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Hafley’s Year One Should Have Modest Expectations

By Dave Holcomb
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Despite 17 bowl trips in the last two decades, Jeff Hafley will be Boston College’s fourth head coach since 2007.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, changing coaches every handful of years has been the norm for Boston College football recently. Despite 17 bowl trips in the last two decades, Jeff Hafley will be Boston College’s fourth head coach since 2007.

But there’s good news for the Eagles. Each of the program’s last three head coaches posted winning records in year one. In fact, the combined first-year records of Boston College’s last three head coaches is an impressive 26-14. That’s a .650 win percentage, which is substantially better than the program’s overall win percentage since 2007 -- .509.

That should give the Boston College faithful hope that a fast start is possible to begin the Jeff Hafley era. But while it’s possible, it doesn’t appear very likely.

Hafley’s connection to the winning culture at Ohio State and his defensive prowess as the Buckeyes coordinator attracted Boston College. After years of very solid defenses under former coach Steve Addazio, the Eagles finished ranked last in total defense and 12th in points allowed last year. Hafley will aim to significantly improve upon those rankings. Just four years ago, Boston College was second in the ACC in total defense, and in 2015, the program ended the season with the fewest yards allowed in the conference.

But unlike in the previous two seasons, improving the defense alone isn’t likely to bring Boston College its first eight-win season since 2009.

This offseason, the offense’s two best players, running back AJ Dillon and quarterback Anthony Brown, departed for the NFL and the transfer portal, respectively. Dillon was the heart and soul of the Eagles from 2017-19, posting 4,382 rushing yards and 38 touchdowns in 36 games.

Brown dealt with his injury problems and struggles, but several of his performances showed that with a great running game and quality defense, he could win in the ACC. Brown left Boston College with a 15-13 record.

Rising junior David Bailey will place Dillon in the backfield, and he at least gives Boston College hope there will not be a major dropoff at the position. Bailey posted 5.7 yards per carry last season, which was better than Dillon by almost half a yard. However, he supported that average mostly behind four games that saw him rush for 532 of his 844 yards on the year. Those four games were not exactly against premiere defenses -- Richmond, Rutgers, NC State and Syracuse.

Against Clemson, Bailey recorded 16 yards on 10 carries. In the final three games versus Notre Dame, Pitt and Cincinnati combined, he failed to reach 100 rushing yards and averaged 2.7 yards per attempt.

Still, Boston College will take its situation at running back over what the program has behind center. The Eagles landed transfer Phil Jurkovec, who is the former No. 4 quarterback from the 2018 class, from Notre Dame this offseason and the NCAA recently granted his waiver for immediate eligibility. After Jurkovec there is former preferred walk-on Dennis Grosel. He started the last seven games of 2019 when Brown went down with an injury. Grosel was largely unimpressive with a 48.4 completion percentage and 6.3 yards per pass average.

Hafley will likely be forced to build this team on the fly with his revamped defense. Several veteran defenders will be back, though, to help with the coaching transition. Rising senior linebacker Max Richardson returns after recording 108 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks, all of which led the team last year. Boston College’s second-leading tackler, John Lamot, will be back too.

But even if the defense improves behind Hafley’s leadership and the team’s experience at linebacker, on paper, that doesn’t appear to be enough for Boston College to win seven or eight games. By no means does this mean an eight-win or better season won’t be attainable by Hafley down the road, but the offensive questions, especially at quarterback, will likely prevent a fast start to the new era in Chestnut Hill this fall.