ACC Week: One Big Question for Virginia, Are The Cavaliers Conference Title Contenders?


Mike London was a home run hire for Virginia football. He coached Richmond to a national championship in 2008, and in just his second season at Virginia, guided the Cavaliers to eight wins including four straight late in the season. UVa’s appearance in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl was the program’s first postseason berth in four years.

Indicators point to 2011 being a big first step on a long road. The Cavaliers are stocked for an encore, and could play the role of spoiler in the ACC title race. Just as easily though, UVa. could spend the holiday season in Charlottesville as it had the four years prior. An obvious starting point determining the Wahoos’ fate is quarterback Michael Rocco.

Rocco beat out David Watford for the starting job and started all 13 games. He was shaky initially, and his numbers were hardly eye-popping by season’s end. However, a key in the four-game win streak that solidified the Cavaliers’ postseason berth was consistency from the young snap taker. Surrounded by a solid corps of ball carriers, consistency could be enough to have UVa. thinking big come November.

Kevin Parks, Perry Jones and Clifton Thompson combined for over 2000 yards. All three return to power that stout rushing attack. Reliance on the run game will come first, loosening secondaries for Rocco. He gets the opportunity to settle in against his father, now the head coach at London’s former program, Richmond. The Spiders visit Scott Stadium on Week 1.

A hallmark of Virginia teams even through lean years at the end of the Al Groh era was its defense. UVa. was decent on the defensive end, but gave up nearly as many points per game as it averaged, 23. Surrendering a combined 81 in its final two contests certainly didn’t help.

Whether the 43 Auburn and 38 Virginia Tech hung on the Cavaliers was indicative of opponents finding Achilles’ heel should be answered quickly. After hosting Richmond and Penn State, UVa. travels to high scoring Georgia Tech. The Wahoos picked up steam last season after holding the then-unbeaten Yellow Jackets to 21 points. The very next contest is a trip to TCU, a more balanced but equally proficient offense.

Linebacker Steve Greer anchors the defense, returning a 103-tackle season. UVa. is experienced along the defensive side, though need to replace pass rushing from departed lineman Cam Johnson.

Starting strong is big for UVa., though not vital as last season proved. Finishing strong might be the more important goal, particularly against rival Virginia Tech. Part of bridging the gap between it and the upper echelon of the ACC means catching up to VPI.

The Cavaliers were ranked going into the rivalry showdown with the Hokies last November, and subsequently dispatched with a 38-0 lump on their heads. Va. Tech’s dominance is evident in recruiting, where Frank Beamer has made an impact. in the talent rich Commonwealth.

Breaking the cycle is difficult: Va. Tech wins the local recruiting battles, which translates to more talent and thus more wins. And UVa. needs the wins to sell local recruits to come to the program. The coming season’s Cavaliers should be good enough to compete with the Hokies, if not pull off an upset — Beamer has numerous starters to replace. Overcoming the mental hurdle is critical both against the Hokies, and in ACC competition as a whole. But doing so will pay off in recruiting prospects like Jack English.