All posts by David Rayner

Statement, Redemption, Questions, and a Joke

Week #2 in the ACC Coastal was a week for redemption, continuing questions, and one big statement.
Virginia Tech headlined week 2 in the ACC coastal with a road win at Ohio St. There are a several conclusions we can draw from this game. First, Bud Foster remains a most capable defensive coordinator whose defenses are the foundation of Virginia Tech success. Virginia Tech’s defense was expected to be the key to success in 2014 and the Ohio St game did nothing to alter that expectation. The Hokie defense played fast and smart for 4 quarters with few breakdowns. Second, it is also clear from the Ohio St game that Kendall Fuller will be a multi-year, 1st team all-ACC performer before he graduates. On the offensive side of the ball, it looks like the Hokies will finally have a consistent passing attack led by gutty transfer QB Michael Brewer. However, before we crown Virginia Tech the champs of the coastal, a couple of other things were also clear from Saturday’s game. After struggling to put away Navy last week and losing at home this week, there is little doubt that Ohio St is not a top 10 team with or without Braxton Miller. Also, while Big 10 programs are working desperately to upgrade their team speed to compete on the national stage, it was evident that Ohio St does not have top 10 speed on either side of the ball. When the brute force offense of Ohio St matched up against the fast and well schemed defense of Virginia Tech, the result was a big statement win for the Hokies, an embarrassing home loss for Ohio St, and the 3rd high profile loss of the day for the Big10.
Following the trend of teams that appear to be on an upswing, Pitt followed a ridiculous drubbing of Delaware with a solid road win against Boston College. No one will ever confuse the BC home field advantage with Death Valley or The Swamp, but a road win against a potentially solid Boston College team was a confirming win for a Pitt program striving to establish an identity in the ACC. James Connor and Tyler Boyd made statements against the Eagles that they are top tier offensive threats who can carry the Pitt offense and create matchup headaches for the most adroit defensive coordinators. Quarterback Chad Voytic was an efficient game manager against better competition this week and showed flashes of upside throughout the game.  The Pitt defense was impressive as it held Boston College under 300 total yards for the game. After what should be a tune-up against Florida International next week, Pitt can make a statement that they are Coastal contenders in week 4 when they host Iowa.
 
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North Carolina’s performance against San Diego St was a confirmation win as well. The Tar Heels confirmed that their pre-season expectations may have been a tad aggressive. The Aztecs gained over 500 yards against a UNC defense that was equally unimpressive last week against FCS Liberty. Were it not for a late 4th quarter, game-saving interception in the end-zone, Carolina would have entered their early season bye-week with a 1-1 record.
Virginia followed up a strong performance in a losing effort against UCLA with a convincing win over a well coached but over-matched Richmond team. While Virginia fans were pleased with a second week of strong defensive production (7 turnovers and 4 sacks) the Wahoos are going to have to deliver more consistent production on offense to contend for the division crown. In what may be a blessing as well as a curse, both quarterbacks Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns played well for the Cavaliers and a QB rotation may be in the offing for a critical matchup with Louisville this weekend.
For the second week in a row Georgia Tech was underwhelming in victory. This week’s struggle against Tulane was little solace to the GT faithful looking for improved play after a lackluster win against Wofford.
Miami took care of business as expected against Florida A&M dominating all phases of the game. Al Golden’s Hurricane’s did exactly what they needed to do against  a struggling FAMU team. Miami needed a convincing win to rediscover a bit of the Miami swagger which they delivered in spades. A week four matchup against Nebraska in Lincoln will give Miami a chance to make a statement for the 2014 season.
It is hard to make any credible commentary about the 2014 Duke football team. Unfortunately that will continue to be the case for the next two weeks. Head Coach David Cutcliffe’s results at Duke are nothing short of miraculous. However, the 2014 Duke schedule is laughable and sinks the concept of scheduling for success to new depths. The first four opponents for the defending coastal champions are Elon, Troy, Kansas, and Tulane. Every program feasts on cupcakes early in the season, but this cornucopia would give Augustus Gloop a stomachache. The reality is that Duke will be 4-0 after it’s first 4 games yet we will have no idea what kind of football team they have. Maybe next year Duke can save some travel money and schedule all of their out-of-conference games against Southern Conference opponents.
With the exception of Virginia, which plays host to Louisville in what may be the most important game on their schedule, next week’s ACC coastal schedule compares favorably with a yawning festival. We look forward to weeks hence when coastal versus coastal matchups will begin to shake out the division hierarchy for 2014.

