BC counts on youth, expects roller coaster

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
The list goes on and on.

There are freshmen (of both the redshirt and true varieties) everywhere on the Boston College depth chart.

There's 11 on the offensive two-deep depth chart, eight more on the defensive two-deep and one more (not counting players twice) on the special-teams two-deep for a total of 20. That's nearly a third of the 63 total names listed.

Add in the six sophomores listed and you're up to 41 percent underclassmen.

"We have a lot of youth in our skill positions," sophomore back Myles Willis said. "But you'd much rather have it that way than [have it] flipped and have a young O-line and old skill position players."

The youth at the skill positions doesn't mean there's no experience on BC's sideline -- the Eagles have 15 graduate students on their roster, tied with Alabama for most in the country. All five starters on the offensive line -- including returning starters Andy Gallik, Bobby Vardaro and Harris Williams and new starters Seth Betancourt and Ian Silberman -- will be in their fifth year in 2014.

[+] EnlargeMyles Willis
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesWith Andre Williams gone, Myles Willis will be counted on to carry the load in Boston College's running game.
"It's good to have them coming back -- they know what's up," Willis, a likely starter at running back alongside fellow sophomore Tyler Rouse, said of the O-line. "They know how it feels to go win a game on Saturday and know how hard it's gonna [be]."

But the rest of the young Eagles don't -- at least not yet. And for BC to build on its 7-6, bowl-worthy performance in Year 1 of the Steve Addazio era, those untested players will have to ace all their early tests at the college level.

The first of those comes on Saturday, when the Eagles will bus to Foxborough to face in-state foe UMass at Gillette Stadium (3 p.m. ET, ESPN3).

"You sit here and you say to yourself, 'OK, for the future of the program we've gotta get them on the field. We've gotta get 'em going,'" Addazio said of the young players. "But you also know that you lose games when you put the ball on the ground. And that's the dilemma you're in.

"Those guys, they're working really well and they're getting better every day but it'll be the first time in that environment."

BC's Class of 2014 was ranked as high as No. 24 nationally by Recruiting Nation, before landing at No. 42, and includes three four-star prospects and a whopping 19 three-star prospects. Clearly that youth is enticing.

But the fact is young players are prone to making mistakes, and BC's reliance on youth -- which is unusual for the program -- no doubt has cost Addazio shuteye ahead of this season.

"It's an interesting dynamic in Year 2," Addazio said. "We have a lot more talent in here now, so it's exciting. There's a lot of unknowns, but I'm excited about it. I'm not sitting here in front of you whining about it. I just know it's gonna take a little time. That's what this season is going to be."

Just because BC went from 2-10 in 2012 to 7-6 in 2013, appearing in a bowl (losing to Arizona) for the first time in three seasons, doesn't mean all the holes have been patched over and the rebuilding is complete.

Some structural work remains.

"When I took this deal, this job, I knew that this was minimally a three-year, probably more in line closer to [a] five-year [project]," Addazio said. "And nothing has changed. Not from my vantage point. Grabbing seven wins last year didn't solve it all, but we're rolling our sleeves up and building more.

"Year-by-year we will get a little bit more experienced and a little bit more restocked. And then you get to the point where you're in your fourth or fifth year, in there, and you have a nice drawer full of good players that have varied experience levels ... then hopefully you're starting to get back to where you were when you were hitting it."

In the meantime, Addazio likes what he's seen from Willis, Rouse and freshmen Jonathan Hilliman, Marcus Outlow and Richard Wilson in the running back corps. He's high on redshirt freshman Charlie Callinan and true freshmen Thaddius Smith, Gabriel McClary and Sherman Alston at wide receiver. He's been impressed by freshmen defenders Harold Landry, Connor Strachan and Ty Schwab.

"Now, will that equate to production this year?" Addazio asked rhetorically. "Probably, but maybe not to the level you're hoping in Year 1. But the talent's there."

That comment was specifically about the wideouts, but it can apply to the team as a whole. The Eagles return just 16.9 percent of their rushing yards, 0.08 percent of their passing yards, 31.1 percent of their receiving yards and 57.2 percent of their tackles from 2013.

There will be plenty of opportunities for new players to emerge and make up for some of that lost production.

QB Tyler Murphy has never taken a regular-season snap for the Eagles, but he started six games for the Florida Gators. The graduate student transfer says that experience was invaluable, and he's been trying to pass on what he learned to the young players around him.

"It feels good to be the guy, but it comes with a lot of responsibility," said Murphy, whom teammates and coaches alike have praised his leadership ability. "You have to make sure you're ready, individually, and then you also have to make sure everybody else on the offense is ready. That's part of the challenge.

"You can't just focus on your job, you have to make sure everybody else is doing their job, pushing guys and making the best of each rep."

