UVa: Winning on Paper vs. Turf

Despite subpar results on the field the last two years, Virginia football continues to win the paper wars by getting the signatures of talented high school players on grant-in-aid forms. Many players are drawn to UVa for its blend of BCS athletics and top tier academics. Others are drawn to coach Mike London. A true “player’s coach” it is clear that Mike London connects well with kids and their families, selling football, academics, and character development as the pillars of his program. There have been many deficiencies in the on-field performance of the Virginia program under Mike London, however recruiting has been consistently strong. Now, the challenge and the sole determinant of whether Mike London continues in his role leading the Virginia program, is can he translate talent into wins in 2014?
 
A common refrain from fans and analysts alike is that Virginia has enough talent to win. Mike London has had 4 full recruiting years to get the players he wants on the roster. There are several Virginia players who had offers from “big time” programs. Eli Harold, Mike Moore, Taquan Mizzell, Greyson Lambert, Daquan Romero, Darius Jennings, Tre Nicholson, Tim Harris, Jay Whitmore, Stephen Moss, Andrew Brown, Quinn Blanding, and Jamil Kamara among others could have signed with any number of big time programs across the nation. So, is the talent really there to win in the ACC?
 
If we want to set a bar for comparison, the 1995 team that beat #2 ranked Florida State as well as Clemson on the road for the first time in program history is a good measuring stick. How does the talent on the 2014 Cavaliers compare to the 1995 team? Let’s take a look: The gut response, given recent recruiting success is that the 2014 roster stacks up reasonably well against the 1995 squad. I think that conclusion might be getting a little ahead of ourselves. The 1995 team was very good. Two last second losses on the road at Michigan and Texas (how’s that for an out-of-conference schedule?) turned what could have been an historic season into a very good season. The 1995 team boasted 17 players who earned all-ACC post-season honors and 5 players who were recognized at some level as All-Americans. While, the 1995 ‘Hoos were very talented, the 2014 team doesn’t lack for star power. A semi-objective review of the 2014 roster yields 14 potential all-ACC candidates. Based on their performance to date and/or their offer lists coming out of high school, Anthony Harris(DB), Eli Harold(DE), ‘Tre Nicholson(DB), Mike Moore(DE), Henry Coley(LB), Daquan Romero(LB), Maurice Canady(DB), Alec Vozenilek(P), Andrew Brown(DT), and Quinn Blanding(DB) have the ability to deliver all-ACC results on defense. On offense Kevin Parks(RB), Taquan Mizzell(RB), Keeon Johnson(WR), and Jamil Kamara(WR) have tremendous ability and all-ACC potential.
 
On the surface, this is not a bad comparison. A 17 vs. 14 differential suggests that the 2014 Virginia talent is not that far off from one the best teams in UVa history. A little deeper analysis shows a few cracks in the foundation of that conclusion. First, of the 2014 players who have all-ACC potential, Brown, Blanding, & Kamara are true freshmen. While I would not be surprised to see any of those names on post season all-ACC lists, it is not a realistic expectation, so 14 candidates is in reality closer to 11. The second glaring difference between the 2014 and 1995 teams is on the offensive line. In 1995 Virginia had 4 all-ACC offensive linemen (1st team Jason Augustino, 2nd team Chris Harrison, & honorable mentions John Slocum & Jeremy Raley). While this year’s offensive line has potential to be a solid unit, they are bit young, they will need to mature quickly, and an honest assessment suggests there isn’t a player who jumps off the page as a likely all-ACC performer, much less four.
 
What conclusions should we draw? The 2014 team is not lacking for talent though it may not have the star-power of some of the great UVa teams of the past. Also, it is clear that Virginia will get a chance to prove or disprove the adage that “defense wins championships” as much of our potential all-ACC talent is skewed towards defense.  Is the talent there to go bowling in 2014? I think it is and Mike London needs to turn his paper wins into turf wins if he is to return in 2015.
 
One other conclusion we can draw from comparing the rosters of the 2014 and 1995 Cavaliers…George Welsh won more than his share of recruiting battles too.