Here's why Boston College football is the ACC team you need to watch in 2018

While Clemson reigns atop the ACC and Miami starts to get comfortable in its role as the Tigers' toughest competition for a College Football Playoff spot, the rest of the pecking order is totally up for grabs among the other dozen teams in the league. 

So while Louisville looks to replace quarterback Lamar Jackson, NC State has to reload its star-studded defensive line and Florida State gets settled into the Willie Taggart era, the team from the ACC Atlantic that is primed to take a big step forward in 2018 is Boston College

A superstar in the backfield

The conversation starts with star running back AJ Dillon, who is coming off a 1,500-yard freshman campaign where he really didn't take over the starting job until mid-October. The ACC Rookie of the Year and freshman All-American has a fully filled-out frame at 6-feet, 240 pounds and a bruising, downhill rushing style punishes defenders over the course of four quarters. Dillon will be running behind an offensive line that returns all five starters from a year ago, making a 2,000-yard season (like Andre Williams had with the Eagles in 2013) seem more probable than possible. 

But perhaps as important to Dillon's success is the health and development of sophomore quarterback Anthony Brown. After starting the first 10 games of the season (and being only the second freshman to start a season opener in program history), Brown suffered a season-ending knee injury that has kept him limited for much of the offseason. The ceiling for Brown is being an elite ACC quarterback, and there were flashes of that potential during the ups and downs of his first season as a starter. He was just starting to peak before the injury, so if Brown can get back to that level quickly, it's going to make a huge difference in how fast and effective the Eagles can be on offense in 2018.  

Picking up the pace 

Steve Addazio wants his teams to play great defense. After that, it's all about running the football, being great on special teams and not turning the ball over. It's the salt-of-the-Earth approach to winning football, and heading into Year 6 at Boston College, there's no doubting that philosophy's influence on the program. 

But two years ago, as the Eagles were preparing for their bowl game after the 2016 season, things changed. Addazio and his staff made a conscious decision to evolve on offense, modernize the scheme with a combination of spread and power, and do so without having to change the personnel. Along with those adjustments came a effort to increase the pace and stress the defense to create more explosive plays. 

"I wanted to take what amounts to 12 personnel [one running back, two tight ends], where you can be in a spread set, you can be in a closed set and you can keep the defense on the field and go as fast as we can go and not allow them to substitute," Addazio explained last month. "Make them deal with the combinations of a spread game and a power game together." 

The result was a move from 110th nationally in plays per game in 2016 to 15th in 2017. 

"This year we want to take it to another level," Addazio said, noting that he'd like to see Boston College rank among the top five in the country in plays run. 

Some of the best defensive development in the nation 

Though Addazio spent his time as an assistant on the offensive side of the ball, the emphasis on defense -- both philosophically and with the way the positions have been coached under both Don Brown and Jim Reid -- have turned BC into hot spot for NFL teams to find pro-ready defenders. 

Harold Landry is gone, but this year the college football world will get to know Zach Allen, one of only two defensive lineman in the entire country to total 100 tackles last season. There's also some excitement about what Wyatt Ray can bring as a senior at defensive end in Landry's spot, after three years as a solid rotation player and occasional starter. And in the defensive backfield BC has one of the best safety duos in the country with Lukas Denis and Will Harris

Having All-ACC talent every year on the defensive side of the ball is usually reserved for the recruiting powers in the league, but with the program that Addazio has put in place it's become the norm at Boston College and a big part of why the Eagles are a team to watch in 2018.

CBS Sports Writer

Chip Patterson has spent his young career covering college sports from the Old North State. He's been writing and talking about football and basketball for CBS Sports since 2010. You may have heard him... Full Bio

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