With the first regular-season reps almost here, the Eagles can probably best be described as cautiously optimistic.

"I really like our guys. Every day I go to work and it's fun to coach this football team," Addazio said. "I've got a lot of respect for the guys on this team. They really like ball, they have talent and they want to be good, so what else do you want?

"Now we'll go about the business of putting this together and developing it. You hope you can get out early and get some positive momentum going and that'll go a long way in the development. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. But I mean that's the hope. It would be great for the building of this team. But part of development and part of maturity is those scars, those scars from going through it the hard way."

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Which CFB team is most popular?

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
With Boston College and UMass set to kick off the 2014 college football season against each other on Saturday at Gillette Stadium (3 p.m. ET, ESPN3), there’s one obvious question to answer.

Who is the most popular college football team in Massachusetts?

According to online ticket reseller TicketCity, the answer is Harvard.

That’s right, in TicketCity’s rankings the Crimson top both the Eagles and the Minutemen.

Don’t believe us? Check it out for yourself:

Here’s the formula TicketCity followed to come up with these rankings:

To determine which college football team is the most popular in each state, we factored in four pieces of data for all Division I football teams (FBS and FCS). The first two data points were culled from social media; the number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers that each football team’s official page has. Next, we used Google Tools to pull the monthly average number of searches conducted for each team by users in that team’s state. Lastly, we used the median price of tickets on the secondary market for the upcoming season. As the price of tickets is a strong indicator of demand, we weighed that factor heavier than the other three. We then indexed the data points and ranked the teams accordingly.

Harvard kicks off its season against Holy Cross on Friday, Sept. 19, at Harvard Stadium.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

BC's defense hopes to build on progress

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
So, Manuel Asprilla was asked early on in training camp, entering Year 2 in Don Brown’s defense what’s the biggest difference?

Is it less terminology, more time spent getting into the nitty-gritty? More X’s and O’s, less let’s-see-what-he-knows?

If you spent any time around Boston College during the preseason, the 5-foot-11, 183-pound Everett, Massachusetts, native’s answer might surprise you.

It was the volume level.

“Last year, there was a lot of yelling because we didn’t really understand everything that was going on,” Asprilla said. “But going into this year, I’m understanding my position and the man next to me [is understanding his].”

Now, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator hasn’t lost his voice. Brown can bark with the best of them, and in the portions of practice open to the media he often could be heard well above the fray -- even from the back fields at Shea.

But now that he’s not constantly having to correct his charges, Brown has been able to dial the barking back a bit.

“We’ve thrown a lot at ‘em and the guys have been very responsive,” Brown said after one practice last week. “We’re second year in now, so especially the core guys have a real understanding of what we’re trying to get done.

“We’ve been able to challenge the guys with more scheme. In this game, you’re looking to have as many answers for problems as you can possibly have. I think we’ve been able to ... not only just digest it but execute it to a certain level.”

And while head coach Steve Addazio wasn’t ready to say the BC defense will be ahead of the rebuilt BC offense to open the season, which starts Saturday at Gillette Stadium against in-state rival UMass (3 p.m. ET, ESPN3), he admitted there’s a clear difference from Year 1 to Year 2.

“I feel better about where the defense is right now relative to last year,” Addazio said. “Relative to a year ago, I think we have more veteran players back and I think we’re ahead of where we were. Again, does that always mean that it’s going to equal wins? You hope it does. But I think we’re ahead.”

[+] EnlargeDuggan
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesSean Duggan, who will start at middle linebacker, has blossomed into the field general of BC's defense.
While the Eagles will have to replace their leading tackler (Steele Divitto), second-leading tackler (Kevin Pierre-Louis) and leading sack artist (Kasim Edebali), they return six starters on Brown’s side of the ball in juniors Asprilla, linebacker Steven Daniels, defensive lineman Connor Wujciak, defensive back Bryce Jones, safety Sean Sylvia and graduate student strong safety Dominique Williams.

That’s twice as many starters as BC returns on offense, with only center Andy Gallik, guard Bobby Vardaro and guard Harris Williams back on that side of the ball.

Dominique Williams, voted a captain for 2014 along with Gallik, wideout Josh Bordner and linebacker Sean Duggan, said the defense isn’t focused on who it doesn’t have anymore.

“You can’t really replace those guys,” Williams said early in camp. “Those guys are great guys on and off the field. But one thing they did do was they took the younger guys under their wings, and those guys were able to gain experience on the field.”

Now it’s time for the remaining Eagles to make that experience pay off. The defense was going to look different this season anyway, Brown said, so now it’ll just be more so.

“We change about 40 percent of our pressure stuff on a year-to-year basis,” he said. “And I think there will be a significant difference. It’s really up to new dynamic guys to take place and kind of fill the voids that were left.”

