Countdown to Kickoff: Virginia Cavaliers
London Hopes Youth Movement Can Continue Momentum
The central message emanating from Mike London during his two years on the sideline at Virginia has been that it takes time to build a program. A modest improvement in his first year (from three wins to four) was followed by a jump to an 8-5 mark in 2011, contention for an ACC Championship Game appearance and a spot in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Auburn. The big questions facing London's Cavaliers in 2012 are what's next, and can they continue their upward mobility?
The next step up won't come easily. Virginia returns just 11 starters and lost its leading receiver (Kris Burd, with 66 receptions, caught more passes than any two other Virginia wideouts combined), stalwart offensive linemen Austin Pasztor and Anthony Mihota, three members of a talented defensive line (including NFL draft pick Cam Johnson), All-ACC cornerback Chase Minnifield, and both safeties. The responsibility of replacing this group will largely fall on members of London's last two recruiting classes, who look solid on paper (ranked 24th and 25th by 247Sports.com) but have yet to prove themselves on Saturdays.
Quarterback Michael Rocco struggled to get comfortable over his first four games as a starter (one TD, seven INTs) but rallied over the last nine games to finish with more TDs (13) than interceptions (12) and win the confidence of both London and the fan base. He is expected to be the starter this fall, provided he can hold off challenges from Alabama transfer Philip Sims and sophomore David Watford. Running back is the Cavaliers' strength. The three-headed monster of senior Perry Jones and sophomores Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson combined for 1,990 yards rushing, 60 receptions, and 21 total touchdowns in 2011, and speedy redshirt freshman Khalek Shepherd joins the mix this fall. One wide receiver spot will be occupied by speedy junior Tim Smith (33 receptions), with the other likely going to Dominique Terrell or Darius Jennings, who combined for 28 receptions and two touchdowns as true freshmen. Virginia coined the nickname "Tight End U" after graduating Heath Miller, Tom Santi, Jonathan Stupar, and John Phillips to the NFL, and the position should be solid in 2012 with seniors Colter Phillips and Paul Freedman, and athletic sophomore Jake McGee. Tackles OdayAboushi and a newly svelte Morgan Moses anchor the line, which also includes Luke Bowanko, Sean Cascarano and Conner Davis at guard and Brian Mihalik at center.
The linebackers will form the core of a defense that finished third in the ACC in total defense after finishing 10th in 2010. LaRoy Reynolds and tackling machine Steve Greer (7.92 per game) return and will be joined by sophomore Henry Coley. The defensive line must cope with the loss of end Cam Johnson and tackles Nick Jenkins and Matt Conrath, but London can choose from experience (tackles Will Hill and Brent Urban and end Bill Schautz) and potential (sophomore tackle Chris Braithwaite and true freshman defensive ends Eli Harold and Michael Moore, redshirt freshmen Vince Croce and David Dean) to join lone returning starter Jake Snyder. In the secondary, Demetrious Nicholson was a full time starter as a freshman and becomes the number one corner as a sophomore, where he'll be joined by first-time starters in sophomore Drequan Hoskey and sophomore safeties Anthony Harris and Brandon Phelps. The kicking game is currently in flux, with several players in the running for both the placekicking and punting duties.
