Welcome to the third edition of the “Biggest Storylines for Louisville Football’s 2021 Opponents.” If you missed the last two you can find them here: Part 1 and Part 2. This week we’ll be talking about Boston College, NC State, and Clemson. I find two of those teams very interesting and neither of them are Clemson. So, let’s get into it.
Boston College Eagles
First-year head coach Jeff Hafley had a great start in Chestnut Hill last year finishing with a winning 6-5 record that included a legitimate scare given to Clemson. While Hafley is more renowned for his defensive chops, his defense which finished 98th overall in SP+ was able to ride the success of former Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec and new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti.
Jurkovec is back this year after putting up impressive numbers in his first year in a brand new system for everybody. The offense finished a modest 48th overall in SP+ and returns most of its receiving corps and all of its o-line. So, I don’t think there’s too much for BC to worry about on that front.
But where Eagles fans should be worried, and what they’re talking about quite a bit this offseason, is their defense. As previously mentioned, Hafley made a name for himself as a defensive guru and top-flight recruiter while at Ohio State. Recruiting top talent to Ohio State probably is a lot easier than it is at Boston College, but building strong defenses is not something BC has trouble with. Or so we thought.
In the final year of Steve Addazio, Boston College saw its defense collapse from 32nd overall in SP+ in 2018 to 110th in 2019. I think many fans in New England were hopeful that a rising defensive minded coach like Hafley would be able to get things turned around quickly. But in Year One Hafley and Co. were only able to get the defense to climb 12 spots in the rankings.
I’m not alone when I express a genuine concern about what Boston College can do with the defense this year and how much they can continue to improve. While they return most of their secondary and their d-line, the linebacking corps is going to be brand new, and with how poorly BC defended the run last year, having a very green run support group is not ideal.
I think BC is very much in the same boat as the last few UofL teams we’ve seen. The offense should be fine, but in order to have any sort of legitimate success they need some signs of life on defense.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
This may be one of, if not my most favorite team to talk about this offseason. NC State fascinates me in large part because of the biggest question of the offseason they face: Was the 2019 NC State Wolfpack 8-4 record fraudulent?
I believe the answer is yes.
Before we get to why they were probably frauds, let me start by saying that Dave Doeren did a great job last season. Despite what you may think of their likely hollow record, Doeren did a great job figuring things out quickly and cooling off his seat following the 4-8 2019 campaign. The Wolfpack have also found a quarterback in Devin Leary, which is something they sorely missed in 2019. And even after Leary got hurt after playing just four games, NCST was still able to win games with backup Bailey Hockman (transferred to MTSU) and have a great season.
Now, let’s discuss the schedule. NC State lost expectedly at Virginia Tech, at UNC, and against Miami. But when you look at their wins they beat 111th overall (SP+) Syracuse, #104 Duke, #85 Florida State, #82 Wake Forest, #75 Georgia Tech. That’s already 5 wins right there. Not exactly a murderer’s row, and outside of FSU there none of the wins were blow outs. Then NC State got a decent win against #55 Virginia. But where NC State can actually hang their hat on is the wins at #41 Pitt and against #44 Liberty. Those teams weren’t exactly world beaters either, but NCST was clearly punching above their weight in those games and got the wins.
I should note, though, that many teams have a decent list of games they should win but fall short of actually doing so. NC State beat who they were supposed to, lost to who they were supposed to, and then won all three toss-up games. That’s how you have a great season. But winning all your toss-up games is hard to do.
But there was actually a fourth toss-up game. Bill Connelly’s SP+ gave the Wolfpack a 60% chance in the Gator Bowl to defeat a Kentucky team that had just gone 4-6 in the regular season. The fact they lost to a Wildcats team that most of us around these parts had seen struggle all year was enough for myself and many other doubters to smash the “FRAUD” button.
Whether that’s fair or not remains to be seen. But moving forward I have a hard time seeing NC State getting back to eight wins. NC State does have four all-but-certain wins on their schedule with a Furman, Louisiana Tech, USF, and Syracuse on the docket. But there are also once again three likely losses to North Carolina, at Miami, and Clemson. And according to Bill Connelly’s SP+ projections, the remaining five games are all certifiable toss-ups, meaning NC State will have to win four out of five near 50/50 games to get back to eight wins. That’s going to be tough.
Clemson replaces Trevor Lawrence with another five-star who has already proven himself at the highest level of college football and their defense is going to be scary as ever.
This would have been pretty boring offseason for anyone that’s not a Clemson fan who was looking into the Tigers if we hadn’t been blessed with a massive opening weekend game against Georgia in Charlotte. I think we can find some things to talk about there for the next few months.
We’ll be back next week with the fourth and final edition of whatever the hell this is.
Until then, #RedRage.