NYT bearish on Virginia

Yes, Virginia, The New York Times cares about college sports.  Even college football.  Quite a bit, in fact.  The Quad is the NYT’s college sports blog, and is in the middle of an in-depth countdown of all 120 Division I (FBS) teams.

Al Groh’s Cavaliers check in at spot #81 for 2009, ahead of only Duke (#96) in the ACC.  The Times points out the obvious in stating that “if Virginia is to improve in 2009, the offense must begin to carry its weight.”  The hiring of Gregg Brandon as OC is called “a very good start” and “a wise move by Groh.”  However, Brandon inherits “likely the A.C.C.’s worst group of skill players,” the result of Virginia’s “inability over the past handful of recruiting cycles to sign and enroll top recruits.”

At QB, Vic Hall is “not the type of passer you’d hope for in Brandon’s offense,” but “is the favorite to start the season opener.”  Jameel Sewell is seen as “likely to “eventually reclaim his starting spot” from 2007’s 9-win team.  The OC will “implement a pass-first version of the spread offense” but be “without the services of its [top] five pass catchers from a season ago; no returning player had more than 15 receptions last fall, and no returning receiver had more than 12.”  Perhaps as a result, offensive strengths listed by the NYT include “a solid, experienced line, albeit one that lacks the star power of recent years” and a potentially “improved performance from the Virginia running game,” given a healthy Mikell Simpson. 

Interestingly Brandon’s old team (Bowling Green) is ranked five spots lower at #86, as his successor – former Richmond HC and Tennessee OC Dave Clawson – goes about “implementing new schemes” and attempting “to run more than his predecessor did.”

On the other side of the ball, there is rebuilding at LB – “an integral unit in Virginia’s 3-4 defense” – where “the Cavaliers must find three new starters.”  The defense is called “strong on the line and in the secondary, where its cornerback depth is as good as any in the A.C.C.”  On the DL, “seven of its top eight” return, “making the unit the most experienced on the defense.”  The Times is “excited about the potential of the secondary, which returns two starters from 2008 — the talented junior Ras-I Dowling and the sophomore Chase Minnifield — and a third past starter, Chris Cook, who missed all of last fall.”   Safety may finally be a strength as well, with Rodney McLeod moving over from CB to team with Corey Mosley.  As DC, Groh (“very much on the hot seat” as HC) has “shown the ability to keep his teams in games with an inept offensive coordinator.”

Regarding the schedule, the NYT calls the Indiana, @Maryland, Georgia Tech, Duke, @Miami six-game (in six weeks) portion “a big stretch for the Cavaliers. Go 4-2, and the team will likely get to .500 and reach a bowl game. Anything less, and Virginia will need to get an upset or two to improve upon last year’s finish.”  Optimistically, if the “defense is stellar and the offense not terrible” nine wins are possible.  However, if the offense continues to sputter and “the defense takes a step back… sounds like a 4-8 season.”  The ultimate prediction is closer to the latter…

“Perhaps simply adding Brandon will be good enough to see the team fight for the top spot in the Coastal division. Yes, perhaps. But not likely. I see the Cavaliers repeating the 5-7 record of a season ago; if that is the case, the university may opt to go in a new direction at head coach.”




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