Virginia Beat: UVa — Overrated or Underrated?

If there’s such a thing as a silly season in college football, you’re right in the middle of it: every prognosticator in the country has their opinions on how the season will play out, most of which turn out wrong and some of which turn out hilariously wrong, and none of which prevent any of them from trying again next year.  Only one common thread exists from season to season: If a predictor doesn’t peg your team high enough, that person is a jibbering, drooling ignoramus, and if he says nice things about your team, he’s wise and insightful and obviously took time to do his job correctly.  For once.

When it comes to UVA this year, everyone’s a moron.  Or a sage.  But the point is they’re all in it together; in all the preseason predictions published so far, Virginia fares about equally well.  Winning season, yes.  Bowl team, yes.  Top 25, no.  Threat to win the division, no, not really.  UVA garnered the seventh-most votes in the ACC media preseason poll (placing the Hoos fourth in the Coastal Division) and the sixth-most votes of any ACC team in the preseason coaches’ poll.  That sounds different until you remember that the coaches can’t vote for UNC, which is banned from this year’s postseason.  Phil Steele places UVA in the Music City Bowl (in a rematch against Auburn, no less) — in the ACC’s sixth bowl slot.  So it’s easy to see what “the world” thinks of UVA’s chances this year.

What we’re here to figure out, though, is whether they’re right or wrong.  This is how I prognosticate without having to look like that’s what I’m doing.  UVA’s got a lot of good things going for it which clearly show that “the media” is horribly underrating the Hoos this year:

Quarterback stability — or better.  The stats will show that Mike Rocco was the 70th-best quarterback in major college football last year, with a passer rating of 127.1.  Don’t be fooled: as soon as Mike London dropped the two-man platoon and handed the reins to Rocco permanently, he took to the job with gusto, and had a second-half passer rating of 141.  That performance all season would’ve been good enough to vault him to 36th in the country — just a hair behind Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, who was voted as the all-conference preaseason team’s quarterback, and by a wide margin.  That’s the baseline for expectations out of the quarterback position; if Rocco isn’t the starter, it’s because the rocket-armed Alabama transfer Phillip Sims, a former five-star prospect, won the job in camp.  Sims’s tools are better than Rocco’s, but Rocco knows the system and is too smart to give up the job without a fight.

Veteran linebackers.  The media knows about senior captain Steve Greer — they put him on the preseason all-conference team, and Phil Steele did the same.  Weakside backer Laroy Reynolds is also a senior, though, and Reynolds is nothing but a playmaker; it was his backfield tackle on fourth down against Miami that snuffed the Hurricanes’ last real threat last year.

Wide receiver potential.  Probably no team has more untapped potential at receiver than UVA this season; Tim Smith, Darius Jennings, and Dominique Terrell are all vying for top billing this year, and the Hoos also add freshman Canaan Severin to the playing-time mix.  All four were consensus four-star recruits, but Kris Burd was too good the past couple years not to throw to.  So while the media doesn’t have much production to go on, there’s so much potential it’s hard to envision the whole crew failing spectacularly.

Best offensive tackles in the league.  Whether Rocco or Sims is the starter, the quarterback will have exquisite pass protection.  No ACC team can boast a better pair of bookends on the O-line than UVA, with two potential first-round NFL draft prospects in Oday Aboushi and big Morgan Moses.

But it’s not all roses as camp begins.  The Cavs also have major question marks, and they’re the kind that can sink a season if you let them.  Here’s where the prognosticators might be unaware of how tough the Hoos might have it — and where UVA fans themselves might be overlooking problems, too:

Youth in the secondary.  If you have an inexperienced defensive tackle, and he slants the wrong way, it’s not a good thing, but it’s unlikely to do anything but turn a one-yard gain into a five-yard gain.  If you have an inexperienced safety, and he misreads a play, the football goes into the end zone.  Bad news.  UVA was spoiled last year with three seniors in the secondary; this year, the grizzled veteran of the group is sophomore Demetrious Nicholson.  If you learned to swim because your crazy uncle tossed you into the deep end, you know what happened to Nicholson last year, but he had a lot of help.  This year, UVA will probably try Rijo Walker and Anthony Harris at safety, who have a combined two starts between them.  Both belong to Walker.  Whoever plays at the other corner position — well, they basically will be doing what Nicholson did last year.

New center.  And we really don’t even know who that’ll be.  Whoever it is, they’ll never have played a game snap there before.  The center is the quarterback of the O-line, calling out the protections, and is the linchpin of all run-blocking efforts.  If you don’t have a center, you don’t have a running game.  UVA has a very talented stable of running backs, but the offense will sputter if the coaches aren’t given any good options at center.

Missing pass rush.  Billy Schautz and Jake Snyder are quality defensive ends, but Snyder is a run-stopper, not a pass rusher.  And Schautz doesn’t strike fear into anyone; it’s his technical perfection rather than ferocious physical tools that make him valuable.  The Hoos have to hope that five-star freshman defensive end Eli Harold brings that missing element, or quarterbacks will have a lot of time to pick apart that inexperience secondary.  It’s not a good combination.

So what’s the conclusion?  The media think UVA is a medium-good team that won’t embarrass itself, won’t contend, and will at best continue their upward trend but won’t light up anyone’s top-25 lists.  Are they underrating or overrating the Hoos?  Well, the schedule holds six games that “should” be wins: Richmond, Louisiana Tech, Duke, and home games against Maryland, Wake Forest, and the rebuilding — and turmoil-enshrouded — Miami.  If the remaining schedule is unkind, and the Cavs squeak out just one win against the likes of Penn State, TCU, Georgia Tech, NC State, UNC, and VT, then the media will probably have gotten this one exactly right.  One win in those five is what the old UVA might have done; with the upgraded talent that Mike London is pushing into the pipeline, a repeat 8-4 record is more than achievable, and would mark a second straight season of exceeded expectations.
Brendan’s bio:  I’m just this guy … this ordinary Virginia graduate and fan who woke up one day realizing his opinions on everything UVA could no longer be contained in one space.  Thus was born From Old Virginia, a labor of love where you can find obsessive opinionating on Virginia football, basketball, lacrosse, baseball, and whatever else when the mood strikes.  And if that’s still not enough for you, go to the Twitster and follow @MaizeNBlueWahoo for the dumb stuff that pops into my head when I’m watching the Hoos.


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