Coach Al Groh hit the mother lode in recruiting last year, and he threw his novices right into the fire. Tight end Heath Miller was the ACC's top pass-catching tight end and a Freshman All-American, running back Wali Lundy led the Cavs in rushing and the nation's freshmen in all-purpose yardage, and linebacker Darryl Blackstock was the National Defensive Freshman of the Year.
Offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, the anchor of the offensive line, and end Kwakou Robinson, one of four returning D-Line starters, also broke in last year as true freshmen. The linebacking corps of Blackstock, Kai Parham and Ahmad Brooks, who comes to Charlottesville via Hargrove Military Academy, will make history before their college playing days are over.
The Cavaliers play host to Florida State in midseason and to Virginia Tech in the finale, but must travel to NC State and Maryland for consecutive November matchups.
Mountaineer mauler: Wali Lundy amassed 239 all-purpose yards and scored four touchdowns in Virginia's 48–22 Continental Tire Bowl win over West Virginia.
Youth movement: Of Virginia's 22 bowl game starters, nine were freshmen.
Ball! Virginia led the nation last season in fumble recoveries with 22.
2002 results: 9–5 (6–2 ACC)
Bowl Game: Beat West Virginia 48-22 in Continental Tire Bowl
Returning starters: 9 offense, 7 defense, both kickers
A. 30 Duke
S. 6 at South Carolina
S. 13 at Western Michigan
S. 27 Wake Forest
O. 4 at North Carolina
O. 11 at Clemson
O. 18 Florida State
O. 25 Troy State
N. 1 at NC State
N. 13 at Maryland
N. 22 Georgia Tech
N. 29 Virginia Tech
Schedule Analysis: The heavy hitters come late in the season for Virginia. Al Groh's young squad will have an excellent chance to take a 5-0 record to Clemson, a team the Cavs beat 22-17 last year. The Florida State home game on Oct. 18 will obviously be the biggest home game in years for Virginia, but the Cavs also face stiff road challenges in November with NC State and Maryland. Should Virginia split with Florida State and NC State, the Thursday night game at Maryland on Nov. 13 could be for the ACC title.
Final Word: The top four teams in the ACC all look like title contenders prior to the season. Virginia's strengths are its momentum from last season, strong recruiting classes and a top-flight quarterback. Weaknesses include a defense that was soft against the run and an offense that did not run effectively last season. Virginia could finish first in the ACC just as easily as fourth, though with what Groh is building in Charlottesville, the Cavs can expect to be closer to first than fourth for the foreseeable future.
Clemson Slant: If there's been a thorn in the side of the Clemson football program lately, it's been Al Groh and the Virginia Cavaliers. Groh has single handily sent the Tigers reeling into the second half of the season after leading his team to back-to-back upset wins in 2001 and 2002.
But it isn't just Clemson that is feeling the effects of the resurgence in Charlottesville, it's also the rest of the country. Al Groh has now brought in back-to-back top 10 recruiting classes, and coming off of a Continental Tire Bowl blow out of West Virginia, optimism is at an all-time high at UVA.
"What I said last year was that we had a terrific recruiting class, if we got one more like it we'd be really good, and if we got two more like it we'd be as good as anybody," Groh said on signing day. "We're on track with that."
"On track" is right; the upside for the Virginia Cavaliers in 2003 is nothing short of tremendous. Groh and his staff will welcome 41 returning lettermen next season, including 19 starters from a team that finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2002 with a 6-2 conference mark.
Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Matt Schaub headlines nine returning starters on offense. As last season's ACC Player of the Year, he guided the Cavaliers to three fourth-quarter victories and set or tied at least 10 school records.
"It's good to finally turn things around here, not only for my sake but the team's sake,'' Schaub said. "We're looked at differently in the football world.''
On October 11th of this year, Matt Schaub, head coach Al Groh, and the rest of the Virginia Cavaliers will travel to Death Valley seeking a 3-game winning streak for the first time ever in the longstanding series between the two schools.
The end result of that early season outcome will certainly play a huge role once again in determining the ultimate fate of Clemson football in 2003.
#23: The Virginia Cavaliers
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