To that end, both Addazio and Brown praised the linebacker corps, and in particular Duggan, who is slated to start at middle linebacker.

“He is the field general on the field for the defense,” Addazio said of Duggan. “Flat-out. He makes every check, every call. It’s unbelievable. He’s got total command. He’s really blossomed. I’d say he’s one of the guys in my opinion who’s really emerged, really blossomed. He might be as big as anybody in that category.”

“Very happy with Sean Duggan at mike,” Brown said. “Very happy with Steven Daniels there, as well. ... [Mike] Strizak’s had a good run. Josh Keyes at [strongside linebacker] has been very dynamic. I’m very excited about his preseason. He’s a key cog for us. And Matt Milano has backed him up and really done a good job as well.

“So maybe the faces will change, I’m just hoping the guys when we hit the game will be able to play at the same level if not higher.”

In Year 1 in Brown’s aggressive, in-your-face scheme -- “We always say solve your problems with aggression, you want to play fast, you want to play on their side of the line,” Duggan said -- the BC defense went from six sacks in 2012 to 36 sacks in 2013. That six-fold increase brought BC from 124th (also known as last) in the nation in 2012 to a tie for 19th in 2013.

Thirty-six sacks -- or three sacks a game in a 12-game schedule -- will be the target again in 2014. But that’s not the only thing the BC D is shooting for.

“I think the main goal is just build upon what we started last year and just grow as a defense,” Duggan said. “We want the stats to reflect how far we’ve come. There’s always statistical goals, but you just want to keep growing as a team and keep getting better.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

UMass trolls Doug Flutie and his statue

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
When one thinks of in-state rivalries in college football, Boston College and Massachusetts isn't exactly top of mind. But we can always get behind a little rivalry hijinks during game week.

In advance of Saturday's matchup between the Eagles and Minutemen at Foxborough's Gillette Stadium, someone -- we're just going to guess a UMass supporter -- decided to go to BC's Alumni Stadium and dress up the statue of the school's most famous football alum: 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie.

Whether they had anything to do with it or not, the UMass program and its mascot were more than happy to point it out to Flutie on Twitter.

Do you think he noticed? Oh, he certainly noticed. And he wasn't too impressed.  

UMass' new QB embracing the challenge

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
The quarterback with the easier-than-it-looks name made a harder-than-it-looks decision, and Mark Whipple is glad he did.

Blake Frohnapfel -- that’s pronounced FROH-nap-ul -- decided to transfer to Massachusetts after a visit in the first week of February. And when a visitor joked that it must’ve been the Amherst-in-winter weather that sold him, the 6-foot-6, 229-pounder joked right back. He was leaving Marshall in the mountains of West Virginia, not exactly Miami Beach.

But, he’s quick to add, just because the weather can be equally dismal in Huntington and Amherst doesn’t mean it was easy to leave the former for the latter.

“I have a lot of close bonds with people at Marshall,” Frohnapfel said.

[+] EnlargeMark Whipple
John Bohn/Getty ImagesUMass head coach Mark Whipple hopes Frohnapfel and a bolstered receiving corps can improve on the team's dismal 2013 passing numbers.
With the Thundering Herd, he got to play alongside his twin brother, Eric (a 6-foot-7 wideout). His sister was a graduate assistant for the athletic department. He had a lot of family in the area. And though he’s graduated, his girlfriend is still in school there.

“Leaving that was hard for me,” he said, “but I knew, kinda at a personal level that it was probably best for me to leave Marshall and help myself branch out and expand and come to the northeast, which is a place I’ve never really been before.”

Whipple has been here before. Shortly after starting his second go-around as the UMass coach (though this is his first season with the program at the FBS level), the 57-year-old set about trying to add talent to a roster that had gone 1-11 in each of the previous two seasons.

When he heard through a coaching connection that Frohnapfel was looking for a place to play (while earning his MBA), Whipple was intrigued. He liked what he heard from people at Marshall about Frohnapfel’s drive and leadership ability, not to mention his skill set.

In two years as a backup, the Stafford, Va., native went 35-for-45 for 386 yards, five TDs and two interceptions. He also rushed 24 times for 164 yards and two TDs, much of the yardage coming on long runs of 45 and 51 yards.

Though his numbers in limited action were good, Frohnapfel knew he wouldn’t see the field with Rakeem Cato -- who ESPN Insider Brock Huard called one of the nation’s 10 best QBs for 2014, and who others have called a dark-horse Heisman candidate -- back for his senior season.

So he put together a list of schools with potential opportunities at QB and a good business program, and UMass happened to be on it. Frohnapfel liked what he saw on his visit -- despite the winter’s chill -- and felt at home, so he committed.

