Schedule Preview: Virginia

North Carolina welcomes Virginia into Kenan Stadium for the 114th edition of the South's Oldest Rivalry on Oct. 3. The Tar Heels have lost nine of their last 11 contests to the Cavaliers.

Overview: Al Groh enters his ninth season as Virginia's head coach with a tough task in front of him. With three 5-7 campaigns peppering his resume – including two in the past three seasons – Groh needs to deliver in '09, but with only 12 starters returning the '08 squad and a new offensive scheme in the works, things could get worse before they get better.

The Cavaliers welcome back five starters from last season's offensive unit, but fortunately for Hoo Nation, dual-threat quarterback Jameel Sewell will take over the signal-calling duties after missing last fall due to academics. The 6-foot-3, 219-pound senior rushed for 279 yards and completed 214-of-364 passes for 2,176 yards with 12 TD and 9 INT as the starter in '07, and appears to be the perfect fit for new offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon's spread-option look, while Mr. Everything cornerback Vic Hall also figures into the equation at quarterback.

There's reason for optimism on that front, considering Virginia returns blocking specialist Rashawn Jackson at fullback and four starters on the offensive line – even though first-round NFL draft pick OT Eugene Monroe will be difficult to replace. And if you haven't heard yet, Brandon served as Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator for two seasons when the current Florida head coach was getting his feet wet at Bowling Green. He'll need some magic up his sleeves, as the Cavaliers finished '08 ranked 105th nationally in total offense (299.8 ypg) and 114th in scoring offense (16.1 ppg). The coaching staff is hoping Mikell Simpson will avoid the injury bug that hampered him last fall (262 yards on 3.0 ypc) and serve as an adequate replacement for department running back Cedric Peerman (774 yards, 7 TD).

Groh's 3-4 defensive scheme has proven to be his forte in Charlottesville, and the '08 season was no exception – UVa ranked in the top-45 nationally in total defense (42nd – 333.3), scoring defense (38th – 21.7), pass defense (26th – 183.7) and sacks (33rd – 2.4). Replacing three standouts from the linebacker starting lineup in second-team All-ACC Clint Sintim (70 tkl, 11 sacks), Jon Cooper (101 tkl, 2.5 sacks) and Antonio Appleby (72 tkl, 7 tfl) won't be easy, but a veteran secondary led by second-team All-ACC Ras-I Dowling (43 tkl, 11 pbu) will help pick up the slack until its LB counterparts have settled down. Nose tackle Nick Jenkins and defensive end Matt Conrath return to anchor the defensive line.

Coaching Carousel: If coaching stability is the key to long-term stability in the college football ranks, Virginia may be in trouble. Only four assistant coaches return from the '08 season and only two of those coaches will be coaching the same position from last fall – offensive line coach Dave Borbely and tight ends coach Bob Price. Anthony Poindexter will move from running backs coach to the defensive secondary, while Wayne Lineburg will switch from wide receivers coach to running backs coach.

Wide receivers coach Latrell Scott joins the staff after one season at Tennessee, and Chad Wilt returns to UVa as the defensive line coach after three seasons coaching that position at Liberty. Bob Trott moved from the Cleveland Browns to become the Cavaliers' linebackers coach in February and the aforementioned Brandon left Bowling Green after six seasons. Former Kansas State head coach and UVa offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Ron Prince is back in Charlottesville, this time as the special teams coach.

Bob Diaco was promoted to defensive coordinator from his special teams coordinator/linebackers coach position in December after Bob Pruett retired, but Diaco bolted for the defensive coordinator position at Cincinnati in February. Groh has assumed the defensive coordinator duties for the '09 season.

Brutal Schedule: Groh has beefed up UVa's nonconference slate over the past several seasons with little to show for it. The Cavaliers were throttled by Southern California (52-7) and Connecticut (45-10) last fall, and while the '09 schedule may not have a powerhouse program like USC, it does boast a handful of teams capable of defeating Virginia, such as C-USA frontrunner Southern Miss, Mountain West favorite TCU and Big Ten member Indiana. Even FCS opponent William & Mary is a potential top-10 squad in its division. Toss in conference road games at North Carolina, Miami, Clemson and Maryland, and Virginia's hope for a bowl bid looks mighty slim.

Key Game: Virginia Tech on Nov. 28. You could mark this game every year for the Cavaliers, but it takes on even more importance in '08. Virginia has lost five straight and nine of its last 10 to its instate rivals, and with Groh's seat threatening to ignite into flames, a victory at home to close the season may be enough to spare him another season.

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5    William & Mary 
Sept. 12   TCU
Sept. 19   @ Southern Miss
Oct. 3     @ North Carolina
Oct. 10    Indiana
Oct. 17    @ Maryland
Oct. 24    Georgia Tech
Oct. 31    Duke
Nov. 7     @ Miami (Fla.)
Nov. 14    Boston College 
Nov. 21    @ Clemson  
Nov. 28    Virginia Tech  

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