Saturday Road Crystal Ball: Predicting every Boston College football game for 2023
Editor’s note: Saturday Road’s annual Crystal Ball prediction series begins today with Boston College. Tuesday, we’ll preview defending ACC champion Clemson.
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A quick scan of Boston College’s 2022 roster shows that there was nobody named Murphy on the team.
It would have only been fitting had there been at least one.
Because with all the misfortune the Eagles endured on the way to a disappointing 3-9 record and last-place finish in the ACC Atlantic, it seemed as though they were operating under the influence of Murphy’s Law.
Just about everything that could possibly go wrong did go wrong.
“You’ve got to go through that sometimes,” coach Jeff Hafley said.
The season veered off course before it even had a chance to get started when BC’s best offensive lineman, All-ACC guard Christian Mahogany, was lost to a torn ACL while training in June.
And things only got worse from there.
The downward spiral continued with a late 1-point loss to Rutgers in the opening game, followed by a listless performance at Virginia Tech. Then just as the Eagles appeared to finally be gaining some momentum, their hopes for salvaging anything positive ended with a rash of injuries that claimed the rest of their starting line and quarterback Phil Jurkovec.
About the best thing Hafley can say as he looks back at the disaster is that it’s over. And that he’s still around to try and get things back on track.
“It almost feels like we’ve hit the reset button,” he said.
For all that went wrong last season, there were at least a few positives to fuel Hafley’s optimism for 2023.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Emmett Morehead stepped in for Jurkovec and showed a strong arm, leadership ability and the poise of a veteran under difficult circumstances.
The Eagles’ 1 win during the 2nd half of the season was a come-from-behind effort that snapped NC State’s 16-game home winning streak.
And while the results weren’t there, the development of young replacement players is now ahead of schedule because of the game reps they received.
“Once you take a deep breath, realize you got through the season and that everything is OK – you’re alive, healthy and getting guys back – it’s ‘let’s take the positives and go with them,’” Hafley said. “All our young players stayed. A lot got tempted to leave and didn’t. Now a lot of them have experience, know what it’s like, how hard it is and have trained to be better prepared.”
According to ESPN analytics, BC ranks in the top 10 nationally with 78% of last year’s production returning. It should also benefit from a soft nonconference schedule and an ACC slate that avoids former divisional rival Clemson.
Still, Hafley has his work cut out for him.
After winning 6 games and squeaking into the postseason in each of his first 2 seasons with the Eagles, last year’s 3-9 mark puts him squarely on the hot seat.
Let’s take a temperature check.
The scouting report on Christian Mahogany is that he’s a dominant interior lineman with the power, size and technique to overwhelm defenders and become an early round NFL Draft pick.
After last season, there’s 1 more quality to describe the 6-3, 330-pound guard.
Student of the game.
It’s not a degree he intended to pursue. But after suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for the entire season, Mahogany had no other choice than to watch and learn while his teammates struggled on the field without him.
“Physically, mentally, emotionally it’s a draining process,” he said. “There’s dark days. There’s light days. There’s better days than others.
“It’s something that I had to learn about myself, who I am as a person, as a student of the game, as a man. Am I going to be better from this? Or am I just going to be the same? Am I just going to get worse? I decided that day that I was going to be better.”
Mahogany can’t wait to get back on the field to put that motivation and the knowledge he’s gained to practical use.
His return can’t help but bring about an immediate improvement to an offense that averaged only 17.8 points, allowed 46 sacks and ranked dead last in the ACC in rushing at a paltry 63.3 yards per game.
“First play of the game. September 2nd. It’s going to be nasty,” Mahogany said. “It’s going to be physical. Everything that we didn’t have last year, we’re going to have this year. I promise. From me personally, you can quote it, whatever you want to do. It’s going to be nasty football. People aren’t going to like it, but I will, no doubt.”
Bigger, stronger, better
By all accounts, Donovan Ezeiruaku had a breakout sophomore season in 2022. He recorded 8.5 sacks, only 1 fewer than ACC leader and NFL Draft pick Yasir Abdullah of Louisville. He led BC with 14.5 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles while earning 2nd team All-ACC recognition and an estimated NIL value of more than $600,000.
Even with all that on his resume, the 6-2, 251-pound junior wasn’t satisfied.
So instead of hanging out at the beach or patting himself on the back, Ezeiruaku spent his summer in the weight room working harder than ever to get even bigger, stronger and better.
“A point that was made after my exit meeting and after evaluating the season was that I’ve got to get stronger,” he said. “I have to be stronger in my lower half and upper half. So what I did this offseason, I put on some weight. I put on about 10-12 pounds. I’m about 250, 252. I feel like that will help me in that aspect, in that area of my game.”
The added bulk should be a powerful complement to the areas of Ezeiruaku’s game that can’t be developed in the weight room.
