The hype, they’re all aware, will be consuming.
When Boston College hosts Miami Saturday afternoon, it will be focused on washing away the stains of last season, a 4-8 disaster that went down as the school’s worst in 13 years.
One of the last things former strength and conditioning coach Jason Loscalzo said before he left to take a job at Washington State was that the Eagles would be 4-8 until they changed it.
“You are what you put on film,” said captain and left tackle Emmett Cleary. “We know we were better than 4-8, we know we are at this point, but until we go out and prove it to people, that’s the last taste we have in our mouths. We are 4-8 until proven otherwise.”
Win on Saturday and they can also quiet, at least momentarily, the skeptics that spent the preseason preheating coach Frank Spaziani’s seat, expecting him to be fired if the results don’t change.
Spaziani has heard the calls for his job, his players have, too, and no matter how much they’ve tried to tune it out as they prepare for the Hurricanes, it makes winning, and winning from the beginning, that much more important
“As a team, we don’t really concentrate on it,” said defensive lineman Kaleb Ramsey. “If we win, winning cures everything. If we win, I’m sure his name won’t be mentioned as much.”
The feeling is that the Eagles need not only a win, but one over an Atlantic Coast Conference rival, the Miami team they beat in the final game of 2011, to set the tone for a season of change.
“We’re not 0-0,” said receiver Colin Larmond. “Everyone’s going to remember that we’re 4-8. Everyone’s going to remember that when we played Miami last year, ‘They were going through all those problems, maybe they weren’t playing, maybe they weren’t focused. Maybe those guys didn’t come out to play, maybe they got lucky.’ But for us now, we’re still 4-8 until the season’s started.”
The expectations and pressure can be dangerous for a team that’s gone through changes in the offseason, endured injuries in the preseason, and will put some of its youngest players in some of its most crucial positions in a season opener that feels like a final exam.
When he talked to his players about it, Spaziani almost had to warn them, “Don’t let all this hype surrounding the game get to you. It’s just 60 minutes to get to play.”
“The trappings around it can be a little bit overwhelming,” Spaziani said. “No matter what happens on Saturday, the next Saturday, we’re playing another game. That’s how we’ve approached every season, ever since I’ve been coaching football and certainly the 16 years here.”
“You need to get off on the right foot as quickly as possibly and have confidence, because confidence is really good to have. It makes you feel better, it makes you perform better. So, it’s an important game in that aspect.”
Win, and everyone can exhale, at least for a week.
“It definitely adds some pressure,” Cleary said. “But if you add all those things into it, it can kind of be too much for you. Especially for the young guys, guys who haven’t played yet. That’s where as a leader you have to explain to them, just focus on the fundamentals and it will take you through the game. But as a veteran, all that hype, that’s what gets you going, being on TV, big-time opponent, that’s what adds fuel to the fire. It’s not going to define our season, but it will tell us where we have to go.”
For all the returning talent, including Cleary and quarterback Chase Rettig, nine underclassmen will be thrown into starting roles for BC, five on defense. Between Lars Anderson, Montel Harris, Ifeanyi Momah, Nathan Richman, and Mark Spinney, the Eagles lost 104 games of experience on offense. On the opposite side, the Eagles lost eight players, the most glaring being two-time All-America linebacker Luke Kuechly.
Kuechly’s volume of tackles will be almost impossible to make up, but redshirt senior Nick Clancy returned and earned the right to replace him. It’s a position he’s never played with play-calling responsibilities he’s never held, but with the job open, he made it his mission to win it.
“It’s real important to him,” Spaziani said. “It’s so important to him that we didn’t see it.”
With six players out with injuries, the depth chart has been shuffled even more. Running backs Andre Williams and Tahj Kimble will split carries, with top returning rusher Rolandan Finch healthy enough to suit up after spraining his left foot but unlikely to carry a heavy load. Alex Amidon and Johnathan Coleman will be Rettig’s top targets with receiver Bobby Swigert nursing a knee injury.
Along with the musical chairs on the field, there are five new faces on the coaching staff, three on offense, including Doug Martin, who came from New Mexico State to take the reins as coordinator. He will be the fourth that Rettig has worked with in his three seasons.
Spaziani has adopted the slogan, “Expect the unexpected,” but he knows he doesn’t have the luxury of looking at the game as a soft opening.
“There’s no way we can look past Miami,” said linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis. “This one’s really just in your face. It’s a big wake-up call, you realize how hard you have to grind.”
For a program with a lot to prove, it isn’t just an opening game, it’s an opening statement.
“A lot can be told from this first game — how we’ve grown up, how we’ve learned to deal with certain things,” Larmond said. “I want to see what’s going to happen Saturday because I think this is a big test to our character.”