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Notre Dame’s Opponents: Boston College, overly-reliant on its star RB, AJ Dillon

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 26 First Responder Bowl - Boston College v Boise State

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 26: Boston College Eagles running back AJ Dillon (2) tries to avoid Boise State Broncos safety Jordan Happle (32) during the game between the Boise State Broncos and the Boston College Eagles on December 26, 2018 at the First Responders Bowl in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every writer of a season preview of Boston College entering Steve Addazio’s seventh year should thank lightning for granting him or her a narrative. Without repeated and lasting lightning strikes, those previews could not harp on Addazio’s failure to break seven wins in a season, despite reaching the mark five times. Without that storm in December in Dallas, the Eagles would supposedly have more momentum heading into a season with an All-American candidate at running back and a three-year starter at quarterback.

Instead, Boston College remains stuck at the seven-win threshold, coming off a three-game losing streak, with injury and defensive concerns amplified by a difficult second half of the schedule.

Thanks, Mother Nature.

Boston College v North Carolina State

RALEIGH, NC - OCTOBER 06: Head coach Steve Addazio of the Boston College Eagles watches his team during their game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Carter-Finley Stadium on October 6, 2018 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

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The Eagles opened last season 3-0 and eventually ran their early success to a record of 7-2. The remaining three games would include two in which Boston College was favored, not to mention a bowl game. Reaching eight wins seemed assured.

Rather, the Eagles took the requisite beating at the hands of Clemson before providing Florida State its own misguided bowl hopes by losing in Tallahassee. A 42-21 loss to Syracuse sealed the dramatic fall.

That poor ending remained the lasting aftertaste when the First Responders Bowl was halted with 5:08 left in the first quarter. Sure, Boston College led Boise State 7-0 and had outgained the Broncos 96 yards to 28, but it was not a win. Eight wins remained an abstract concept.

Most of its defense, headlined by third-round draft picks safety Will Harris (75 tackles) and defensive end Zach Allen, a second-team All-ACC honoree. Allen combined with defensive end Wyatt Ray to make 26.5 tackles for loss, including 15.5 sacks.

The Eagles also lost four starting offensive linemen, including third-team All-American right guard and first-round draft pick Chris Lindstrom. If counting first-team All-ACC tight end and seventh-round draft pick Tommy Sweeney, that could be considered five offensive linemen. Since Boston College largely operates in a two tight end look, that would not be a misguided assessment.

In other words, the things the Eagles rely on — strong defense and a physical run game — were depleted this offseason.

The most notable recruit in the class of 2019, the only four-star, may not get much notice this year. Running back Patrick Garwo’s impact will presumably come after star junior AJ Dillon has moved onto the NFL. The freshmen who could contribute this season are both on the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Izaiah Henderson and linebacker Shitta Sillah, both from New Monmouth, N.J.

As is the norm in college football these days, grad transfers also arrived to the Eagles’ roster this offseason. Penn State tight end Danny Dalton should help fill Sweeney’s shoes, and two offensive linemen — Miami’s Hayden Mahoney and Davidson’s Zion Johnson — will be needed up front.

Defensively, Clemson lineman Richard Yeargin will look to regain his footing after missing the last two years due to a neck injury suffered in a car accident. Prior to that, Yeargin made 29 tackles, with five for loss including 1.5 sacks, in 22 games of reserve duty with the Tigers.

At some point, logically speaking, Addazio needs to win an eighth game in a season. Going 7-6 four times around a 3-9 disappointment, all followed by last year’s inconclusive 7-5, Addazio has not yet proven himself a worthy coach or otherwise. He has been decidedly average, literally so with a 38-38 record at Boston College and a 51-49 record when including his two years at Temple.

Somehow, he has not found himself on the hot seat, despite the lack of improvement. In a world where remaining stationery is seen as moving backward, Addazio’s position seems secure. That would, of course, change if the record regressed. A .500 season might not get Addazio fired, but a coach who prefers the power run failing to ever have a breakout season with Dillon at his disposal is a coach who would probably soon find himself in an uncomfortable position.

Syracuse v Boston College

CHESTNUT HILL, MA - NOVEMBER 24: Quarterback Anthony Brown #13 of the Boston College Eagles looks to pass during the fourth quarter of the game against the Syracuse Orange at Alumni Stadium on November 24, 2018 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

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Two-time first-team All-ACC honoree, and preseason choice to make it three in a row Dillon will be the mainstay of the Eagles’ offense, again, despite a change in offensive coordinator. He is that talented — and any Notre Dame fans who simply love football should hope Dillon is fully healthy come late November; it will be their last chance to enjoy his abilities. Dillon has 2,697 career rushing yards in just two seasons, despite missing two games last year with an ankle injury and not starting right away as a freshman.

New offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian — replacing Scott Loeffler, now head coach at Bowling Green — comes off four seasons as the quarterbacks coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is not used to having such a strong running back, but he does have some experience with a dual-threat quarterback. Boston College senior Anthony Brown is no Jameis Winston, but he has proven adept in both the run and the pass, completing 55.4 percent of his passes last year for 2,121 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The Dillon-Brown duo is proven, though injury-prone, and should keep the Eagles offense from cratering without a reliable offensive line or changing much under a new coordinator. Improving upon last season’s 32.0 points per game may be a reach, same for the 189 rushing yards per game, but doing so is within the realm of possibility simply given the high-end talent at those key positions.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 03 Boston College at Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG, VA NOVEMBER 03: Virginia Tech running back Steven Peoples (32) is tackled by Boston College linebacker Isaiah McDuffie (55) during a game between the Boston College Eagles and the Virginia Tech Hokies on November 03, 2018, at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, VA. (Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Discussing a new defensive coordinator feels a bit over the top, since Bill Sheridan was formerly Boston College’s linebackers coach, and former defensive coordinator Jim Reid is now the defensive ends coach. Sometimes chairs get shuffled. Not much will change.

At least, that is, in scheme. The players will. Only two full-time starters return, along with two part-timers. Senior defensive tackle Tanner Karafa (47 tackles with 8.5 for loss including four sacks) will have to handle the lion’s share of focus up front while junior middle linebacker Max Richardson (76 tackles with nine for loss including 2.5 sacks) will at least have six-game starter junior Isaiah McDuffie to rely upon. Though he started only half the season, McDuffie actually finished second on the team in tackles, first among those returning, with 85.

In the secondary, sophomore cornerback Brandon Sebastian started seven games, breaking up eight passes and intercepting two more.

A defense that gave up 25.7 points per game last year figures to put more pressure on its own offense now. This is an inversion of Addazio’s tenure. Those 25.7 points per game were a program-high since his first year’s 28.9 in 2013, as was the 402 yards allowed per game, a high since 2013’s 428.

If the Eagles offensive development cannot outpace the defensive decline, reaching an eighth win may be the least of their worries. An offense that was more explosive than efficient last season will need to find stability, and preferably stability beyond its star. In seven wins last year, Boston College averaged 260.7 rushing yards per game; in five losses, 88.8 rushing yards.

Dillon cannot do it all on his own, no matter how good he may be.

However, he might be able to win four games on the schedule without much help. The Eagles’ non-conference slate obviously includes Notre Dame, but the other three names on it are rather subpar: FCS-level Richmond, Kansas and Rutgers. Furthermore, Boston College plays Louisville.

Winning those four would get the Eagles within range of besting their season win total over/under of 6, but finding the needed three more wins may be difficult, partly as a result of being in the tougher of the two ACC divisions.

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