Opener presents BC with early wake-up call

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / September 3, 2011

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Boston College football coach Frank Spaziani was asked earlier this week what was keeping him up at night as his team prepared for this afternoon’s season opener against Northwestern at Alumni Stadium.

Spaziani, beginning is third season, talked about restructuring the offensive line and about training camp injuries, including one that has sidelined leading rusher Montel Harris (knee) for at least two games.

He talked about a secondary that had to almost be rebuilt on the fly; about the veterans that dominate the lineup of Northwestern, which is returning 16 starters; and about Wildcats quarterback Dan Persa, who is coming off a torn right Achilles’ tendon and may not play today.

And finally, Spaziani talked about a BC defensive line that has talent but is inexperienced, both starters and backups.

“We’ve got some nice guys, but they are puppies,’’ said Spaziani. “But we don’t know whether they are puppies or pit bulls.’’

BC has talent and stability in key positions such as quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, but there are many questions about how the surrounding talent will develop.

Northwestern, with or without Persa, who missed the final three games of last season (all losses), has no such problems in that area.

“Those guys are good,’’ said Spaziani. “They have a plan. They are a senior team that was very good before [Persa] got hurt. They are on a mission, probably saying this is our year. They have a leadership factor over there. We’re still trying to find ours.

“The future [for BC] is bright. We are going to have to find guys to lead these young guys.’’

One of the candidates is sophomore quarterback Chase Rettig, who was inserted into the starting lineup three games into last season and had a tough season of on-the-job training. However, he appeared to blossom throughout training camp.

Another is All-America middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who led the nation in tackles last season and is the clear focal point for a defense that has issues up front and in the secondary.

Kuechly says he can’t wait for game day, any game day. Facing what the Eagles feel is a quality opponent out of the box has them energized.

“Getting into the season right away is what makes football fun when you play good teams,’’ said Kuechly.

Rettig also sees today’s challenge. “The first one is the hardest,’’ he said, “because there is so much of a buildup.’’

Spaziani says the Eagles will know right away where they stand. “It will be a reality check,’’ he said. “It’s going to be exciting and interesting.’’

Like Northwestern, which will start Kain Colter at quarterback if Persa can’t play, BC has injury issues.

Harris’s primary backup, Andre Williams, suffered a sprained right ankle two weeks ago that limited his practice time. He was back doing full drills this week. Starting left guard Nate Richman was bothered by a back injury throughout camp, and this week was even working at left tackle as Spaziani attempted to find the best mix along the offensive line.

Two new starting safeties - Jim Noel and Hampton Hughes - are in place after Dominick LeGrande (transfer) and Okechukwu Okoroha (dismissal) left the team, and cornerback Donnie Fletcher (back) is listed as doubtful.

All of it adds to the feeling of uncertainty as the season begins.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at

Northwestern vs. BC
Today, noon
Where: Alumni Stadium
TV, radio: ESPNU, WEEI (850)