“It’s been great,” he said of the experience so far. “The team unity has been great. They really just accepted me. Everyone was trying to help me out, ‘Hey, Froh, we’re going to do this, come hang out with us.’ Even that first week when I didn’t really know anybody ...

“My roommates have been great, giving me rides to places -- because I don’t know where it is.”

Comments like that and his Twitter handle (@FrostedBlakes15) and bio -- “Isenberg School of Management MBA/MS student. Marshall University grad. Your mom's favorite player.” -- show off his easygoing sense of humor.

“He’s real cool,” wideout Tajae Sharpe said. “He’s kinda a laidback person. He’s very funny, too, once you get to know him ... and he studies the game a lot in his off time, so that’s also a big plus.”

Frohnapfel was named the starter at QB after a camp battle with A.J. Doyle and UMass’ other signal-callers. Though Whipple praised Doyle’s play, as well, he said the newcomer made a few more throws and a few more good decisions.

The Minutemen certainly could use a boost at the position, after Doyle and former QB Mike Wegzyn combined to go 177-for-336 passing for 1,877 yards, nine TDs and 18 interceptions in 2013. UMass ranked No. 113 nationally with 156.4 passing yards per game and tied for No. 120 at 5.5 yards per attempt.

At Marshall, Frohnapfel averaged 7.8 yards per attempt in 2012 and 9.4 yards per attempt in 2013.

The coaching staff hopes Frohnapfel and a bolstered receiving corps that includes Sharpe, redshirt junior Markel Michel and Penn State transfer Alex Kenney, among others, can improve on the team’s passing numbers in 2014.

“We’re working on getting to know [Frohnapfel] better,” Whipple said, “so things he likes to do and feels comfortable with we’ll work those in, some of the things we’re trying to teach him.”

“As soon as I met him, he wanted to get on the field and start throwing the ball, get our timing and everything down like that,” Sharpe said. “As a quarterback you have to be a leader and a communicator, and he’s definitely done a good job with that.”

The biggest adjustment hasn’t been finding his way around Amherst or fitting into the team culture at McGuirk; it's been taking the snap from under center in Whipple’s pro style offense after a career spent mostly in shotgun formations.

So Frohnapfel’s gotten to know center Matt Sparks -- who happens to be one of his three roommates, along with two other offensive linemen -- very well.

“Oh yeah, we’re just in the living room, running through full plays, moving the coaches around,” Frohnapfel said with a laugh. “It’s a good time.”

The Minutemen and their supporters hope that, with Whipple back in charge of the offense and Frohnapfel now under center, the good times are just beginning.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Eagles choose team captains

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
Steve Addazio knew, but he wasn’t talking.

The team had already voted for its 2014 captains, the ballots had been tallied and the winners ascertained, but the Boston College coach wouldn’t reveal the names at his news conference on Monday.

He wasn’t being secretive, he didn’t disagree and wasn’t demanding a recount. He just hadn’t announced it to the team yet, and he wasn’t about to announce it to the public before his players.

All Addazio would say, when pressed for some comment, was “Not shocking, [the team picked] great guys. They got it right.”

Once he finally told the team, at a meeting later Monday, the Eagles announced via Twitter that quarterback-turned-wideout Josh Bordner, linebacker Sean Duggan, center Andy Gallik and defensive back Dominique Williams had been voted BC’s 2014 captains:

Former BC captain Kasim Edebali, now fighting for a spot with the New Orleans Saints, tweeted a message of encouragement after the announcement. BC athletic director Brad Bates sent along his congratulations, and freshman running back Jon Hilliman added a message of his own:

Bordner, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound graduate student, served as backup QB the past three seasons (going 4-for-8 for 61 yards and one interception and rushing nine times for 100 yards and two TDs) before switching to wideout in the offseason. Duggan, a 6-4, 250-pound senior, has 79 tackles to his credit in three years at BC and is slated to be the starting middle linebacker in 2014. Gallik, a 6-3, 304-pound graduate student, is a three-year starter at center with 28 starts to his credit. Williams, a 6-foot, 220-pound graduate student, has 83 tackles in 34 games in his career as a defensive back.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Three-and-out: Addazio missing film

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Boston College coach Steve Addazio held his first regular-season news conference at Alumni Stadium on Monday afternoon, and the talented talker was in midseason form.

Here are a few key takeaways, in three-and-out fashion:

First down: While Addazio, Don Brown and Mark Whipple all go way back, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Eagles know exactly what Whipple’s Minutemen will do when the teams face off in the season opener at Gillette Stadium on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN3).

“I think we don’t have a great feel for what they’re going to do on defense,” Addazio said. “There’s no video to watch. There’s recent Mark Whipple-coached offensive film out there. But [for UMass defensive coordinator] Tom Masella, there’s not recent defensive coordinator film out there. So I’d really feel much more comfortable right now, to tell you the truth, if we were watching like six, seven games of last season -- like they’re watching of us.”

