2014 College Football Rankings: #72 Virginia
COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25
#72 Virginia Cavaliers
ACC Coastal PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Mike London, 18-31 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Steve Fairchild | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jon Tenuta
The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 72 Virginia.
Previewing Virginia’s Offense for 2014:
There’s plenty of blame to go around for last year’s 2–10 season, but the root of Virginia’s problem was an anemic offense that lacked imagination and identity. Its lack of production put a lot on the shoulders of a defense decimated by injuries late in the year.
A second season in coordinator Steve Fairchild’s system is expected to pay dividends. Virginia also believes it has more playmakers than a year ago. Fans have heard that before.
The biggest change this year could be at quarterback, where Greyson Lambert is expected to unseat incumbent David Watford, who struggled in 2013. Lambert is not as elusive as Watford, but if he can be more accurate and less mistake-prone, it will be a net gain.
Kevin Parks, the leading returning rusher in the ACC, brings durability and between-the-tackles toughness to the tailback slot. Former five-star recruit Taquan Mizzell offers sizzle and big-play potential.
Both will depend on a rebuilt offensive line that must replace multi-season fixtures Morgan Moses and Luke Bowanko.
The decision of tight end-turned receiver Jake McGee to transfer turns up the heat on a largely unproven group. Sophomores Keeon Johnson and Kyle Dockins, part of a youth movement last year, bring size and toughness. Senior Darius Jennings, who has 106 career catches, is being counted on to improve on his 10.8 yards-per-catch average by stretching the field.
Previewing Virginia’s Defense for 2014:
When the band was all together last season, Jon Tenuta’s defense showed signs of becoming the type of marauding bunch the longtime coordinator craves. Injuries left the team short-handed, however, and forced Tenuta to dial back on his pressure schemes. With nearly everyone returning, and with another year to tinker with different fronts and packages, the group has the potential to bring the heat this year, particularly off the edge.
Defensive end Eli Harold is a speed-rusher who has the look of a possible breakout star. So does outside linebacker Max Valles, another long, lean athlete who should thrive in Tenuta’s attacking style.
“I believe that those two guys could be special,” London says. “I believe that you can do multiple things with them, whether their hands are on the ground or they’re standing up.”
The Cavaliers also look strong up the middle at defensive tackle and at middle linebacker, where senior Henry Coley is a stalwart. The secondary is loaded with experience, led by senior Anthony Harris, who led the nation in interceptions with eight last season.
Virginia increased its takeaways from 12 to 21 last year. Gambling led to some inevitable breakdowns. Minimizing those mistakes while remaining disruptive is the key.
Previewing Virginia’s Specialists for 2014:
Alec Vozenilek earned his scholarship last year, punting 85 times and downing more kicks inside the 20 than anyone in the ACC. He also filled in for the injured Ian Frye on field goals, hitting 12-of-15. Frye, who has more range as a placekicker, is back this season, good news for a team that must take points wherever it can find them.
For these keeping track, and everyone is, Virginia’s 2–10 finish last year represented its fewest wins since 1982. The Cavaliers were winless in the ACC for the first time since 1981.
London won’t survive another campaign like that. He might not even make it to midseason. With a maturing roster and the continuity that comes with a second season in offensive and defensive systems installed last year, Virginia should be better. The question, given a challenging schedule and a culture of coming up short, is how much that improvement will be reflected in the bottom line.