Virginia had a really tough go of it under Mike London, and when Bronco Mendenhall took over, he knew there was a lot of work to do to turn this program around. In his first year, they won 2 games, and only 1 ACC game. They lost to Richmond. Last year, improvement was shown. They won 6 games, went to the Military Bowl and got smashed by Navy. Still, a step up. Now it’s year 3 for Mendenhall, who I happen to really like as a coach (we saw what a complete mess BYU was last year without him, and may be again this year to be honest). QB Kurt Benkert covered up for a lot of other deficient position groups last year with his phenomenal play, and he’s not here anymore. It will be interesting to see if the defense can improve enough to take pressure off whoever the next quarterback is.
|9/29||@ NC State||+16|
|11/17||@ Georgia Tech||+15.5|
|11/23 (F)||@ Virginia Tech||+21|
This has all kinds of unpredictability involved, to be honest, but the most likely path for this offense is immense struggle. Kurt Benkert was a great QB for them, and while they may like Bryce Perkins or true freshman Brennan Armstrong, they need to show me before I can believe they can do anywhere close to what Benkert did. Their rush offense was anemic last year, and this year their “leading” rusher is back (had only 800-ish yards and 3.9 YPC) and they mix in some underclassmen too, but not a ton to get excited about. The offensive line lost 3 starters so that can’t be relied upon either. This is a team that may really struggle to score points, especially early in the season.
A lot more starters back, but the biggest problem is they lose their 2 most talented players, both moving on to the NFL, including their do-it-all linebacker Micah Kiser. The secondary is something they should be able to hang their hat on, with 9 of their top 10 back, including ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Brenton Nelson. Mendenhall got great results with some BYU teams when he had less to work with, and at least these are mostly his guys. If you like this win-total over, you basically believe he can mold this group to be something formidable, because the offense isn’t going to put them in great positions to succeed.
If I could pick any ACC team’s schedule, this might be the one I’d want. Richmond/Indiana/Ohio to start the year opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities, then they get Louisville away from home where they’re much more beatable, and NC State is down this year. After the bye there are games with Pitt and Liberty on a back-to-back at home mixed in with some of the other tougher conference contests. The only back-to-back road spot is the last 2 weeks, and although it’s really light travel, Virginia goes to Blacksburg on short rest coming off a road game at Georgia Tech and the option. Can you spell tired legs? So if you’re marking awful schedule spots for later in the year, you should be all over the Hokies at basically any number on November 23rd at home. Virginia draws Louisville and NC State from the Atlantic, a reasonable draw as they avoid Clemson, and even Florida State.
Win Total Pick: Over 5 -120
The schedule is incredible, but I really don’t like this team as a team. They just might be really outclassed in a lot of games. Despite that, I think I have to take the over. The non-conference will be really telling here because a lot of their wins need to come from it. If they can go 4-0 against Richmond, Indiana, Ohio, and Liberty, that’s how they hit this over. Then they beat Pitt at home and that’s 5. If they lose at Indiana, they probably have to beat Louisville or UNC at home, then you need one more for the win. This will require some upsets to win, but I think a push happens a really, really high percent of the time, as crazy as that is to say because it’s so specific.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
It was a little bit surprising when Bronco Mendenhall left BYU for Virginia. It wasn’t surprising when the Cavaliers managed only two wins in their 12 games. The task at hand for Mendenhall is quite obvious at this point, as he looks to take a perennial ACC doormat from the basement to the split-level living room. The ceiling is mostly capped for a team like Virginia in college football, as the program will probably never compete with the likes of Florida State and Clemson, but we are less than a decade removed from the program being ranked in the Top 25.
Improvements are definitely expected in the second year. One thing that really stands out to me from last year’s college football season is that Mendenhall let senior Matt Johns start the last two games of the year. It didn’t matter that Kurt Benkert gave the team the best chance to win. The respect that Mendenhall showed to Johns and the message that he sent to the rest of the team was worth more than the possibility of going 4-8. It may seem silly, but that’s something that leads me to believe that Mendenhall will have success here and will get this team back to a bowl game for the first time since 2011 in the near future.
