CFN: 2009 Virginia Preview

Will mediocrity continue to be tolerated in Charlottesville?

Head coach: Al Groh
9th year: 56-44
15th year overall: 82-84
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 15, Def. 16, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 17
Ten Best Cavalier Players
1. QB/CB Vic Hall, Sr.
2. QB Ras-I Dowling, Jr.
3. RB Mikell Simpson, Sr.
4. RT Will Barker, Sr.
5. QB Jameel Sewell, Sr.
6. DE Matt Conrath, Soph.
7. FB Rashawn Jackson, Sr.
8. CB Chris Cook, Sr.
9. DL Nate Collins, Sr.
110. NT Nick Jenkins, Soph.

2009 Schedulebr> CFN Prediction: COMING
2009 Record:

9/5 William & Mary
9/12 TCU
9/19 at Southern Miss
10/3 at North Carolina
10/10 Indiana
10/17 at Maryland
10/24 Georgia Tech
10/31 Duke
11/7 at Miami
11/14 Boston College
11/21 at Clemson
11/28 Virginia Tech

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 7-5
2008 Record: 5-7

930 USC L 52-7
9/6 Richmond W 16-0
9/13 at Connecticut L 45-10
9/27 at Duke L 31-3
10/4 Maryland W 31-0
10/11 East Carolina W 35-20
10/18 No Carolina W 16-13 OT
10/25 at Georgia Tech W 24-17
11/1 Miami L 24-17 OT
11/8 at Wake Forest L 28-17
11/15  OPEN DATE
11/22 Clemson L 13-3
11/29 at Virginia Tech L 17-14

Will mediocrity continue to be tolerated in Charlottesville?

Virginia is a nice program. It typically attracts good student-athletes, sends a handful to the NFL, and rarely delivers a dreadful season, but is that enough? Three 5-7 campaigns, including last fall, since Al Groh arrived in 2001 have left the administration and the fan base feeling antsy. Heck, right in their own state, the Cavaliers have had to witness consecutive ACC championships from Virginia Tech, and the league as a whole is becoming more competitive. Groh has to avoid his first back-to-back losing seasons with a program that’s littered with question marks on both sides of the ball.

Oh, there’s talent at UVA, but just not enough to be considered a serious threat in the Coastal Division. The situation is especially drab on offense, where the Cavs were dead last in the league in scoring and total offense. To help usher in a new era, Groh hired Gregg Brandon to install a more up-tempo attack, welcomed QB Jameel Sewell back to the program, and officially moved Vic Hall over from cornerback to make sure he has competition this summer. While they should make a difference, it would be foolish to expect dramatically different results this quickly.

Concerns are by no means limited to the offense. The 3-4 defense must replace its top three tacklers, all linebackers, and the special teams have enough holes to keep Ron Prince busy in his return to the University. On a positive note, it was a quieter offseason around campus than last year, when suspensions and dismissals were being handed out a regular basis.

Last year was supposed to be about rebuilding for 2009. Instead, Virginia regressed, leaving the upcoming season shrouded in uncertainty and modest expectations. The Cavaliers desperately need to tap into some of the magic it had in 2007, but doing so will require the navigation of a thorny schedule that includes nine bowl teams.

Another bout of mediocrity appears to be a more likely scenario.

What to look for on offense: The quarterback situation. Sure, Virginia wants to open things up offensively. We’ve heard it before. No scheme or playbook is going to matter if the program doesn’t get better play from behind center. Much better. The passing game was laughable last year, but help is on the way. Big lefty Jameel Sewell is back after not being enrolled at the school in 2008, and shifty Vic Hall has made a full-time commitment to offense after spending his first three years as a cornerback. Although both are mobile, Sewell is by far the more polished passer. Some combination of the two can be expected once the season begins.

What to look for on defense: The secondary will be all grown up. Unlike a year ago, when the defensive backfield was young and inexperienced, this group has the talent and depth to be the strongest on the team. All-star CB Ras-I Dowling is the cover boy, but he’ll get plenty of help now that Chris Cook has returned to the program and sophomore safeties Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley are a year older. These guys have the size and the speed to blanket opposing receivers, giving a questionable front seven that extra second or two it needs to get a paw on the quarterback.

This team will be much better if… Gregg Brandon winds up being a magician. The new offensive coordinator was brought in to spice up an offense that’s been among the ACC’s most feeble this decade. It won’t be easy, but if he can make an immediate impact, getting back to the postseason becomes a whole lot easier. Al Groh always manages to cobble together a stingy defense that keeps the Cavaliers in most games. However, you can’t score 16 points a game, like last year, and expect to reach the .500 mark.

The Schedule: The Cavaliers have an interesting and somewhat challenging non-conference schedule. William & Mary won't be a true pushover to start the season, TCU is a nasty team to deal with, and the trip to Southern Miss won't exactly lighten things up. The ACC season couldn't start out tougher with a trip to North Carolina, while there's another road game at Maryland following the final non-conference date against Indiana. Having to go to Clemson and Miami aren't going to make November easy, especially with home games against Boston College and Virginia Tech. In other words, Virginia needs to get off to a hot start and has to have a strong record before hitting November.

Best Offensive Player
: Senior QB Vic Hall. A new category might need to be created here because Hall does a little bit of everything and isn’t strictly an offensive player. Virginia’s Vic-of-all-trades is the leading returning tackler, tied a school record with five forced fumbles, handled punt returns, and is a team captain. Oh, yeah, and he’s also one of the favorites to be the quarterback after zipping through Virginia Tech for 109 rushing yards and two scores last November. Wherever No. 4 winds up, he’ll play a huge part in the ‘Hoos’ 2009 fortunes.

Best Defensive Player: Junior CB Ras-I Dowling. Two successful seasons as the starter has Dowling sneaking up on the nation’s premier cornerbacks. A 6-2, 200-pound ball-hawk, he has uncommon size for such a fluid and speedy pass defender. After parlaying three picks and 11 pass breakups into a spot on the All-ACC second team, he could be primping this season for early entry into the 2010 NFL Draft.   

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore LT Landon Bradley. The Cavaliers won’t have a great offensive line, but it does figure to be solid enough with the return of four starters. However, it can ill-afford to have a weak link at left tackle, where Bradley is expected to replace first round draft choice Eugene Monroe. He’s looked like the real deal in the offseason, but needs to carry that into the regular season in order to prevent any hitches in the trenches.

The season will be a success if
... Virginia squeezes out six wins and a low-level bowl berth. Listen, it’s going to be a stretch with a schedule that includes TCU, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Miami, Clemson, and Virginia Tech, but a second straight bowl-less December is going to create a climate of crisis at the end of the regular season. Something resembling momentum from last year’s 5-7 disappointment is on the top of the 2009 to-do list.

Key game: Nov. 28 vs. Virginia Tech. Much like Georgia Tech did versus Georgia last fall, it’s high time for Virginia to finally break through against its chief in-state rival. The Cavs have lost nine of the last 10 to the Hokies, including the last five under Al Groh. The head coach, more than anyone else, has to pick one of these off because he’s quickly running out of time with an impatient fan base.

2008 Fun Stats:
- Third quarter scoring: Opponents 49 - Virginia 23
- Sacks: Virginia 29 for 214 yards - Opponents 16 for 132 yards
- Time of possession: Opponents 32:09 - Virginia 27:51 Top Stories