Virginia must navigate a schedule that includes eight 2011 bowl teams and a group of nonconference opponents with the highest collective 2011 winning percentage (.718) of any in the ACC, and do so with a callow roster that features just 30 upperclassmen. For the Cavaliers to take that next step, the kids need to grow up fast. - Charlie Sallwasser
2011 In Review
In only his second season as Virginia's head coach, Mike London led the Cavaliers to a surprising 8-5 record, a 5-3 ACC mark, and a berth in the Chick-fil-A Bowl...It was UVa's best season since 2007 and was impressive considering the Cavaliers were picked to finish 5th in the Coastal Division by the media in their annual pre-season poll; only a loss to Virginia Tech in the final game of the regular season prevented them from playing in the ACC Championship Game ...For his efforts, London was named the 2011 ACC Coach of the Year...Virginia was successful with a balanced offense and an opportunistic defense and had a penchant for winning close games...UVA's offense was led by QB Michael Rocco, versatile TB Perry Jones and WR Kris Burd...In his first season as a starter, Rocco improved throughout completing 60.7 % of his passes for 2,671 yards and 13 TDs...Jones finished 7th in the ACC in rushing with 915 yards, a 5.0 avg. and 5 TDs and led all ACC running backs with 48 pass receptions...For good measure, he also tossed a 37-yard TD pass...Burd was 8th in the ACC in pass receptions per game and 5th in the conference in receiving yards per game...CB Chase Minnifield led a defensive unit which finished 3rd in the ACC in total defense...Minnifield earned 2nd-team All-America honors, as did G Austin Pasztor.....CB Demetrious Nicholson was named a 2nd-team Freshman All-America while RB Kevin Parks earned Honorable Mention Freshman All-America honors.
Virginia loses 28 lettermen including 12 starters--four on offense, seven on defense--as well as four-year starting kickers PK Robert Randolph (16-23 FGs, .696) and P Jimmy Howell (39.4 avg.)...Offensively, the ‘Hoos will be without WR Kris Burd, who finished his career as UVa's 2nd all-time leading receiver, All-America G Austin Pazstor, Honorable Mention All-ACC C Anthony Mihota and FB Max Milien. Defensively, Virginia loses seven starters who totaled 221 career starts between them including defensive linemen All-ACC DT Matt Conrath, DT Nick Jenkins, DE Cam Johnson, All-America CB Chase Minnifield,SS Rodney McLeod and FS Corey Mosley plus LB Aaron Taliferro.
Numbers & Notes
.718 - The winning percentage (28-11) of the three FBS nonconference teams on Virginia's 2012 schedule, the best of any ACC school this year. The Cavaliers must face TCU (11-2), Penn State (9-4) and Louisiana Tech (8-5) this year, all three were in bowl games last fall.
4 - Virginia won four games last fall by three or fewer points, downing Indiana (34-31), Idaho (21-20 OT), Georgia Tech (24-21) and Florida State (14-13) by a total of eight points. The Wahoos were 5-1 in games decided by six or fewer points and 6-1 in games decided by 10 or fewer points.
4 - Also Virginia is one of four ACC schools and only 16 schools nationally that return all nine of the assistant coaches on their staff from 2011. UVa is joined by Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech in returning their coaching staff intact from last year.
8 - Virginia will face eight teams in 2012 who earned Bowl bids in 2011. That includes non-conference foes Penn State (Ticket City), Louisiana Tech (Poinsettia) and TCU (Poinsettia) as well as conference opponents Georgia Tech (Sun), Wake Forest (Music City), NC State (Belk), North Carolina (Independence) and Virginia Tech (Orange). A 9th 2012 foe, Miami, was also bowl-eligible.
9 - When UVa head coach Mike London was named 2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Football Coach of the Year, it marked the 9th time a Virginia coach had been so honored, the most of any school in the ACC.
15 - Virginia's defense in 2011 ranked 15th nationally in third-down defense, allowing its opponents to convert on 3rd down only 33% of the time.
1,990 - The number of yards Virginia's three-headed TB tandem of Perry Jones, Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson ran for in 2011. The trio also accounted for 60 pass receptions and for a total of 21 touchdowns rushing and receiving.
Virginia 2012 Football Schedule
Sept. 1 vs. Richmond
Sept. 8 vs. Penn State
Sept. 15 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 22 at TCU
Sept. 29 vs. Louisiana Tech
Oct. 6 at Duke
Oct. 13 vs. Maryland
Oct. 20 vs. Wake Forest
Nov. 3 at NC State
Nov. 10 vs. Miami
Nov. 15 vs. North Carolina
Nov. 24 at Virginia Tech