This year probably won’t be that year. The Cavaliers have a season win total line of 5 with -115 on the over at 5Dimes Sportsbook, so it is possible. Virginia avoids Florida State and Clemson, which is a big plus, and gets some winnable games at Scott Stadium. Keep in mind that the number does not include conference championships or bowl games. It only applies to the regular season.
|Date||Opponent||Projected Line||Expected Wins|
|9/2||William & Mary||N/A||1|
|9/22 (F)||@ Boise State||+7||0.30|
|10/14||@ North Carolina||+7||0.30|
|11/18||@ Miami (FL)||+21.5||0|
|11/24 (F)||Virginia Tech||+12||0.18|
Total Expected Wins: 4.47
East Carolina transfer Kurt Benkert was the man tasked with getting Virginia through its first-year transition. The hiring of Ruffin McNeill as assistant head coach made Benkert the perfect man to run this Robert Anae offense. He struggled at times, but posted a 21/11 TD/INT ratio with a 56.2 percent completion percentage. Virginia was short on skill position talent and experienced linemen, so the Cavaliers only rushed for 3.5 yards per carry and took 36 sacks. The offense managed just 4.9 yards per play. Mendenhall’s BYU teams were always exceptional in the trenches, so the hope in Charlottesville is that Bronco can bring some of that to the Commonwealth.
We’ll have to see if those hopes are put on hold for another season. The top returning running back for McNeill’s offense had 14 carries last season. On one hand, that’s a concern, but on the other hand, Mendenhall has brought in some much stronger recruiting classes than former head coach Mike London. There’s more upside and athleticism in the program right now than there has been in past years. The top two in receiving yards are also back and it’s Year 2 for the offensive line. That OL is a group that has three grad transfers from blue-blood programs Notre Dame and Oklahoma State.
With the offense in a state of flux and a poor turnover margin, it isn’t a big surprise that the defense gave up nearly 34 points per game. ACC foes scored 35 points and racked up 429 yards per game. But, Mendenhall and the defensive staff knew coming in that the foundation that they had laid at BYU wasn’t going to be the same at UVA. There are two standout stars to build around this season. Micah Kiser had 134 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and seven pass breakups last season. Quin Blanding will play on Sundays as a free safety at the next level. The senior had 120 tackles last year.
A lot of freshmen got a lot of playing time last season, so now the two-deep is speckled with sophomores. Again, the better recruiting classes for Mendenhall have injected more life into the program and there are some guys with some more playmaking ability on this defense. Mike London had some feisty, high-energy guys on the defense, but there weren’t a whole lot of athletes with game-changing ability. That is changing, albeit gradually.
Virginia’s schedule is one of the weaker ones as far as the bottom half of the ACC goes. The Cavaliers go to Louisville, but avoid Florida State and Clemson. They also have a realistic possibility of opening 3-0, as the non-conference slate features two teams with first-year head coaches. Virginia’s lack of depth really came to the forefront at the end of last season with three losses by 76 points to end the season. That could make them a little bit undervalued entering the year.
Win Total Pick: Under 5
Virginia is on an upward trajectory, but a lot of work needs to be done to build a foundation before the Cavaliers start adding accoutrements to beauty up the building. Benkert is a one-year solution, so that begs the question whether or not Mendenhall and Anae start experimenting with graduate transfer Marvin Zanders, who has two years of eligibility left, or if they go even younger with De’Vante Cross or Clayton Cheatham. Mendenhall’s respect for the upperclassmen was on display last season with how he honored Matt Johns’s contributions, but you can bet that this season will be full of freshmen and sophomores and probably a lot of rotations. That type of thing is good long-term, but it has negative short-term effects, including another rough season in the standings.