Addazio said the Eagles will have to prepare for anything, which means putting more responsibility on his young team and that, in turn, could mean more potential for mistakes in Week 1.

“So I think it’s a disadvantage and makes me very uncomfortable, to be honest with you,” he said.

Second down: The Eagles made it through training camp mostly intact, though they did suffer one major injury -- losing backup linebacker Tim Joy for the season with a knee injury.

Wideout Bobby Swigert is still working his way back and won’t be ready for Week 1. Running back David Dudeck is likely out as he rehabs a hamstring injury. And wideout Harrison Jackson is still rehabbing a knee injury, but has a chance to play this season.

Wideout Shakim Phillips, linebacker Steven Daniels and defensive back Ty-Meer Brown, all of whom were limited at times in camp, should be ready to go.

“One serious injury is one too many,” Addazio said, “but overall coming out of training camp we’re pretty healthy and that’s a good thing. I hate to even talk about it too much. I mean, goll-y. We’ve still got a couple days.”

Third down: The BC coach expects to use between six and 10 freshmen and redshirt freshmen in the game against UMass.

“That’s a lot. You didn’t make me feel good saying that right there,” Addazio joked. “You’ll see them in the game. Now, starters? A couple. But they’re gonna play.

“A couple of them actually played [last year] ... A guy like Matt Milano, he played a handful of snaps last year. You’re gonna see him a lot. [Truman] Gutapfel played a handful of snaps last year, you’re gonna see him a ton. He’ll become like a starter.”

Other young Eagles to watch out for, in no particular order: Sherman Alston, Gabriel McClary, Thaddius Smith, Jon Hilliman, Kamrin Moore, Ty Schwab, Connor Strachan and John Johnson.

Out: The Eagles posed for the team picture after practice on Monday. Here’s the proof:

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Tim Joy lost for season with knee injury

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Boston College linebacker Tim Joy will miss the 2014 season with a knee injury, coach Steve Addazio announced on Monday afternoon.

Joy suffered the injury in the team’s final scrimmage of preseason, though Addazio said the exact details of the injury aren’t known yet.

“He’s down for the year,” Addazio said. “It’s a hit [at linebacker]. More importantly, your heart goes out to Tim. He worked really, really hard for this season, and it’s really disappointing for a young man to have to put all that you put into that and your season goes on the shelf for ya before you even get out of the blocks.

“So your heart just breaks for that. It’s sad. It’s part of the game, it’s just sad.”

Joy, a junior, was slated as a backup at both the mike and the will linebacker positions.

As a sophomore in 2013, the 6-foot-1, 229-pound Chelmsford, Massachusetts, native appeared in six games, mostly on special teams. As a freshman in 2012, Joy appeared in nine games and made a total of 13 tackles (eight solo and five assisted).

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Tim Joy

Three-and-out: UMass ready for Week 1

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
It’s here: After a long offseason, game week has arrived.

UMass coach Mark Whipple participated in his first conference call for the Mid-American Conference on Monday morning, and said his team is excited to kick off the season against in-state rival Boston College at Gillette Stadium (3 p.m. ET, ESPN3).

In the debut of our new-look notebook, here are the takeaways in three-and-out fashion:

First down: Whipple and BC defensive coordinator Don Brown go way back, to the early days of their coaching careers. In fact, Whipple hired Brown twice -- at Brown and at UMass.

“He’s just a great person, a great football coach and a tremendous family man,” Whipple said of Brown. “We had a lot of success at Brown, obviously won a national title and had a lot of fun at UMass.”

Whipple, a noted offensive mind, said the two played off each other and “grew up” a lot in their time together.

Second down: As far as the on-field matchup goes, Whipple said he’s partially responsible for some of what fans will see the Eagles do on defense.

“I probably gave [Brown] too many secrets when I was in the NFL [with Pittsburgh], and that might bite me in the tail now,” he said with a laugh. “I gave him some things from Dick LeBeau ... and I’m seeing some of those things show up on tape.

“I just love watching his defense play. They’re aggressive, they have fun and they never take a play off. ... It’ll be interesting come 3 o’clock on Saturday.”

Third down: Whipple praised BC’s commitment to its running attack and had kind words for transfer QB Tyler Murphy.

“They’re a solid ACC team that’s very aggressive on defense,” he said. “An experienced group and solid all the way across. We’ve got our hands full.

“We’ve gotta take care of the ball on offense and try to make some first downs and not give up any big plays on defense. ... We’ll know a lot about ourselves probably after the first quarter. Are we ready to play at an ACC level? Well, we’ll find out. It’s a tough opener but our guys are excited about it.”

