NCAA Football Preview - Virginia Cavaliers
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: Year two of the Mike London era in Charlottesville went much better than year one, as the Cavaliers were one of the real surprise teams in the ACC, finishing 8-5 overall, including 5-3 in conference action, good for second place in the Coastal Division.
Wins over William & Mary (40-3) and Indiana (34-31) got the season off on the right foot, but they were followed by a road loss to North Carolina (28-17) in the ACC-opener and a home setback to eventual Conference USA champion Southern Miss (30-24).
Virginia was able to get back over .500 with an overtime nail biter against Idaho (21-20 OT) and moved to 4-2 on the year, with one of its best wins of the season, a hard-fought victory over nationally-ranked Georgia Tech (24-21).
The Cavaliers were doubled-up by NC State next time out (28-14), but rallied with four straight victories, closing out the streak with a 14-13 win over nationally-ranked Florida State.
However, the momentum gained from the win at FSU was halted abruptly with a devastating 38-0 whipping at the hands of rival Virginia Tech in the regular-season finale, costing the Cavs a spot in the ACC Championship Game.
Still, London was named the ACC Coach of the Year in leading his overachieving squad to the postseason, a 43-24 loss to the Auburn Tigers in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Virginia's first bowl appearance since the 2007 Gator Bowl.
OFFENSE: Last season, Virginia benefited from a balanced offensive attack that put up just under 400 yards per game. With seven starters returning, including veterans at the skilled positions, the sky is the limit for the Cavs.
Quarterback Michael Rocco had his ups and downs as a sophomore, starting all 13 games and completing just over 60 percent of his throws. He was able to amass 2,671 yards passing, but connected on just 13 TD strikes, while throwing 12 INTs.
The buzz around the Virginia campus is in regard to Alabama transfer Phillip Sims, who can play this year after receiving a waiver from the NCAA in mid- July, avoiding having to sit out 2011. One of the top prospects coming out of high school, Sims has a strong arm and is a versatile playmaker. Although Rocco is currently ahead of him on the depth chart, expect to see Sims on the field as the season progresses.
Still, London squashed any quarterback controversy heading into the season.
"Michael is our starter. He knows the offense and has executed in a way that allowed us to experience the type of season that we had and he's mature enough to know that competition has been added by one more person, but that competition makes you better."
The ground game, which averaged 162.1 yards per game in 2011, should be able to duplicate that production, with the return of tailbacks Perry Jones and Kevin Parks. The pair combined for just over 1,600 yards and 14 TDs, with Jones starting and Parks coming off the bench.
Gone is top wideout Kris Burd (66 receptions, 913 yards, 3 TDs), but junior WR Tim Smith (33 receptions, 565 yards, 3 TDS) is back and Jones is a viable option as well, coming out of the backfield to rank second on the team in catches (48 receptions, 506 yards, 3 TDs). Jones was an Honorable Mention All- ACC selection in 2011.
Three of the team's five starters are back along the offensive line, headlined by all-conference tackles Oday Aboushi (Second-Team) and Morgan Moses (Third-Team).
DEFENSE: There are more question marks on the defensive side of the ball and an opportunistic unit in 2011, will need to be even more so in 2012, with only four starters returning.
Two starters return in the linebacking corps in the form of seniors Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds, the top two tacklers on the team in 2011 at 103 and 88 stops, respectively.Greer was tabbed an All-ACC Second-Team member in 2011.
Reynolds has a huge upside, making the move from safety and has now settled in at linebacker, where is now honing his talents as a pass rusher off the edge according to London.
"He's a linebacker learning how to pass rush. He's a very physical player and a lot of the things he does on the field is gonna make us better too, but being able to rush an outside will-linebacker at various times in a game is important."
Only one starter returns in the secondary, but that is sophomore cornerback Demetrious Nicholson, who earned Freshman All-American honors last year, finishing with 60 tackles and two INTs.
The team must replace some serious talent up front with the departures of stars Cam Johnson and Matt Conrath, as junior end Jake Snyder (36 tackles, 1 sack) is the only starter back.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The kicking game is also in a state of flux, as both PK Robert Randolph and P Jimmy Howell have moved on. Junior Drew Jarrett could pull double-duty for the Cavaliers this season, although he will be pushed by redshirt freshman Ian Frye for field goals and sophomore Alec Vozenilek for the punting job.
OUTLOOK: Virginia went 4-0 in games decided by three or fewer points and 5-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Matching that kind of success won't come easy, especially with only 11 starters back.
The non-conference schedule consists of Richmond, Penn State and Louisiana Tech all coming to Charlottesville and a road test at TCU all in the month of September. The ACC slate provides little relief, with treks to Georgia Tech, Duke, NC State and Virginia Tech on tap, with home games against Maryland, Wake Forest, Miami-Florida and North Carolina.
Matching last season's eight wins isn't likely, but London is building a solid program at Virginia, so one step back in 2012 may very well result in two steps forward in 2013.
08/21 13:08:39 ET