One of the cool things about playing an independent schedule is that you're not stuck in the same rut of writing yet ANOTHER offseason profile of somebody boring like Wyoming or New Mexico. I know, I know, #BlogLyfe and all, but we all get a chance to look at a world we don't get to see that often in week 1, a land where men wear ties to football games, a land where the football team is technically called the Cavaliers but everybody else calls them the Hoos. I'm talkin' bout UVA football. Let's dig into it.
How did these guys do last year?
2012 was not especially kind to UVA, as the team finished with a 4-8 (2-6 ACC) record. That campaign included one of the ugliest wins in recent college football memory, a 17-16 slapfight win over Penn State. Virginia turned the ball over 4 times, but Penn State snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by missing a whopping 4 field goals AND an extra point.
The wheels came off shortly thereafter, from getting BLASTED 56-20 by a mediocre Georgia Tech squad (the one BYU dismantled in Atlanta), and then after respectable losses to strong TCU and Louisiana Tech teams, Virginia was again blown out 42-17 by Duke. Demoralizing losses to Maryland and Wake Forest followed, and suddenly, the Hoos were a squadron of missed kicks from sitting 1-7. They did rally to upset Miami (FL) 41-40, but inconsistency at QB and a general backslide in their defense led to a fundamentally disappointing campaign.
Virginia has since overhauled their coaching staff to support Mike London, including the Notorious T.O.B himself, former NC State headman Tom O'Brien as an assistant coach. Between O'Brien and new coordinators Steve Fairchild and Jon Tenuta, that's more than 30 years of coaching experience added. The Hoos will be counting on these new faces to help make 2013 a strong season.
What will UVA bring to the table on offense?
The big question right now is at quarterback. Last year's options, Michael Rocco and former Alabama transfer Phillip Sims are both gone. Rocco transferred to Richmond, and Sims was apparently a knucklehead. The good news is that neither was exceptional last season, but that does leave a whole lot of youth at the position this year. UVA will either go with sophomore David Watford, the more mobile of the two, or freshman Greyson Lambert, a more pocket-passer. Both could have a lot of potential, both are likely to see playing time this season, and both will probably struggle at times in growing into the offense.
The Hoos lose versatile back Perry Jones, but do return their leading rusher in Kevin Parks (734 yards), and perhaps most importantly for the program, also bring in 5 star freshman Taquan Mizzell, who should get a chance to spell Parks and contribute right away. Virginia also brings back what could be the deepest wide receiver corps in the ACC, returning Dominique Terrel, E.J. Scott, Tim Smith and potentially one of the best tight ends in the entire ACC, Jake McGee. That's an experienced corps of pass catchers, albeit perhaps one missing a little star power. Their experience and leadership will be critical in helping whoever wins the QB battle along this year.
Any returning skill position talent will be moot if things don't improve along the offensive line in 2013. Only one starter, potential all-ACC Morgan Moses at right tackle, has his position all lined up. Outside of senior Luke Bowanko, the rest of the line will likely be filled by very young players (redshirt freshman Jackson Matteo, sophomore Jay Whitmire), or those who underachieved before, like Conner Davis.
What about on defense? What's the look there?
The good news for BYU is that UVA is likely going to play a *lot* of young players on defense this year. The bad news is that most of these young players project to be very, very good. The question is whether that happens this year, or next year. Senior Jake Snyder will be a leader up front at defensive tackle (44 tackles), where he will be flanked by a potential stud in sophomore Eli Harold (36 tackles). Those two could be strong producers, but they'll be joined by a slew of underclassmen, including freshman in the front rotation, so finding consistency at the defensive line will be key.
UVA should be much stronger in the secondary, and if recruiting rankings are any indication, they have the potential to turn this unit into one of the best in the league. Junior cornerback Demetrious Nicholson (56 tackles) can fly all over the field and should be in the mix for some All-ACC honors, and Anthony Harris is a tackling machine at safety (87 tackles). Kirk Gardner and Tim Harris are two freshman who could pick up significant playing time in the defensive backfield this year as well.
The big question mark with this unit, besides general consistency and concerns over fatigue if their offense can't keep them off the field, is at linebacker. Gone are leading tacklers Steve Greer and La'Roy Reynolds, and the Cavs will need to see significant improvements from Henry Coley (40 tackles, 4.5 for loss) and Daquan Romero (44 tackles), along with another bunch of newcomers. The potential is there, but expect a few hiccups along the way.
Are there any famous UVA alumni I need to be aware of?
Have you ever heard of a guy by the name of THOMAS FREAKIN' JEFFERSON? Okay, the guy didn't actually graduate from there, but he did found the place, and a slew of former presidents, from James Madison to James Monroe, were former trustees. That's a pretty impressive list.
Another famous UVA attendees include Edgar Allen Poe, Tina Fey and Georgia O'Keefe, while their law school claims just about every politician ever.
As far as football goes, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Chris Long, Heath Miller, Cedric Peerman and Matt Schaub are among the many current former UVA football players in the NFL. UVA also produced Darryl Hammond, the immortal career tackles leader in the Arena Football League, and one of the greatest Arena Football players ever. What, you don't watch the AFL? Whatever, don't judge me.
What are UVA's season long prospects?
A young squad is not going to be helped by a very difficult schedule. Right after BYU, UVA tangles with national title contender Oregon, and also has a non conference game scheduled with potentially feisty Ball State. They only have four road games, but North Carolina and Miami will be tough, and even Pittsburgh and an improved Maryland squad are no gimmies. Clemson, Georgia Tech, Duke and rival Virginia Tech fill out the season. Vegas takes a particularly dim view, setting their O/U on wins this season a 4.5. If I were a gambling man (and since I'm writing for a BYU blog, it's probably safe to assume that I'm not), I'd be tempted to take the over, but not by much. A 6-6 season and a bowl bid would be considered a success for Virginia, as they build for what could be a solid 2014 season. If you're looking for a scalp that will improve BYU's standing in the national media, this game won't be it.
What are the keys to this game going to be?
Given the relative uncertainty at quarterback for both squads, I'd be a little surprised if this game turned into a display of offensive fireworks. Like most games, the key battles here appear to be in the trenches. Can BYU find ways to unleash Kyle Van Noy and others to take advantage of a younger and less polished UVA offensive line? With UVA having a young QB under center, and with last year's team struggling mightily with turnovers, exploiting that potential mismatch on the offensive line could lead to short possessions for the Cavs, and most importantly, potential turnovers. This doesn't look like a team that's prepared to dig out of an early deficit, so making a few big defensive plays early to stake out an early lead could be huge for BYU.
Okay, cut to the chase. Who is going to win?
If BYU has aspirations for this season beyond beating some midmajor in a December bowl game nobody east of Mountain Standard Time will watch or care about, this game is a must-win. BYU has to beat a middling ACC team on the road if they want to be taken seriously. On paper, that should be an obtainable goal. They're playing against a team that doesn't have a reputation for having an insurmountable home field advantage. UVA will be young under center, along the lines, and on defense, and getting them early in the season is preferable to playing them 6 or 7 weeks later. I figure this game might be ugly early, but BYU should eventually win....let's say, 27-17.