“I have speed off the edge. I can bend. I’m instinctual,” he said. “But it’s that last piece, that strength and that power. So I think that putting on those 10-12 pounds will definitely help my game and enhance my game to the next level.”
The night before BC’s game against Duke last November, Hafley texted Morehead with what he thought was a message of encouragement to a freshman getting ready to make his 1st college start.
“He hadn’t played a game since his junior year of high school because of COVID,” Hafley recalled. “So I sent him a text and I said, ‘Hey man, just go be you tomorrow and whatever happens, you know how much I feel about you. You’re my guy. Blah, blah, blah.”
It only took a few seconds for Morehead to reply. And it wasn’t “Thanks, coach. I appreciate that.” His message back to Hafley said, “Yeah, coach I get it. But I’m going to throw for 300 yards.”
He ended up throwing for 330 yards and 4 touchdowns on 27-of-45 passing. Morehead’s response and especially his performance over the final 4 games of the season reinforced Hafley’s confidence in his young quarterback as a leader.
Especially now that he’s the Eagles’ unquestioned leader.
As confident as Morehead is in his own ability, he said it’s as much his job as “taking care of the ball and scoring touchdown” to help instill the same kind of confidence in those around him.
“We’ve got a lot more positivity,” he said. “We’ve got a lot more focus as well. We’re trying to flip our record from last year. “
Week 1: vs. Northern Illinois (W)
The Huskies are an MAC team that allowed 38 points per game last season while going 3-9. They’re the perfect opponent against whom to put up a big number, get a W and start erasing the bad memories of 2022.
Week 2: vs. Holy Cross (W)
Even though the Crusaders are a good FCS team and would love nothing better than to get the better of their Boston-area neighbors, it’s doubtful BC will need any Hail Marys to win this Catholic school battle.
Week 3: vs. Florida State (L)
Time for a wakeup call. Put up a good fight, come out of it healthy and call it a win.
Week 4: at Louisville (L)
The first of several 50-50 games and the first road game. The Cardinals might just be getting started with a new staff. But Jeff Brohm has a track record for success. And he simply has more talent to work with at this point in the game.
Week 5: vs. Virginia (W)
This might be the only conference opponent in which the Eagles have better talent than the opposition. They better take advantage of it, especially since it’s at home.
Week 6: at Army (W)
The Cadets have more soldiers and might win the ground war. But BC has more football players and is superior in the air.
Week 7: Open
Week 8: at Georgia Tech (L)
The Yellow Jackets have trouble stopping the run. Problem is, the Eagles have problems running the ball and might not be able to take advantage. Situations like that favor the defense. And the home team.
Week 9: vs. UConn (W)
The Huskies aren’t the pushover they once were. And the Eagles have a score to settle with them after losing to them – and losing their starting quarterback – in East Hartford last year.
Week 10: at Syracuse (L)
This will be the 4th time in the past 5 years that the former Big East rivals will be playing under the Dome in Upstate New York. The Eagles have won 2 of the past 3. The law of averages says that it’s the Orange’s turn.
Week 11: vs. Virginia Tech (W)
BC has won 3 of the past 5 against the Hokies, including the past 2 at home. Another Technical knockout in a game the Eagles absolutely have to win to have any shot at being bowl eligible.
Week 12: at Pittsburgh (L)
You have to believe Phil Jurkovec has this game circled in red on his calendar. Nothing says redemption like leading your team to a victory against your former team. In your hometown, no less.
Week 13: vs. Miami (L)
This will be a good test of how far each of these rebuilding teams has come. And how much each still has left in the tank after a long season. The homefield and the weather will be in BC’s advantage. The talent on both sides of the ball will favor the Hurricanes.
2023 projection: 6-6 (2-6 ACC)
Hafley has his work cut out for him.
He’ll likely be coaching for his job after going 15-20 (9-17 ACC) over his 3-year tenure and he faces a major building job on both sides of the ball. His defense ranked next-to-last in the ACC, allowing 30.3 points per game while his offense ranked 12th out of 14 teams at just 17.8 points per game. And that’s with 1st-round NFL Draft pick Zay Flowers in the lineup.
As tall a task as he faces, Hafley does have several things leaning in his favor.
The return of All-ACC offensive lineman Mahogany will immediately help both an anemic ground attack and promising young quarterback Morehead. He also upgraded the talent pool on the offensive line, at wide receiver with the addition of Flowers’ replacement Ryan O’Keefe from UCF and throughout the defense.
His ace in the hole, however, is a nonconference schedule that is arguably the easiest an ACC team will face this season.
If the Eagles can hold serve and go 4-0 against Northern Illinois, Holy Cross, Army and UConn, all they need to do is win 2 of the 4 50-50 matchups on their conference slate to improve by 3 games, reach the 6-win threshold for bowl eligibility and, presumably, save Hafley’s job.