Cupcakes For Most in ACC Coastal

When you serve cupcakes for desert, you generally get a lot of fluff and sugar. When the 5 of the 7 teams in the ACC Coastal begin their seasons with FCS schools, there aren’t going to be a lot of surprises. The first week of the season in the ACC Coastal didn’t raise many questions, but it did begin the conversation towards answering a couple. What did we learn in week #1? We certainly learned that ACC Coastal teams can dominate the FCS.
The Pitt Panthers absolutely drilled a Delaware program that has been down the last couple of years. Pitt dominated on both sides of the ball and led 42-0 at halftime. Pitt or any other team in the ACC coastal should have a big day playing Delaware, but this was off the charts. Pitt held Delaware held under 100 total yards on offense and gained over 500 yards against the Blue Hens’ defense. Is this a function of a resurgent Pitt program or a subpar Delaware team that mailed it in when the roof caved in? 61-0 is a big win no matter who you play. We likely won’t know if Pitt is a force in the Coastal until they host Iowa in week 4.
Virginia Tech struggled early in a tune up for their trip to Columbus next week. Little is expected from William & Mary in the CAA this year, but they gave the Hokies a good fight for a half. The Hokies look like they found a quarterback in Michael Brewer who had a very solid, workman-like outing. Freshmen Shai McKenzie and Isaiah Ford looked flashy in their debuts, but I suspect the Buckeyes will be a better gauge of Brewer’s effectiveness and the freshmen will see a defense much bigger, faster, and stronger than the Tribe. If there was a surprise in this game it’s that the Virginia Tech lead was only 17-6 at halftime, but a highly touted VT defense delivered as expected keeping the Tribe out of the endzone in what may be the on-going story for the coming Hokie season.
Duke hammered a badly overmatched Elon team in what was one of the bigger mismatches on paper that yielded the expected results on the field.
The biggest surprise of the cupcake games was likely Georgia Tech vs. Wofford. The Jackets never ran away from what should have been a terribly overmatched Wofford team. In a bigger surprise the Jackets threw for 2 touchdowns. However, it’s not time to declare that Georgia Tech is going “West Coast.” Maybe GT just used the Wofford game to practice a diversified attack for 2014.
North Carolina probably played the toughest of the FCS games against a scrappy Liberty team. As is the case with many FBS vs. FCS games, Liberty was competitive for a half before succumbing to a more talented UNC team. Marquise Williams and Elijah Hood were exciting players before the Liberty game and they did nothing to quell the high expectations for 2014. A capable Liberty offense was surprisingly able to score 29 points against a UNC defense that will need to improve if the Tar Heels are going to live up to their pre-season expectations.
The Coastal teams that did not dine on cupcakes this past weekend were Virginia and Miami. Both teams may wish they played FCS teams to open their seasons with wins, but they didn’t and both stand at 0-1 after one week of play. While Miami played a solid but rebuilding Louisville team, Virginia opened with the #7 ranked ULCA Bruins.
Miami demonstrated that Al Golden still has a lot of work ahead to bring college football glory back to south Florida. Miami hasn’t played in the championship since they joined the ACC. If the Miami defense does not improve dramatically and quickly, 2014 won’t break the championship drought. Miami also showed that winning with a true freshman QB is a tall order. While clearly very talented, Brad Kaaya frequently looked overwhelmed and posted modest results as the ‘Canes fell hard to a better Louisville team.
Virginia UCLA
Virginia provided the most intriguing results of the weekend and may have begun the answer to the burning question of whether or not Mike London can win enough games to return in 2015. While Virginia fell to UCLA 28-20, the Cavaliers outplayed the Bruins for the better part of the game. Frankly, this was a game that Virginia played well enough to win and score a national upset. The Virginia defense led by ACC linebacker of the week Henry Coley held Brett Hundley in check as the potent Bruin offense scored but one touchdown all day. Virginia held UCLA to 7 for18 on 3rd down conversions and 0 for2 on fourth down. One game does not a dominant defense make, but the UCLA game began the conversation about how good the UVa defense can be. If Cavalier the defense continues to play this well, they can keep Virginia in every game on the schedule with the exception of  an away game with Florida State. The offense on the other hand surrendered 21 points and lost the game for the Cavaliers. As bad as that sounds, all was not lost for the UVa offense. The Cavaliers outgained the Bruins in both rushing and passing by small margins and an overhauled offensive line did not yield a sack to a fast and experienced UCLA defense. A flukey scoop and score and bad break on tipped pass were Virginia’s undoing in this game. Is Virginia going to challenge for the coastal crown in 2014? We don’t know. Until the Cavaliers learn to convert well played games into wins, smart money says they will not. However smart money might not bet on the Cavs to finish last either.

Blue Horseshoe Loves UVa Football

If Virginia football was a stock, a week before the season opens or “trading” starts, would you buy, sell, hold, or avoid at all costs? There is one thing for certain about potentially investing in UVa Football, Inc., the shares are going to be cheap. Beaten down from the historical highs of the late 1980’s and 1990s, UVa football might even be a penny stock as we start the 2014 trading season.
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Like any company battling to win back customer and investor confidence, the 2014 Virginia football season is all about execution.  The ‘Hoos must improve in every phase of the game. There are 14 teams in the ACC. At the end of the 2013 season, in almost every statistical team category, Virginia’s ranking was a double-digit number. Let’s look at the basics. How did Virginia rank in putting points on the board and keeping opponents out of the end zone? This would be like looking at a balance sheet and income statement. Virginia was second to last in the ACC in scoring offense and last in scoring defense. Oddly enough, we were 10th and 11th respectively in passing and rushing yards which suggests that Virginia moved the ball, but then self destructed. This conclusion is supported by the fact that Virginia ranked in the bottom quartile of the NCAA for most penalties per game. Virginia did lead the ACC in one category in 2013…punting yardage. Thanks to Alec Vozenilek who did an outstanding job punting last year combined with the fact that no one in the ACC punted more often than Virginia, the Cavs led the league in the one category where it’s okay to finish last. Are you ready to sink your 401K into UVA Football, Inc yet?
 
When a company doesn’t have the best results to report to the street, investors always look to management for a track record of success and for assets that can drive profitable revenue in the future. Virginia has mixed news here as well. A leadership shakeup just before the 2013 season set the program back 3 years as new schemes were introduced on both offense and defense with predictable results. This is analogous to taking a very large charge against earnings. However, the new leadership has a track record of success. Specifically Tom O’Brien has led major turn around successes at Boston College and NC State as head coach and at UVa working on the staff of Jack…I mean George Welsh. The current staff knows how to win at this level and has the track record to prove it. Additionally, the UVa roster has talent across the board with offensive and defensive playmakers that could play for many of the best national programs. The offensive line is the biggest question mark heading into the UCLA opener on Saturday. It is talented, but young and for the most part untested.  The O-Line sustained two untimely preseason injuries to Jay Whitmire and Sadiq Olanrewaju – both projected starters. If the Offensive line can create a few seams for Kevin Parks and Taquan Mizzell and give Greyson Lambert a little time to find his playmakers, this offense will be vastly improved from 2013. Still not ready to buy?
 
Before you decide whether to invest in UVa football or a different ACC program, remember that many investors lose their shirts chasing last year’s winner. I am not saying that Florida State isn’t going to be very good and potentially repeat as national champion, but the program is flying high, trading at a hefty premium. Clemson is coming off a very productive year and should open the season trading at a premium as well based on recruiting classes that have ranked in the top 15 nationally each of the past 4 years. Other teams like UNC and Miami are going to jump on preseason hype and the promise of improved results over 2013. If I were shorting any program it would be Duke. As wonderful as the turn around story was for Duke football in 2013, the upside to improve on last year’s performance is limited at best. Blue Horseshoe loves Anacott Steel, not Duke Football.
 
If Virginia football was a stock, I’d be buying, but I wouldn’t bet the farm. The best returns are found in under valued stocks that can double or triple over time versus buying the $ 100 stock that goes up five bucks over the same period. There is no program with greater upside than Virginia and many of the pieces in place to deliver on its potential. There is a leadership team in place that has turned around other troubled programs. The talent, based on recruiting rankings is as good or better than many programs in the ACC. The key is execution, making first downs, finishing drives, avoiding stupid penalties, and converting turnovers into points. Virginia didn’t do any of these things well last year and has the stats to prove it. Virginia has the talent and leadership that should produce much improved results in 2014. If Billy Ray Valentine and Louis Winthorpe III can get rich while sending Mortimer and Randolph Duke to the poor house, then Virginia can win 6 games this year and deliver big returns for all of us who believe.

Virginia Football and George Bailey

GeorgeBailyWhat happens to recruiting when a head coach has losing records in 4 out of 5 seasons? What happens when a disappointing 4-8 season is followed by an even more disappointing season of 2-10? What usually happens is the coach is reported to be “on the hot seat” and recruiting grinds to a halt as big name national and emerging regional recruits look for field success and coaching security in their playing careers. As Virginia fans know, for better or worse, there is rarely anything “usual” about UVa football.
Do you recall George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life”? Remember the scene when he was in Martini’s bar and at the end of his rope? He prayed a brief prayer that changed his life and the fate of Bedford Falls forever… “Dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man but if You’re up there and can hear me…” As a result of his prayer, his guardian angel Clarence appears and the story has a tearfully happy ending. The Virginia fan base is a lot like George Bailey headed into this season. We are at the end of our rope. We know that another losing season very likely means the end of Mike London followed by a coaching search to fill a job no one will want and at least 3 more years of rebuilding.
I had written an outline for an article that that focused on the importance of this year’s offensive line to the success of the program for the next several years. Then, Mike London did it again. He secured a verbal commitment from highly touted defensive end recruit Rassol Clemons who chose Virginia over offers from LSU, Tennessee, Clemson, & Kentucky. A few hours later London got a commitment from quickly emerging OL/DL recruit Eli Hanback from Patrick Henry high school just outside of Richmond.
The things that Mike London does on the recruiting trail just don’t happen. He is on the hottest of hot seats. Everyone knows he is a losing season away from being fired, yet for the last two years highly touted recruits with opportunities to play for successful programs with secure coaches continue to line up to join the Virginia program. In the current recruiting season Coach London has room for about 25 players. He has 20 commitments two weeks before Labor Day. He has verbals from three 4-star recruits which by historical standards is a solid number for Virginia coming off good season. CJ Stalker, Jahvoni Simmons, and Rasool Clemons had offers from national programs that are highly ranked in 2014 pre-season polls, yet they all chose to join the “hot seat” program. At least 3 more national recruits with offers from across the SEC, ACC, and Big 10 are hedging their bets just little, waiting to see some signs of success from Virginia in 2014 before jumping on board. Teams coming off successive losing seasons with a total of 6 wins against 18 losses don’t deliver these recruiting results. Mike London however, is a special leader. He is a role model to many of these kids. They respect and admire Mike London as their coach. They adore him as their mentor. Conversely, it is clear from speaking with Mike London that he genuinely cares for his players. I am sure every coach tells recruits how much they care about their success both on and off the football field. Somehow, Mike London connects with kids and their families. They trust him. They want their sons to learn from Mike London and to emulate the way he lives his life…both on and off the field.
Rayner: Average Gets it Done for UVa Football
These are special characteristics for a head football coach. I’d go as far as to suggest that they are unique to FBS college football. Coach Mike London brings assets to the program that no other coach can match. He is a part of the 1% in leadership skills. It is why the current Virginia recruiting class is ranked in the top 30 nationally nestled among and between teams that have had far more success than Virginia in the past 5 years. Mike London justifiably has his critics among the Virginia faithful. However, given his ability to recruit talent to Virginia in the face of hot seat recruiting headwinds, the potential for the program under his leadership is staggering. If Mike London can recruit this well coming off 4-8 and 2-10 seasons, imagine what he can do when he has successive 8-4 and 10-2 seasons. Imagine the recruiting juggernaut of a Mike London, secure in his job, producing winning results on the field. The upside is almost unimaginable.
Therefore here we all sit, the Virginia faithful at Martini’s bar…”Dear Father in heaven we may or may not be praying folks, but if You’re up there and can hear us…”

Is Virginia the New Duke?

2013 was a season of change in college football. A team from the ACC instead of the SEC won the national championship, college football bid farewell to the BCS, and Maryland decided it was a good idea to risk a $ 52M exit penalty to join the Big 10. Closer to home, Duke won 10 games while Virginia lost 10 games inspiring even the not-so-cynical among us to ask “Is Virginia the new Duke?” Maybe, but then again, maybe not.
 
If we are looking across the sports spectrum to include basketball, in his 6th year as head coach of the Duke basketball program, Mike Krzyzewski won both the ACC regular season and tournament championships and made it to the finals of the NCAA tournament. In only his 5th year, Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett won both the ACC regular season and tournament championships and made it to the sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. So is UVa becoming the new Duke? Looking at the basketball programs, in the instructional words of the Magic 8-Ball “signs point to yes”.
 
Football is a different story. For 40 years, starting in 1975, Duke set the standard for futility in college football. During that span, Duke had 6 winning seasons which ironically also equals the number of seasons in which Duke won 1 game or less. That’s 1.5 winning seasons per decade, perfectly balanced by 1.5 seasons with no more than 1 win. Last year’s 10-win season was the first winning season for Duke football since 1994. For the few brave souls who went to the Duke football games, that’s a lot of games where the entire second half is spent at the tailgate (not that there is anything wrong with that.)
 
Over the same 40 year time span, Virginia had 23 winning seasons and 3 seasons with 1 win, the last of which came in George Welsh’ first season in 1982. During the past 10 years, which have admittedly been tough sledding for Virginia football, UVa had 4 winning seasons. By contrast, Duke had one winning season. Based on won/loss records over the past 4 decades and even the past 10 years, the assertion that Virginia is the new Duke is a stretch.
 
While the direction of the Virginia program over the past 5 years is alarming, as noted in prior posts, Virginia football is not struggling on the recruiting trail, which represents another point of departure from Duke football. Over the past 10 years, which includes 2 lean years at the merciful conclusion of the Al Groh debacle, on average Virginia’s recruiting classes ranked 37th nationally. By contrast Duke’s recruiting classes ranked 62nd. More importantly, over the past 5 years, the recruiting class differential has widened slightly with Virginia maintaining an average national class rank of 37th while Duke slipped to 67Th.
 
Chatting up a comparison of Duke and UVa football draws mixed reviews from the Virginia faithful. However, those stressed that we are devolving into the new Duke of ACC football are jumping the gun, worrying needlessly…which is something Virginia fans do well.
 
While Virginia has a long road to travel before we become the new “Duke” of college football, there are some things we can take away from the newfound success of Duke football. 1) Coaching Matters. David Cutcliffe’s work at Duke is just short of miraculous…close to but not eclipsing the miracle Mets of 1969. Cutcliffe won 16 games the past two years with talent that was not highly ranked, but that played within themselves and fit into Cutcliffe’s systems. Kudos to Coach Cutcliffe, he won in a job that had been a coaching graveyard since Steve Spurrier stopped in Durham for a cup of coffee. 2) Patience Pays Off. Duke didn’t turn the ship around in a year or even 5 years. It took 6 years of recruiting the right players, building the right culture, and avoiding the temptation of head coaching quick-fixes to quell anxious fans and donors. Virginia has a re-tooled coaching staff entering its second year in the program. We all want to win and win now, but we need let the players learn the systems and the coaches build a culture of winning. 3) Winning Cures Many Ills. We all know this. We saw it with our own miracle worker when George Welsh took a perpetually floundering Virginia program and put it football on the map. Is Virginia football turning into the new Duke? It hasn’t yet and won’t if we stay the course. The Magic 8-Ball tells us to “ask again later”.

2014 – The Second Year for Mike London

It will be a happy day for Virginia football fans when the talk of the program is focused on games and players rather than the job performance of the head coach. Today is not that happy day.
 
Mike London was hired in 2010 to take over a program that was weary from the leadership of the know-it-all curmudgeon Al Groh. When Mike London was announced as the new head coach at UVa, I was as pleased as any Virginia fan. My brother-in-law (a fellow UVa die-hard) and I went to a “meet the staff” event where Coach London and his new staff mingled with UVa fans and donors. Mike London was impressive. His message was a breath of fresh air.  He said that Virginia football was going to win with kids who went to class, who showed class, and who graduated with their degrees.  He spoke of his background in law enforcement before he began his coaching career. It was obvious that he would connect with kids, their families, and high school coaches who for years had written off Virginia football. While Mike London was hired in 2010, it is my position that 2014 is only his second year with the tools he needs to win and in reality the second year of the Mike London era.
 
When we “met the staff” in 2010 I was enthralled, swept up by the overwhelming sense of optimism. I intentionally ignored the sneaking feeling that something was askew. Virginia football fans always feel like something is askew even in the best of times, so it was easy to suppress this feeling. I was delighted to see three former UVa greats, Anthony Poindexter, Shawn Moore, and Ron Mattes on the Virginia staff. These guys knew how to win at Virginia. I was pleased to see a mix of respected coaching veterans in Jim Reid, Jeff Hanson, and Mike Faragalli mixed in with coaching newcomers Bill Lazor and Vincent Brown.  Chip West and his legendary recruiting acumen was an added bonus to the staff. What I was choosing to ignore was an anxious concern that none of these coaches had a track record of winning D-1/FBS football games. I saw lots of FCS experience and 1-AA success, but no one had delivered sustained success in a major FBS conference. I chose to bury that concern with optimism and alcohol and I headed to the bar for another drink.
 
It might have been buried, but my concern was neither dead nor unfounded. After posting our second 4-8 record in three seasons, Virginia overhauled its coaching staff, firing coaches Reid, Hanson, Moore, and Faragalli. Bill Lazor left the program to return to the NFL. In their places, Virginia hired Tom O’Brien, Jon Tenuta, Mike Archer, Steve Fairchild. All of these coaches have significant D-1/FBS experience. They have won at national D-1 programs. They have a track record of success over time in the ACC or equivalent conferences. 2014 is the second year that Mike London has the tools he needs to win which is why this is the second year of his tenure. The first year of his new tenure was a disaster as we installed new systems on both offense and defense, shook off a ridiculous and ineffective quarterback rotation, and players figured out the nuances and expectations of 4 new coaches.
 
While the new coaches are a needed infusion of experience and know-how, there are lingering questions. Can the contrasting styles of Mike London (a players coach and inspirational leader who connects with the players) and Tom O’Brien (a stern disciplinarian and Naval Academy graduate who served 9 years in the marine corps and has won consistently everywhere he has coached) mesh to deliver a winning system and more importantly a winning culture? Can Mike London compliment his innate art of leadership with the science of winning football games? Most importantly, can we leverage the wealth of coaching experience currently in the program into a winning record in its second year? That’s all the time we have. We squandered the good will and optimism of Mike London’s first three years with a staff that was learning on the job. As a result, have one season to show that this is the staff that can bring winning back to Charlottesville.
 
There is no doubt that Mike London was a big part of the hiring process of his initial staff and owns the ultimate responsibility for its composition. However, as is always the case with Virginia football, something is always a little different. Meddling and heavy-handed Associate AD Jon Oliver is never far from the decisions surrounding the Virginia football program. How influential was he in the hiring of the first staff? We don’t know, but there is no doubt his fingerprints were on the hiring of the initial staff as they were on the hiring of Mike London. The unfortunate reality for Virginia football fans is that we have exactly one more year to find out if this new, highly qualified staff can win, or we get to start the coaching conversations all over again and the happy day when we move beyond talking about coaching staffs to talking about winning football games will be forestalled, once again.

