Virginia Cavaliers: The George Welsh Years(1982-2000)
Virginia is one of the more lacking programs that we'll discuss here. The only true contender for this honor is the near two-decade run by George Welsh. Virginia is another ACC school that has found more success on the basketball court than on the football field. Before Welsh's arrival, the Cavaliers never appeared in a bowl game. Even worse, the 'Hoos would only have two winning seasons in the 20 years from 1962 to 1981.
Immediate progress didn't happen for the program when Welsh arrived. In his 1982 debut season, Virginia finished 2-9. However, the school looked to be headed towards an upward trajectory at the end of the next season. Due to the emergence of solid backfield duo Barry Word and Steve Morse, wide receiver Billy Smith, tight end Billy Griggs, and defensive back Lester Lyles, Virginia improved to 6-5 in 1983. In 1984, the Cavs got a new starting quarterback in future NFL Pro Bowler Don Majkowski.
Virginia would finish the year with an 8-2-2 mark. They would also win the Peach Bowl against Purdue, which also was their first bowl game. For this accomplishment, Virginia would end the year ranked 20th in the Final AP Poll, their first postseason ranking since 1951. After a couple of down years over the next two seasons, Virginia would start an impressive streak of 13 consecutive seasons over .500.
In 1987, Virginia would make it back to the postseason and win the All-American Bowl against BYU. They did it with a balanced offensive attack. Quarterback Scott Secules completed nearly 60% of his passes for 2,311 yards and 12 touchdowns. The 'Hoos also had a three-headed monster at the running back spot. Marcus Wilson, Durwin Greggs, and Kevin Morgan combined for 1,617 yards and 12 total touchdowns.
From 1989 to 1991, Virginia would make it to three straight bowl games. Even though they were all losses, the school would make an appearance in the Sugar Bowl in 1990 and was the #1 team in the country at one point. 1989 and 1990 would be the two greatest seasons in the Cavs history and the star was future Detroit Lions star Herman Moore, who would go on to catch a combined 23 touchdowns in those two seasons.
From 1993 to 1996, UVA would make four more bowl appearances. In 1994, George Welsh would enjoy an 8-3 regular season, that was highlighted by ranked upset wins over #15 North Carolina in late October and #14 Virginia Tech in mid-November. They would win the Independence Bowl over TCU. In 1995, with a tougher schedule, the 'Hoos would prove that they were legitimate.
They would scare #14 Michigan and #16 Texas on the road. Both games would result in one-point defeats. However, they would stun #2 Florida State on November 2nd that year at home and would beat Georgia in the Peach Bowl. Both years would see UVA end the season ranked 15th and 16th respectively. Over the final five years of Welsh's tenure from 1996 to 2000, the Cavs would remain respectable as they would earn four more trips to bowl games. They would end up in another Peach Bowl in 1998.
Welsh would retire after 2000. During his time, he had six different Consensus All-Americans, earned four ACC Coach of the Year awards, and led the school to 12 bowl games. Two of the four bowl wins were in the Peach Bowl. As of now, he currently ranks 26th on the all-time wins list for college head coaches. 134 of his 189 wins came while being the coach of UVA. He also led the Cavs to shares of their only two ACC Conference titles in 1989 and 1995 as well as six finished in Final AP polls. Also, remember, Virginia was #1 for three weeks in 1990. Because of this, the George Welsh era gets the nod for the greatest era in Virginia history.