The Virginia Cavaliers finished up the 2015 regular season at 4-8. It was their fourth straight losing season and seventh in the last eight years.
While Virginia only won 4 games in 2015, they were competitive against a lot of quality teams. They had 5 losses by a touchdown or less.
The most painful of those being a 17-24 loss to Notre Dame in their second game. Virginia gave up a 39-yard game-winning touchdown pass with just 12 seconds remaining. They also blew a 20-13 lead in the 4th quarter over rival Virginia Tech in the finale.
Coming into the season, most assumed head coach Mike London needed to get them to a bowl game to save his job. He failed to do so and was fired after 6 disappointing years.
Not getting to a bowl and potentially keeping London may have been a blessing in disguise. Virginia was able to lure away Bronco Mendenhall from BYU, where he went 99-43 in 11 seasons. They also added in Ruffin McNeil as the assistant head coach.
The expectation is that Mendenhall and his staff will get this thing turned around. The big question is how long will it take. Mendenhall will be installing new systems and may need to get his recruits into the program.
|Date||Opponent||Spread (Est.)||Win Chance|
|11/5||@ Wake Forest|
|11/19||@ Georgia Tech|
|11/26||@ Virginia Tech|
|Estimated Wins: TBD|
One thing you can’t say about Virginia’s 4-win season is they didn’t play a tough schedule. The Cavaliers took on UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State in non-conference play.
This year the non-conference portion of the schedule is easier, but not cupcake. They still have to go on the road to face Oregon and UConn, plus will host a talented Central Michigan team out of the MAC.
As for the ACC portion of the schedule, it looks to be challenging, at least on paper. Virginia’s four home games are against Pitt, UNC, Louisville and Miami. All of which I would rank in the top half of the league.
That means most of their winnable games in the conference come on the road. Those being games at Duke, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. It’s not out of the question that the Cavaliers will be an underdog in all 8 conference games.
The key to the season will be a 3-game homestand in October. During this stretch they host Pittsburgh, UNC and Louisville. If they can somehow win 2 of 3, they will at least have a shot at getting to a bowl game.
Virginia will return 6 starters on offense, including starting quarterback Matt Johns. Johns completed 61% of his passes and had 20 touchdowns, but also threw 17 interceptions. There’s a lot of pressure on him to play better.
Keep in mind that the Cavaliers have been stagnant on offense for over a decade. They have averaged exactly 25.9 ppg each of the last two years. Sadly that’s better than normal for Virginia. The last time they averaged over 30.0 ppg was 2004.
There is reason to be optimistic that the offense will be better in 2016. Virginia figures to have one of it’s best rushing attacks in quite some time. They have their top four rushers from last year back, led by senior Taquan Mizzell. They also have 8 offensive linemen returning with starting experience.
Not only did Mizzell lead the team in rushing, but his 73 receptions were a team-high. He ended up with 721 yard and 4 touchdowns to go with 671 yards and 4 touchdowns on the ground.
He may be asked to carry another big load in the passing game, as Virginia figures to be down at wide receiver. They lost their top two targets from last year, as well as starting their starting tight end.
As for the defense, they will have 6 more starters returning on that side of the ball. Last year, the stop unit took a step back. Giving up 32.2 ppg and 412 ypg after allowing just 24.1 ppg and 353 ypg in 2014.
The good news is that Mendenhall has a strong track record of fielding a competitive defense. The bad news is it make take a year for him to get the results in Charlottesville. That’s because Virginia will be transitioning from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4.
Adding to the concern is the fact that they lost all four starting defensive linemen from last year. Good defenses always start up front and that appears to be their biggest weakness.
They do get back all three starting linebackers from last year, but will have to add in a new starter in the 3-4. This is without question the strength of the defense.
The secondary should be able to hold their own, as long as the front seven can provide some kind of pass rush. Virginia has 3 starters back, including All-ACC 1st Team free safety Quin Blanding.
Regular Season Win Total
ACC Championship Odds
National Championship Odds
Odds Courtesty of 5Dimes
I wouldn’t be completely shocked if Mendenhall got this team to overachieve. With that said, I just don’t see it happening in his first year on the job.
I just don’t think the players left over are a great fit for Mendenhall’s style on both sides. The biggest key for 2016, is the Cavaliers showing improvement as the season progresses.
I know the schedule doesn’t look any more difficult than last season, but I think it’s going to prove to be tough. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt with a win at Connecticut to open 3-1. But that’s not a guarantee win like some might think. Especially after traveling across the country to face Oregon the week prior.
I also think the conference schedule is going to be tough to overcome. In fact, I have them going just 1-7 in the ACC, which leaves them at 4-8 overall.
Win Total Prediction