The 2020 Boston College football season served as a sort of free trial. Jeff Hafley took the field for the first time as a head coach surrounded by a new-to-BC staff, Phil Jurkovec settled into a starting role at a new school, and the rest of the BC team took advantage of a free year of eligibility thanks to COVID-19. The end result was a 6-5 record (5-5 Atlantic Coast) that felt more successful than it appears on paper, largely due to the unknowns that existed at the beginning of the season.
Now, the trial is over. As the 2021 BC football season approaches, high expectations have replaced 2020’s unknowns. Four games against non-conference opponents should give the Eagles momentum to start the season, and BC fans can only speculate about how far that momentum might carry the team.
The Twelve-Year Drought
The average American middle schooler can remember a depth of things—orthodontist appointments, algebraic formulas, and even the closest neon-centric clothing store. One thing they cannot remember, however, is the last time BC recorded a winning record in the ACC.
In 2009, BC went 5-3 in ACC play. Since then, the Eagles have broken even a total of seven times but have not come up with a winning record. After a 2020 season that saw lackluster performances by many of BC’s conference opponents, this year could be the season that the Eagles end their drought.
The duo of Hafley and Jurkovec already have one winning season under their belt, but BC’s 2021 team is bursting with returning talent ready to make a run at a record-breaking year. It will take some good fortune, but looking ahead at 2021 it is hard to identify a more obvious goal for the Eagles other than their first winning record in 12 years.
The NCAA’s decision to grant athletes an extra year of eligibility benefited all programs, but that benefit is especially clear when analyzing BC football. While 2020 was by no means a throwaway year, the fact that BC was even able to take the field—let alone win six of its 11 games—was a privilege. Now, the Eagles return to a packed Alumni Stadium with a roster that closely resembles 2020’s, just reinforced.
While BC’s personnel losses were few and far between, there were notable departures that are sure to hinder the 2021 season.
The most significant is the loss of Hunter Long. In 2020, Long led the country in receptions by a tight end with 57 and ranked second in receiving yards by a tight end with 685. He also scored five touchdowns on the season, the second-most by any BC receiver. Unsurprisingly, when it came time for the NFL draft, Long was the first Eagle off the board as he was selected No. 81 overall by the Miami Dolphins.
On the defensive side of the ball, the departures of Max Richardson, Isaiah McDuffie, and Luc Bequette are major losses for the Eagles. Richardson recorded the second-most tackles of any BC player—11th in the country—as a graduate student in 2020 with 99. While the linebacker went undrafted, he ultimately signed with the Las Vegas Raiders as an undrafted free agent.
McDuffie—BC’s leading tackler in 2020—also decided to take his talents to the NFL following his junior season. At the conclusion of his final season with the Eagles, McDuffie was named to the All-ACC Second Team for the first time in his career while also cracking the list of top-five tacklers in the nation at No. 5. McDuffie was the second Eagle called in the 2020 NFL Draft at No. 220 overall and will be joining former BC running back AJ Dillon with the Green Bay Packers.
Bequette, BC’s final major defensive departure, only played one season in the maroon and gold. He played his first five seasons of football at UC Berkeley prior to transferring to BC in 2020. He then transferred back to Berkeley ahead of the 2021 season. He started all 11 games of the 2020 season at defensive tackle and totaled 18 tackles and one sack on the season.
The last of BC’s two biggest offensive departures comes at the running back position in the form of David Bailey. Bailey faced the potential for a breakout season at the start of 2020 due to Dillon’s departure, but Hafley’s pass-dominant offense coupled with Bailey’s unspectacular performance led to a lackluster showing by the junior that ended in his decision to enter the transfer portal. Bailey averaged four yards per rush in 2020 and finished the season with 503 yards on 127 carries and eight touchdowns.
Though BC lost some of its talented 2020 team over the offseason, any damages caused by missing players will be covered by the sheer volume—and prospective talent—of recruits and transfers. Hafley enrolled 31 new Eagles prior to this season while assembling the No. 37 draft class in the country—a higher ranking than any class assembled during Steve Addazio’s time as head coach.
Included in the 2021 class are two four-star recruits—offensive guard Drew Kendall and defensive back Clinton Burton—as well as 24 three-stars.
On top of his highly ranked recruiting class, Hafley managed to further bolster his roster with five transfers. While their impact in a BC uniform is yet to be determined, former Florida State safety Jaiden Woodbey should be a major factor in BC’s defense. Woodbey was regarded as a near five-star recruit out of high school and was named an ESPN Freshman All-American after his first year with the Seminoles.
Linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley and defensive tackle Khris Banks will also join BC from Temple, while tight end Trae Barry and running back Alec Sinkfield join the Eagles from Jacksonville State and West Virginia, respectively.
BC opens play on Sept. 4 with a home game against Colgate prior to hitting the road for two games against non-conference opponents UMass Amherst and Temple. The Eagles face their first competitive opponent in Mizzou in their final pre-conference game of the season on Sept. 25 before making the trip down to Death Valley to open the ACC portion of their season against Clemson.
BC will play eight total ACC opponents in 2021 with an even split of home and away games. Its last game of the regular season is against Wake Forest on Nov. 27.
Read the full schedule breakdown here.
Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor