Maybe football is the rest of ACC’s way of teaching Virginia, “You can’t have everything.”
After all, 2014-15 was an incredible year for the Cavaliers, with six ACC titles and three national championships (baseball, men’s soccer, men’s tennis).
Success in football has been more elusive for the Cavaliers, who went 5-7 last season and were picked by the media to finish last in the Coastal Division this year.
Virginia was a better football team last season than their record. The Cavaliers lost five of their last six games, missed out on a bowl game after losing to rival Virginia Tech and the team’s two best defensive players left school early to enter the NFL draft
It’s easy to understand the lack of enthusiasm in Charlottesville for the team this season.
Joe Giglio’s 2015 ACC Football Forecast
Coach Mike London, entering his sixth season, has done outstanding work on the recruiting trail and is one of the more likable college coaches.
But nice guys have to win, too. London, with a 23-38 overall record, hasn’t – at least not enough. He’s only taken the Cavs to one bowl game (8-5 in 2011), and with another demanding schedule and questions on offense, a second bowl trip this season looks like a long shot.
Long odds are fine with London, who said he doesn’t worry about outside distractions.
“We focus on the positive,” London said at the ACC Kickoff last month in Pinehurst. “We let the negative speak for itself. We don't focus on those things.”
The positives last season were the Cavaliers’ defense and will likely be again this season despite losing linebackers Eli Harold and Max Valles. The Cavaliers ranked in the top 35 in the country takeaways, sacks and scoring defense. Sophomore safety Quin Blanding is one of the best defensive players in the ACC.
The problems are on offense, specifically at quarterback. After going 8-5 in 2011, using quarterbacks Michael Rocco and David Watford, London gambled on Alabama transfer Phillip Sims.
Sims split time with Rocco in a forgettable 2012 season and then left the program. The cost was to the development of Watford, who threw eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2013 and lost the job last year.
Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns split the job last year. Johns won the job in the spring. Lambert graduated and transferred to Georgia.
With just one designated quarterback, London is at least a step ahead of the past few years.
Even with Lambert (10 TDs, 11 INTs) and Johns (8 TDs, 5 INTs) muddling along last year, Virginia wasn’t that far off. The poor finish offset a surprising start. Virginia was tied for first in the Coastal Division, at 2-1 with a surprising home win over Louisville, going into an Oct. 25 home game with North Carolina.
Virginia led 14-0 in the first quarter and 27-21 in the fourth before a crippling interception by Lambert led to UNC’s winning score. A procedural mistake, too many men on the field, on fourth-and-1 in the last minute, sealed the loss.
London’s biggest problem this season might wind up being the schedule. The Wahoos face Notre Dame, UCLA and Boise State out of the league and have an annual crossover date with Louisville.
“We’re not afraid to play anybody,” London said.
Maybe not, but London’s job security would not be in question with a greased schedule like Duke’s. As it is, London will have to make it work, and keep up with the rest of the school’s athletic department the hard way.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
Virginia at a glance
2014: 5-7 (3-5 ACC)
Coach: Mike London (23-38, sixth year at Virginia)
Returning starters: Offense (5), Defense (4), Special teams (1)
▪ Junior running back Taquan Mizzell and senior receiver Canaan Severin are good options for quarterback Matt Johns.
Just having the job by himself, and with a year of experience, should also lead to a more productive season at quarterback for Johns.
▪ Only Florida State All-American Roberto Aguayo made more field goals (27) last season than Ian Frye. The senior doesn’t have the strongest leg, but he made 22 of 27 attempts.
▪ Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta will find ways to pressure the quarterback, he always does, but he will miss the combination of Max Valles and Eli Harold (16 combined sacks).
▪ Offensive line used to be a hallmark of the program. That would be the correct use of the past tense judging by last season’s rushing averages: 3.7 yards per rush, 137.8 yards per game.
Johns takes a leap forward, Mizzell turns smoke into fire and Tenuta keeps the defense humming for an 8-4 regular season.
The Cavaliers are competitive and close again (they lost five games by eight points or less) but this isn’t horseshoes or hand grenades and the regular season ends at 4-8.
Virginia has the talent to bother any team on the schedule, but it doesn’t quite have the right parts to put it all together. Another five-win season, with an upset here or there, seems about right.
Newcomer to watch
Jahvoni Simmons, LB
Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon were after Simmons (6-1, 240 pounds) but the four-star linebacker from Virginia Beach stayed home and will get a quick education from Tenuta.
Sept. 5 at UCLA
Sept. 12 Notre Dame
Sept. 19 William & Mary
Sept. 25 Boise State
Oct. 3 OPEN
Oct. 10 at Pittsburgh
Oct. 17 Syracuse
Oct. 24 at UNC
Oct. 31 Georgia Tech
Nov. 7 at Miami
Nov. 14 at Louisville
Nov. 21 Duke
Nov. 28 Virginia Tech
Some schools subscribe to scheduling wins outside the ACC to give yourself a chance to qualify for a bowl game. That’s not Virginia, which continues a recent trend of playing schools from the other side of the Rockies.
Notre Dame (No. 11), UCLA (No. 13) and Boise State (No. 23) are all ranked in the preseason top 25.
There’s no cross over with Clemson or Florida State but the Cavaliers will have their hands full both outside and in the ACC.
ACC preview schedule
May 31: No. 1 Florida State
June 7: No. 2 Clemson
June 14: No. 3 N.C. State
June 21: No. 4 Louisville
June 28: No. 5 Boston College
July 5: No. 6 Syracuse
July 12: No. 7 Wake Forest
July 19: No. 1 Virginia Tech
July 26: No. 2 Georgia Tech
Aug. 2: No. 3 UNC
Aug. 9: No. 4 Duke
Aug. 16: No. 5 Pitt
Aug. 23: No. 6 Miami
Aug. 30: No. 7 Virginia