Based on impressions formed in nearly 40 years of covering college football, I would put the odds of David Watford starting at quarterback in Virginia’s opening game at 85 to 90 percent.
There’s always the possibility that Watford could roll an ankle in practice, but, barring injury, I’m almost certain that he will start the Cavaliers’ opener Aug. 31 against Brigham Young.
Whether he will be the starter for UVa’s regular-season finale Nov. 30 against visiting Virginia Tech is another story, but when has a quarterback headed up a depth chart at the start of spring practice and not started the season opener?
Not just at Virginia, but anywhere?
I can’t remember a time when a starting job has been won in April or August.
Either an incumbent keeps his job or, if the previous year’s starter has completed his eligibility, his back-up becomes the player to beat.
In that case, Phillip Sims would start in 2013 because he was Michael Rocco’s back-up in 2012, even starting four games. But, remember, Watford was the back-up in 2011.
Watford was redshirted this past season but, apparently, did not lose his place in line.
There’s more to it than that, I’m sure. You’ve got to believe that considerable thought went into the decision to place Watford with the first offense to start spring drills.
You could argue that redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert was the most impressive quarterback last Saturday in the Cavaliers’ spring game, but don’t look for Lambert – or Sims – to enter preseason drills at No. 1.
While Lambert had the most impressive spring game, Watford and Sims did some good things. But in the antiseptic environment of a spring game, where defensive players can only touch the quarterback, what does any of it mean?
And how much will that change in August? If you don’t want the quarterbacks to be hit in April, you certainly don’t want them to be hit three weeks before the season.
EVENTUALLY THE games count and, with the schedule that Virginia will be facing, Watford will have to prove he’s the man for the job.
Based on my theory, Rocco was always going to start the 2012 opener, all the Sims hype notwithstanding. Rocco had passed for 2,671 yards for an 8-5 team in 2011. No way he wasn’t going to start.
In the end, fairness does prevail, not that Rocco starting was unfair. But, when UVa lost three games in a row this past season and squandered a 24-10 lead over Louisiana Tech, few people questioned the decision to go with Sims.
It was a time for change for change’s sake and, when the Cavaliers lost its first two games with Sims as starter, it made perfect sense for UVa to give Rocco another chance.
And, it wasn’t just last year. Remember 2006, following the second of back-to-back bowl appearances with Marques Hagans as quarterback? Former back-up Christian Olsen went into the spring at No. 1, entered summer ball as No. 1 and started the season at opener at Pittsburgh.
The Cavaliers got spanked by Pittsburgh in the opener, squeaked by Wyoming the next week on an overtime touchdown pass and switched to Week 2 hero Kevin McCabe for Western Michigan. When McCabe played poorly against Western Michigan, true freshman Jameel Sewell got the call in Week 4.
That was an extreme case and I always felt badly for McCabe, but wins and losses are what it’s all about. BYU and Oregon in back-to-back weeks to start the season will be a tough test for Watford – or whoever gets the call – and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that UVa could go 0-2.
Any decision at that point should be based on performance and not the record, but that hasn’t always been the case (see Christian Olsen). Then, comes VMI, following by a visit to ACC newcomer Pittsburgh.
Not saying that Virginia would make a change at 1-3, but it’s not like the Cavaliers would lack for options.