We’re back with Part II of the Virginia preview. For a look at Part I, click here.
To the questions …
AB: Mike Rocco emerged as a dependable starting quarterback last year. Is he capable of being more than just a game manager? Any chance Phillip Sims gets his NCAA waiver for immediate eligibility approved and challenges for playing time?
DD: “ESPN.com recently ranked Rocco as the ninth-best ACC quarterback out of 12. Normally, that would not be considered a good sign. However, this year’s crop of ACC quarterback might be the strongest ever from No. 1-12. (Athlon has the ACC quarterbacks second behind the Pac-12 nationally).
“You’d probably have to go back to Marques Hagans in 2005 to find a returning Virginia quarterback with the kind of numbers Rocco put up as a sophomore (2,671 yards; 60.3 completion percentage). There is room for improvement in a 13-12 touchdown pass-interception ratio, but I don’t see Sims winning the job even if he is given instant eligibility, the chances of which I’d put at less than 50-50.”
AB: The offensive line and running game was the strength of last year’s offense. Can that group be as effective with two mainstays the line, Austin Pasztor and Anthony Mihota, gone?
DD: “Pasztor was the lone first-team All-ACC selection Virginia’s offensive line a year ago, but it was the two tackles, then-junior Oday Aboushi (6-6, 310) and sophomore Morgan Moses (6-6, 335) who probably had the biggest upside.
“Luke Bowanko (6-6, 295) has a year under his belt as a starter at right guard, but left guard Sean Cascarano and center candidates Matt Mihalik and Ross Burbank are unproven. From a blocking standpoint, it will be interesting to follow the progress of fullback Zach Swanson, a 6-6, 235-pound converted tight end.”
AB: So much of the defense’s success last year was due to a line that featured seniors Matt Conrath, Nick Jenkins and Cam Johnson. Who needs to step up in those players’ absence? Can the front seven duplicate last year’s success?
DD: “Jenkins and Conrath each started 13 games last season but Will Hill saw almost as much action (598 plays) as Jenkins (624). In fact, Hill started at tackle when Conrath moved to end for the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
“Johnson was the lone UVa player selected in the NFL Draft and led the team in tackles for loss (11) and sacks (four). Otherwise, his numbers were fairly pedestrian (15 solo tackles, 15 assists). Important to watch is the rehabilitation of fifth-year defensive end Billy Schautz, a converted linebacker who flashed big-play potential before a gruesome leg injury ended his season at Florida State.”
AB: Cornerback Demetrius Nicholson seems like he’ll be a standout for a while in the secondary. Who is left back there to help him out, particularly at the spot vacated by Chase Minnifield?
DD: “It wasn’t just Minnifield. Also gone are two other multi-year starters, safeties Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley.
“Likely starting safeties Rijo Walker and Anthony Harris got most of their action on special teams last year and cornerback Drequan Hoskey originally was a Richmond recruit before UVa coach Mike London left UR to take the UVa job. Hoskey, originally touted as a trackman, should get a challenge from Brandon Phelps, son of ex-Cave Spring High School and UVa wideout Gary Phelps.”
AB: The Cavaliers took a big step forward last year, improving by four wins from Mike London’s first season. With big jumps like that, a lot of times teams will regress a little bit the following year. Are the Cavaliers capable of maintaining their spot in the ACC and compete for a division title this year or will it take a while for some of London’s recruits to make their way through the program?
DD: “One of the keys to Virginia’s success in 2011 was its play on the road, where the Cavaliers became the first ACC team to win at Miami and Florida State in the same year. The Cavaliers also won at Indiana and Maryland.
“The tone for this season could be set during an early three-week swing that starts with Penn State at home, followed by road games at Georgia Tech and TCU. There are enough potholes on the road that Virginia will have to do better than last year’s 4-3 at home to make a second straight bowl trip.
“No matter who you are, the replacement of seven defensive starters is an imposing task.”
Big thanks to Doug for the help.
I think Virginia probably takes a step back this season. As Doug mentioned, the Cavaliers lose seven defensive starters. That’s tough for any team to overcome. And UVa won a lot of close games last year, going 5-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Those are like one-run games in baseball. It’s hard to sustain that kind of success from year to year. Sometimes luck just goes the other way. (For instance, UVa’s 2007 team won a lot of close games and finished 9-4, then went 5-7 the following year. Granted, the ’08 team didn’t have Chris Long on it.)
As Virginia Tech showed in last year’s 38-0 drubbing, there’s still a sizable gap between the two programs. I don’t envision that changing at Lane Stadium this season.
- Georgia Tech — Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Austin Peay — Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Pittsburgh — Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Bowling Green — Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Cincinnati — Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- North Carolina — Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Duke — Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Clemson — Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Miami — Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Florida State — Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Boston College — Team overview