Northwestern at Boston College: 5 big questions


New year, new segment. I didn’t want to devote a whole article to ACC picks anymore, seeing as how I was awful at it. Instead of subjecting myself to any more ridicule than I would otherwise be receiving, therefore, I have decided to introduce “5 big questions.”

It’s simple, really: these are five big questions which need to be answered about this week’s game against Northwestern. Since I love my readers so much and want to spare them the effort, I will do my best to answer them as well. You may feel perfectly free to agree or disagree.

5.) Will this game be a sign of things to come for the Eagles?

You may be wondering what I mean by that. In recent years 2009 and 2010, the Eagles have opened the season against squishy-soft competition, winning each of those two games and then proceeding to get flattened in game three when they actually played a decent team. In 2008, they handily defeated Kent State in Week 1 and then dropped an ugly clunker to ACC foe Georgia Tech in Week 2. Here in 2011, the Eagles open with a decent team, and there aren’t a whole lot of cupcakes on the schedule this time around. So then, will Boston College’s performance in this game give us a glimpse into what awaits us this season?

I’m going to give that a good, firm yes. And no. It might because in recent years, we’ve seen BC’s flaws show up early on in the season for all the world to see the first time they played a respectable team, and though none of those BC teams ended up being godawful as far as final record, they fell short of the main goal each year. Northwestern is a respectable team, and probably a bowl team again if Mr. Persa(Strong) has the kind of season Wildcats fans think he will. If the Eagles stuff him and his offense, it could bode well for a good bounce-back year. If he shreds BC’s defense apart and, for example, the offense takes its lumps, then I think it may signify greater issues with this football team.

I think it’s more likely, however, that it doesn’t necessarily mean a great deal, good or bad, for two key reasons:

BC is not at full strength. The lines on both sides of the ball have injuries to report, and Montel Harris may yet return later in September. Especially with the prospect that Montel may return, it’s hard to make firm value judgments on this team without him on the field.

It’s Week 1. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but the season doesn’t begin and end in the first game. BC may have its peaks and valleys, but it’s important not to read too much into a win or loss here (unless it’s a complete, unmitigated ass-kicking on either side).

A season is only twelve regular-season games, but it’s a long season nevertheless. Regardless of the outcome of this game, there is still a lot of football ahead, and plenty of chances for the season to turn for better or for worse.

4.) Can Andre Williams carry the load again?

Exit Montel Harris late last season and enter freshman running back Andre Williams. Williams came in and began to tear up opposing defenses, putting up big numbers in the few starts he got. Can he put on an encore here in 2011 in the absence (at least for this game) of Montel?

It’s certainly possible, but there are variables at play here that can’t be understated. While I think Williams has the skill to be able to rush for 100 yards and be a standout offensive player on Saturday, the offensive line is a big part of any running game, and BC’s is new-look. John Wetzel and Ian White are new starters, Mark Spinney is moving back to guard with Nate Richman’s injury, and Andy Gallik, playing in his first ever collegiate game, is now our starting center. It’s hard to know what we’re going to get out of this group having never seen them all play together before. Further, while I think and expect Rogers will have a balanced gameplan, we don’t know how much he’s going to rely on Rettig versus relying on Williams. If it were Montel in there, I’d say probably a good bit, so I’ll expect the same here.

The other variable is Northwestern’s run defense. It wasn’t in the 100s in the FBS rankings last year, but it wasn’t far from it, either. They didn’t do a great job of stopping the run over the course of the season and if they haven’t improved, then Williams is a player to watch.

3.) How will Kevin Rogers’ opening act go?

I can say with almost complete assuredness it will go better than just about any game Gary Tranquill coached against an FBS team during the entirety of his two-year BC stint. With the injuries and roster attrition we’ve seen, however, what’s a realistic expectation?

I think Boston College will see some variation in playcalling, a decent balance offensively, and, most importantly, positive yardage. Chase Rettig still has enough weapons around him to be able to put up respectable numbers, and Andre Williams is capable of having a nice game. One would worry about the reshuffled offensive line and how that will impact those numbers, and I think it’s a legitimate concern, but when all is said and done, I think there’s enough talent on the field and enough competence in the coaching box upstairs that Superfans will at least be somewhat satisfied with what they see on Saturday. If they’re not, however, it’s important to remember that it’s just one game.

2.) Will Dan Persa be Dan Persa on Saturday?

There are questions as to whether or not Persa will play, but right now, with him being listed as doubtful, it seems more and more unlikely. With that said, if he does end up playing, will there be residual effects from his long layoff from live football and rehab from injury or will he come back and be the Dan Persa of old?

It’s kind of hard to imagine that there wouldn’t be issues. I haven’t been sitting in on his rehab or his practices, but I know enough about major injuries to suggest that coming off of something as devastating as that is a long process and coming back at 100% is something that takes a lot of effort and time. When you take into account the level of doubt that has been circulating about Persa’s availability for this game, that would seem to suggest one of two things: (a) Either it’s a headfake by Northwestern to make BC think Persa isn’t playing, and for them to plan accordingly, or (b) He really isn’t at 100% and he probably isn’t going to play after all.

Boston College is a lot of things, but they’re not stupid, so I tend to believe it’s not A. I don’t know if Northwestern coaches would risk playing him in a Week 1 game of so-so importance unless he was fully healed and ready to go, and everything we’ve had suggested to us indicates that he might not be. When he does play, the possibility definitely exists for him to be a little rusty and/or for him to look a little “off” with this being his first game back from a serious injury.

If he plays, however, Boston College should not prepare for a rusty QB. They should prepare for “Chicago’s Heisman candidate” as though he will be every bit the solid quarterback from last season.

1.) Will Boston College’s secondary hold up?

This is the biggest question for this week, and one that goes along with #2. If Dan Persa is playing well, just like old times, then Boston College’s new-look secondary is going to have some problems.

Still, remember that there is talent back here, in spite of the general lack of experience. Donnie Fletcher and Jim Noel have been around the block, and they will have to lead by example. Hampton Hughes, Al Louis-Jean, Dominique Williams, and all the rest are going to be tested if the Northwestern offense is on its game.

To put an answer to the question, however: I don’t know. I would like to think it will, and I obviously can’t make any judgments until I see them play together for a game, but this is going to be a challenging task for them, and I hope they’re up to it, whether or not Persa plays.