortunate to rally past the Eagles as a 24.5-point home ‘chalk’ last year.
From there, BC’s toughest ACC games — North Carolina St., Virginia Tech, FSU and Wake Forest — are at home. The Eagles will be favored in road assignments at Louisville, at Syracuse and at Ga. Tech.
I have BC favored in eight games. The trip to Clemson represents the only significant underdog situation. I believe home games vs. Missouri, NC St. and Va. Tech will be tight lines.
Depending on injuries, QB play and recent performances, I could see any of those three games being anywhere from pick ’em to either team favored by 3-4 points or less. If those numbers come down to QB play, I’ll take Jurkovec over Missouri’s Connor Bazelak, NC St.’s Devin Leary and Va. Tech’s Braxton Burmeister.
Since I often talk about how head coaching and QB play are the two most important factors in my handicapping, I’ll also point out that I prefer Hafley over Dave Doeren and Justin Fuente. (For now, I’ll call it a push between Eli Drinkwitz and Hafley. Drinkwitz is a little goofy, but he was dynamite at Appalachian St. and certainly held his own in Year 1 in the SEC.)
I’m calling for Boston College to go 9-3 and a 10-2 season isn’t out of the question.
THE PLAY: FIVE UNITS on ‘OVER’ 7 wins for Boston College (-130 price at BetMGM)