Out: In a rarity, the home team in this weekend’s matchup will actually be coming from farther away than the visiting team.

“BC will be excited,” Whipple said. “It’s our home game but they’ll travel less than we will to the stadium.”

It’s roughly 92 miles from McGuirk Stadium in Amherst to Gillette, and only 26 miles from Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill to Gillette.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

UMass forecast: Overcast, gradual clearing

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
Previewing the 2014 season for new (old) coach Mark Whipple and the Minutemen:

Massachusetts Minutemen

Coach: Mark Whipple (first FBS season at UMass; 121-59 overall, 49-26 at UMass)

2013 record: 1-11 (1-7 in Mid-American Conference)

Key losses: TE Rob Blanchflower, OL Anthony Dima

Key returnees: QB A.J. Doyle, RB Jamal Wilson, C Matt Sparks, WR Tajae Sharpe, LB Stanley Andre, DB Trey Dudley-Giles

Newcomer to watch: Mark Whipple. In his first season in Amherst, Whipple led the Minutemen to the mountaintop and won a national title. In his first season back in Amherst, after more than a decade away from the program -- which has since been elevated to the FBS from the FCS -- that included stops in the NFL (as an assistant with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Cleveland) and a stint at Miami, expectations aren’t quite that high.

But with the institutional memories Whipple and his staff -- he hired former star Minutemen Liam Coen and Marcel Shipp as assistants -- evoke, they’re high, nonetheless.

Can Whipple whip a team that went 1-11 in each of the previous two seasons into shape and start to turn that record around?

Biggest games in 2014: vs. Boston College, Aug. 30; at Penn State, Sept. 20; vs. Bowling Green, Sept. 27

Biggest question mark heading into 2014: Can the Minutemen get a little home cooking?

After two years of playing all its home games at cavernous Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, UMass will bring football back to Amherst this fall with three home dates in newly renovated McGuirk Stadium.

The Minutemen will still call the Patriots’ home their own for three games -- the season opener against Boston College and matchups with Colorado and Eastern Michigan -- but the hope is fans who never warmed to the long drive to Foxborough to sit in a half- or one-third-filled stadium will return to McGuirk and give UMass something it hasn’t had in years: a real home-field advantage.

Whether or not that translates to more wins -- the Minutemen won just once at home in the past two seasons -- remains to be seen, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.

Forecast: Overcast, with clouds gradually clearing.

Though the record is what it is, the Minutemen were a few plays away -- losing by one twice, to Western Michigan and Akron -- from two more wins in 2013. And UMass will return its leading receiver (Tajae Sharpe) and leading rusher (Jamal Wilson) from last season.

(A.J. Doyle led the Minutemen in passing last season, but Whipple named Marshall transfer Blake Frohnapfel the starter for the opener.)

So it doesn’t take an overactive imagination to see Whipple’s squad winning more than a single game in 2014.

But the schedule, especially early, is daunting. UMass opens with games against Boston College and Colorado (not exactly powerhouses, but big-conference competitors) at Gillette, then hits the road for games against Vanderbilt and Penn State.

The Minutemen could easily be 0-4 when they open MAC play, and the first game of conference competition won’t be a cakewalk, either, as Bowling Green (10-4 in 2013) comes to Amherst.

It is unrealistic to expect Whipple to have turned the program completely around since he was hired in January, and the long-term future of UMass as an FBS program is up in the air -- the school rejected full membership in the MAC in March, and so must leave the conference after 2015 for parts as yet unknown.

The best-case scenario for UMass in Year 1 of Term 2 under Whipple is probably a third straight losing season, but one that demonstrates the program has a clearly defined, and positive, direction.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

UMass checks out Gillette digs

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The latest Patriots practice open to the masses was two days ago, but a few members of the team got an unexpected brush with the adoring public Wednesday afternoon.

Having just completed a light workout on the field at Gillette Stadium, the UMass Minutemen were headed for their coach buses for the ride back to Amherst when some of the New England players passed them in the halls on the way to the practice field.

So instead of continuing to the buses, the college kids stopped and gawked. More than a few called out “Revis” when the Pats’ new star cornerback sauntered by in his blue No. 24 jersey.

(Darrelle Revis didn’t seem to notice.)

A few Minutemen snapped pictures with their smartphones, which prompted an alert employee standing nearby to sternly remind them they were in a private area of the stadium and the pictures should not find their way to social media.

No matter. The chance encounter is just another perk of calling Gillette home for three dates this season, along with seeing the university’s logo (the oversized “U” overlaid with “MASS”) spinning on the end zone video boards and the ribbon boards proclaiming “Welcome to the home of the Massachusetts Minutemen.”