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.

Average Gets it Done for UVa Football

No matter what kind of day you have had or what kind of week it has been, when you get home your dog is always happy to see you. Always. Virginia fans feel the same way about football season. It doesn’t matter that UVa was 2-10 last year or that we were 0-8 in conference play. It doesn’t matter that we had our second consecutive losing season and our 5th losing season out of the past 6. Football season starts August 30th and Virginia fans are optimistic, excited, and ready to go…well, at least 2 of those.
 
I am not “ready to go” but I am excited and optimistic and it’s not because I fell off a ladder (if I had one) and hit my head. It is because despite a lousy, rotten, no-good 2-10 season, Virginia was one position away from having an acceptable rebuilding year in 2013. Unfortunately that position was QB, where Virginia has been lacking during each of those 5 losing seasons. However, last year was unusually painful because we knew our QB was a great kid and vocal leader with a strong arm and good speed. The pain started when Virginia needed a precise completion or a heady scramble to gain a critical first down. When the chips were down in 2013, the Virginia QB was generally holding a pair of two’s and folded…at least 10 out of 12 times. How bad was it? Real bad. The numbers don’t lie and they aren’t pretty. The average starting QB for ACC programs that don’t run the triple option tossed 19 touchdowns against 11 interceptions and threw for 2824 yards. Our QB delivered 8 TD’s, 15 picks, and 2202 yards. Ouch.
 
So why am I both optimistic and excited? Let’s start with the obvious…we have a new starting QB in Greyson Lambert. UVa also returns 9 of 11 defensive starters including All-American safety Anthony Harris who led the nation with 8 interceptions and Eli Harold who has a first step and a motor that rivals former UVa great Chris Slade. If that weren’t enough giddiness on defense, Virginia also added 2 all-world defensive recruits in Andrew Brown and Quinn Blanding. On paper, this defense has the talent to rival some of the great Virginia defenses of the George Welsh era. Additionally, over the course of his career, coordinator John Tenuta’s defenses have shown marked improvement from their first to second seasons as his players learn his system and begin to thrive in his attacking defensive schemes. On offense, Virginia returns Kevin Parks, a hard-nosed between the tackles runner who had an excellent season despite the fact that every opposing coaching staff (as well as every fan on the planet) knew Virginia couldn’t pass the ball and stacked the box with regularity to stuff the run. Kevin Parks gained 1031 yards despite facing 8-9 defenders near the line of scrimmage every time he got the ball. The kid is a gamer, a senior captain, and the kind of student athlete that thrives at UVa.
Lambert
However, it is the quarterback position where I find a genuine albeit surprising source of optimism. While Greyson Lambert was a highly prized recruit from the heart of SEC country standing 6-5 with an arm to make every throw in the playbook, that’s not why I am so hopeful. I am hopeful, because all things held constant at 2013 levels (economics anyone? Let’s assume…) Virginia doesn’t need Greyson Lambert to be All-ACC next year to have a winning season. We just need him to be average, & not double the number of touchdowns he throws with the number of picks. We need him to manage the game, to get the ball to Kevin Parks or to sophomore and former 5-star recruit Taquan Mizzell who is finally healthy and ready to roll. Lambert needs to hit his open receivers in stride more often than he hits open defenders. While Virginia fans would be ecstatic if Grayson Lambert turned into the next Andrew Luck and I would be ecstatic if I won Powerball next week, the reality is, we can turn 2-10 into 7-5 with average quarterback play.
 
Average? Is that what Virginia is for shooting for here? After consecutive seasons of 4-8 and 2-10, yes we are looking for average QB play that gets us to a bowl game, begins to rebuild confidence in the UVa program with both fans and recruits, and gets the fans back in their seats and away from their tailgates. Does average cut the muster over the long term? Nope. Will average QB play suffice this year? You bet it will and everyone including my dog will be happy about it, but he’s happy all the time, so he doesn’t really count.