Virginia Football Isn’t Going According to Plan

I’m exhausted. We are only three games into the Virginia football season and I am out of gas. This does not mean I am giving up on Bronco Mendenhall and his project to rebuild Virginia football. After all, George Welsh (who looks more and more like the greatest coach in college football history) was 2-9 in his first season at Virginia.

It’s just that this is a new season, with a new coach, and new systems, yet we have the same results. Frustrating losses against teams that in the salad days of George Welsh would have been unthinkable. Maybe being relegated to ESPN3 and having to watch Virginia implode on my computer is more taxing than watching them implode on a big screen TV, but by the end of Saturday’s fiasco, I was ready to tuck myself away for the rest of the day.

Much like the political fault lines emerging in the country, the UVA fan base is already split with a widening gap between two distinct camps. The first camp has already thrown in the towel and is asking why Virginia spent all this money for a new coaching staff that makes the same idiotic mistakes as the previous regime. Saturday’s game poured a lot of gas on that fire.

The second camp is made of the blessed eternal UVA optimists. A lot of these folks are pretty sure that winning the lottery is in their future. Despite three losses in three attempts, they see improvement in each game and a win is just around the corner. I am not sure how they can see around a corner, but as I look down the rest of the schedule, I am sure that I don’t see the same win they do. Bless these fans as they suffer even more than the rest of us. Every program needs these folks.

Much like the political arena, I can understand the positions of each camp, but I don’t agree with either one. I just don’t think we know where we are heading right now. We are Sir Galahad in search of the holy grail, and for Virginia fans, it may not exist as the football gods fart in our general direction. It is way too early to call Bronco’s tenure a failure and toss his teams onto the scrap heap of “same old ‘Hoos”. While his first three games have had all the earmarks, I am not ready to go there yet, though the thought has crossed my mind.

My problem with the “things are getting better” crowd harken back to grade-school science. We learned very early in science class that to test the impact of a change in any variable, we had to hold all the other factors in an experiment constant. Such is never the case in sports because the opponents and venues change every week.

So, while Virginia only lost by three points and held a lead for the first time in 2016, we were playing UConn, probably the worst team on the Virginia schedule. UConn is no Oregon and despite its loss this weekend, probably no University of Richmond either. UConn is below average across the board, so it makes sense that Virginia looked like it had “improved” against an dreadful opponent.

Yet, Virginia lost. Did I mention I was exhausted?

I, nor anyone else, can prove that the play of the team is getting better, but I sense that at least it’s not getting worse. Three horrific calls by an officiating crew that was as inept as the UConn football team played a large role in the outcome of the game. It’s easy to argue that Virginia should have beaten a lousy UConn team, but it didn’t.

Inexplicable time management and play calling at the end of the game worked to seal the Cavaliers’ defeat. While Virginia most certainly should have pushed this game into overtime with a frenetic chip-shot field goal, it didn’t. So I have a hard time making myself feel better that the fortunes of Virginia football are on the rise, when Bronco really just got his first taste of “losing the Virginia way”.

I am on the fence. It is possible that Virginia may, in fact, be righting itself and getting better each week. It is possible that a handful of wins are, in fact, just around the corner. I think it may also be possible that Virginia football is not fixable, that we could be tossed on the scrap heap of college football’s perennial losers along with Kansas, Kentucky, and UConn.

And while it is certainly possible that may be the case, look at what each of those college football doormats have in common. Maybe there is a trade-off here that we will just have to learn to accept.

All I know about Virginia football without question is that after losing on the last play of the game to a crummy team, I was toast. I cannot imagine having to endure the ensuing overtime, which in all likelihood would have just made this week’s trip to the dentist chair agonizingly longer.

At least next week we get to tailgate before the game so that we can cogitate over cocktails whether or not Virginia football will continue to improve against the undefeated Chippewas of Central Michigan. If I see George Welsh at the game, please remind me to thank him and shake his hand.


E-Mail David at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia user Mak7912.

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