With the season opener just 10 days away, UMass coach Mark Whipple brought his team across the state to give the players and coaches a chance to get comfortable in their home-away-from-home.

“We just wanted to show them what the ride was like, so it’s nothing new,” Whipple said. “A lot of guys hadn’t been here, guys hadn’t thrown here. And I think sometimes the sight lines are somewhat different. It’s just familiarity. It’s our home field, [it’s] a great place. A lot of the young freshmen hadn’t seen it, and [I] really we wanted them to be ready to play football and not look around.”

It was an easy workout -- just helmets, jerseys and shorts -- to be followed later Wednesday with a session back at McGuirk in Amherst. The Minutemen did a few passing drills, worked on special teams and were off the field in less than two hours.

Quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, named the team’s starter on Monday after a camp competition with incumbent A.J. Doyle, said it was a helpful outing.

“It’s pretty awesome,” the graduate student, a transfer from Marshall, said. “You take that little road in, [and] just seeing how big it is, it’s a pretty cool place to be at right now.”

Although there’s still plenty of work to be done -- the game plan for Boston College won’t really start being installed until Friday -- Frohnapfel said he and his teammates can’t wait to run out of that tunnel on Aug. 30.

“To have a chance to play in a big game like that, in a stadium like this, with all the history and the guys that play on this field,” he said, “it’s pretty special.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

BC forecast: Slight chance of sunshine

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
Previewing the 2014 season for coach Steve Addazio and the Eagles.

Boston College Eagles

Coach: Steve Addazio (second year at BC, 20-17 overall)

2013 record: 7-6 (4-4 ACC)

Key losses: RT Ian White, LT Matt Patchan, WR Alex Amidon, RB Andre Williams, QB Chase Rettig, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB Steele Divitto, DE Kasim Edebali, PK/P Nate Freese

Key returnees: C Andy Gallik, G Bobby Vardaro, G Harris Williams, RB Myles Willis, DE Mehdi Abdesmad, LB Steven Daniels, LB Josh Keyes, DB Dominique Williams, DB Manny Asprilla

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesBC coach Steve Addazio has high hopes for new QB Tyler Murphy, a graduate student transfer from Florida.
Newcomer to watch: QB Tyler Murphy. Could it be anyone else? Though you could argue other positions have traditionally been more important for BC -- which has earned the nickname O-Line U -- quarterback is football’s glamor position. Always has been, always will be. So now that Chase Rettig is trying to stick with the Green Bay Packers instead of trying to stick it to the Florida State Seminoles, there will be a new signal-caller in Chestnut Hill for the first time in four years. Murphy, a graduate student transfer from Florida, will get a chance to do in Boston what he couldn’t do in Gainesville -- prove he’s a winning QB. Addazio, who recruited the Connecticut native to the Gators when he was an assistant there, loves Murphy’s makeup and skill set. Now it’s up to Murphy to make it happen on the field.

Biggest games in 2014: at Massachusetts, Aug. 30; vs. USC, Sept. 13; vs. Clemson, Oct. 18; at Florida State, Nov. 22

Biggest question mark heading into 2014: Who’s on (the) first (team offense)? The Eagles lost a ton -- a ton -- of offense when Amidon, Rettig and Williams walked out those Yawkey Center doors for the final time. Williams alone accounted for more than 2,000 yards on the ground in his Heisman-finalist 2013 season.

That’s why two of the biggest questions facing BC in Year 2 under Addazio are: Who will fill those roles in 2014? And can they come close to matching their predecessors’ production?

Forecast: Mostly cloudy with sun breaking through at times.

After a surprising run to a 7-6, bowl-worthy season in Year 1, it’s likely the Eagles will take a step back in Year 2. To listen to Addazio during preseason has been to hear expectations being managed. In one breath, the coach is setting lofty goals -- keeping the same two he set last season, win the opener and get bowl eligible, and adding a third, make it to Charlotte for the ACC title game -- and in the next breath, he’s reminding anyone and everyone just how young his team is this season.

Because young teams make mistakes, and poorly timed mistakes (i.e. ones that come in crunch time) cost teams games.

So why the forecast for sun breaking through at times? There’s talent in that youth.

Addazio is not given to false praise. Plaudits must be earned, never simply awarded on promise. So it seems telling that he’s pumped up about some of the talent he and his staff have added to what they inherited.

He loves what he sees from sophomore backs Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse. He’s excited to deploy the size the Eagles now have in the receiving corps with Dan Crimmins (6-foot-5, 237 pounds), Shakim Phillips (6-3, 206), Charlie Callinan (6-4, 220) and Josh Bordner (6-4, 230). He can’t wait to get Mehdi Abdesmad back healthy on the D-line, alongside Truman Gutapfel and Malachi Moore.

