Season wrap-up: Boston College

Once again, the Eagles proved their doubters wrong.

This year, though, there were plenty of legitimate reasons to doubt. Boston College entered the season with a first-year coach, two new coordinators, a 25-year-old quarterback who hadn’t played football since high school, and a host of new faces on defense. Star linebacker Mark Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer before summer workouts began, and the backup quarterback and running back both decided to transfer midseason.

It’s no wonder the Eagles were picked to finish last in the Atlantic Division.

In typical BC fashion, though, they were still in the hunt to win it all in November, and for the ninth straight season, the Eagles won eight games. That’s thanks in large part to Herzlich’s inspirational story and sideline coaching, the emergence of freshman Luke Kuechly at linebacker, and the help of wide receiver Rich Gunnell and running back Montel Harris, who helped ease the transition for quarterback Dave Shinskie. Despite his age, which earned him the nickname “Uncle Dave,” Shinskie often played like a true freshman, and was inconsistent. The one constant for BC this year was the outpouring of support from ACC opponents in honor of Herzlich at each road game, as over $132,000 was raised in the “Beat Cancer Campaign.”

Herzlich never quit, and has since been declared cancer-free. His teammates, as always, followed his lead.

First-year coach Frank Spaziani’s experience on defense and long tenure with the program made for a smooth coaching transition, and BC’s defense remained one of the best in the country despite the youth and inexperience. The Eagles were 15th in rushing defense and 18th in scoring defense.

Still, there were many growing pains and it wasn’t until Nov. 14 that BC picked up its first road win of the season, a 14-10 win at Virginia. The Eagles were undefeated at home until a loss to North Carolina sealed their fate in second-place in the Atlantic Division and assured Clemson the division title.

A far cry from finishing last in the division, BC played well enough to earn its 11th straight bowl bid and will face USC in the Emerald Bowl.

Offensive MVP: Wide receiver Rich Gunnell. He was voted the team MVP by his teammates, and for good reason. Gunnell was BC’s first wide receiver captain since 1990, and ranks second on the all-time BC receptions list (175), third in receiving yards (2,329) and fourth in touchdown catches (17). He is the ACC active leader in career catches, receiving yards and punt return touchdowns. This season, Gunnell leads the team in catches (54), yards (750), touchdowns (6) and average yards per game (62.5).

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Luke Kuechly. He averaged 11.83 total tackles per game -- the highest average by any rookie since the NCAA began tracking tackles in 2003. He made 10 tackles in eight straight games, and is second in the nation in tackles.

Turning point: The overtime win against Wake Forest helped the Eagles rebound from an embarrassing loss to Clemson in which they only mustered 54 yards of total offense. It was a key Atlantic Division win, followed by another against Florida State, that kept BC in the hunt for the ACC title through November.

What’s next: The Eagles have an uphill battle in the Emerald Bowl against USC, even though the Trojans have taken a few steps back this year and aren't as intimidating as their rich history would suggest.