Virginia Beat: X-Factors

Admittedly, it’s a tired term.  But everyone knows what it means, so that’s how we’re describing the players on offense and defense that most need to have a good season in order for UVA to compete.

On offense, the natural thing is to look at the wide receivers.  It makes sense; Kris Burd is gone, and the new nominal #1 receiver is Tim Smith, who has shown flashes of his talent but has yet to really step up and make his presence felt.  So UVA goes into the season with a multitude of quarterbacks but nobody to throw to that’s really a proven commodity.

But the one guy who really has to perform is Luke Bowanko, at center.  Never really groomed for the center position, Bowanko came through the ranks as a guard, and not one of the most highly regarded members of his recruiting class, at that.  But he finds himself now playing the most important position on the line.

Two years ago, UVA was forced to throw a completely untested and very lightly recruited player into the fire at center, and the result was excellent: Anthony Mihota was a rock-steady presence and an honorable mention all-conference player.  UVA is in a better situation now; Bowanko started every game at right guard last season, so he’s a proven commodity as a blocker.  As a signal-caller and leader on the O-line, though, that’s a different story.  UVA has a stable of excellent running backs, and since run-blocking starts on the interior, it’d be a shame to let that talent go to waste with subpar play in the trenches.  Meaning, it all starts with Bowanko.

Rijo Walker (photo courtesy

On defense, right now only the coaches know exactly whom I’ll refer to, but it’ll be whoever is listed as the starting free safety.  Whether that’s Brandon Phelps, Rijo Walker, or Anthony Harris, the last line of defense in the UVA backfield will be a woefully inexperienced player.  Actually, the whole secondary is chock full of inexperience, so UVA fans will be holding their breath every time an opposing quarterback launches a pass more than ten yards downfield.  But if that goes badly, it’s probably thanks to an out-of-position safety.

Fortunately, nobody doubts the physical skills of the candidates.  Phelps was one of the gems of UVA’s highly-touted 2011 recruiting class, and Harris flew just a smidge under the radar in the same class.  Walker has the most experience, having started two games in 2011 and appeared at safety in all of them.  Each of these guys has a good chance, by the time their careers at UVA are over, to surpass the accomplishments of UVA’s recently graduated seniors at safety, Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley.  But here at the start of their time to shine, they remain mostly unknown quantities.

It’s that element of the unknown that has the chance to make or break Virginia’s season.  The offensive tackles, Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi, form the best tandem in the league.  But the interior is going to determine how much of a running game is available to help out Mike Rocco at quarterback.  And the defensive line and linebacking corps have plenty of experience, but the defensive secondary is awash with sophomores who’ve yet to be heavily relied upon.  If both of these turn out well for the Hoos, they’ll have no problem reaching a bowl for the second straight year.  If not, most games will be a real struggle.  It makes the Hoos themselves one of the biggest X-factors in the ACC race.


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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