Will all the talent that Addazio sees on Shea Field produce BC wins in Alumni Stadium?

The answer to that question will determine whether the clouds hanging over the Eagles’ season are light and fluffy or dark and full of foreboding.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

With work to do, Terriers hit the road

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
There’s plenty of work to do on the court, Boston University coach Joe Jones acknowledged in a recent interview in his office off Comm. Ave. in Boston, but that can’t mean life off the court stops.

In fact, to know where they are, the Terriers may just have to go somewhere they’ve never been.

“I love our team. I love their attitude. I like our talent level,” Jones said. “But we’re young, and we just need to go through the process. We need to play, we need to practice, we need to get to know each other. We need to learn, we need to grow, we need to develop.

“I’m just kinda looking forward to going through it. But there’s a lot of inexperience out there.”

The Terriers have already put in 10 practice sessions, focusing mainly on fundamentals like closeouts and rotations on defense and moving the ball on offense, getting an early start on the 2014-15 season’s work not because their youth and inexperience says they need it but because of < ahref=http://espn.go.com/blog/boston/colleges/post/_/id/5301/bu-has-big-travel-plans-for-2014-15>their travel plans.

Luckily for Jones and his charges, there are basketball courts seemingly everywhere these days. And that leads to photos like this one, shared by BU assistant coach Shaun Morris (that’s him on the left, in sunglasses) on Tuesday:

The Terriers have taken their learning experience across the Atlantic to Italy, where Jones hopes they soak in the history of the place and get a glimpse of life as it’s lived in Rome, Venice and Vatican City. He also hopes the experience brings his young team together, off the court and on.

“From an athletic sense, just spending time together, the brotherhood, the ability to bond and get to know each other at a deeper level is very powerful and very important,” he said.

Before the team left the country, Jones said he’d been pleased with what he saw in practice. The juniors (including leading returning scorer John Papale and Nathan Dieudonne) have been good leaders and communicators, he said, the sophomores have shown improvement (though Cedric Hankerson has been hampered by a hamstring injury), and the freshmen (including likely ballhandlers Cheddi Mosely and Eric Johnson) have flashed skills that say they belong.

There’s a long way to go before the season tips off against crosstown rival Northeastern on Nov. 16 (in the Coaches vs. Cancer tripleheader at TD Garden), but for now the Terriers are focused on their experiences far from home (which you can follow along with on social media via the hashtag “#ciaoBU”).

BU will play four games against professionals on the trip, and that live action should give Jones and his assistants plenty of time to assess where they stand.

“I think the staff will walk away with a ton of information, a report card of things that we need to continue to work on and things that we’re probably a little bit better [at that] we didn’t know,” Jones said. “I think we’ll have a better idea of who we are.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Babson hockey player, Frates pal dies

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
A former Babson College hockey player who was in Nantucket raising funds for ALS research in honor of his friend Pete Frates drowned early Sunday morning.

Corey Griffin, 27, dove into the water from the "Juice Guys" building on Straight Wharf in Nantucket and drowned, according to police reports.

According to a police press release, "Witness stated Griffin had jumped off the Juice Guys building, at 44 Straight Wharf, into the water where he floated to the surface. Griffin then went under water again not resurfacing."

Griffin's father said that Corey was committed to helping his friend, Frates, raise awareness and funds for ALS research, and had just raised $100,000 for the cause. Frates, a former Boston College baseball star who was diagnosed with ALS in the spring of 2012, is credited with creating The Ice Bucket Challenge along with friend and fellow ALS patient Pat Quinn of Yonkers, N.Y.

“He was so happy to be able to help him,” Robert Griffin told the Globe.

Griffin played parts of three seasons on the Babson hockey team. Babson sent out a tweet expressing sorrow: "We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Corey Griffin '10. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Griffin Family. There are no words."

Griffin had spent his freshman year at Boston College and played with the Eagles. In a statement, BC coach Jerry York said: "We were extremely shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Corey. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends."

Pete Frates takes Ice Bucket Challenge

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
Former Boston College baseball captain Pete Frates, the man who inspired the social media phenomenon that has raised awareness -- and nearly $6 million -- for ALS, on Thursday took the Ice Bucket Challenge himself at Fenway Park.

Along with Red Sox manager John Farrell, third baseman Will Middlebrooks and members of his family, Frates, whose battle with ALS has left him in a wheelchair and unable to speak, was doused in ice water like thousands before him to aid in finding the cure.

Frates had previously passed on taking the challenge himself, writing on his Facebook page that “ice water and ALS are a bad mix,” but on Thursday decided to take the plunge while sitting in a chair in front of the Green Monster in left field.

After the challenge, Farrell nominated good friend and Indians skipper Terry Francona and Yankees manager Joe Giarardi to take the challenge themselves.