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You can read the entire Virginia preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 ACC magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
ACC Coastal PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Mike London, 12-13 (2 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bill Lazor | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jim Reid
Virginia’s pro-style attack lacked big-play pop last year. The Cavaliers ranked fourth in the ACC in total offense but ninth in scoring offense, a disconnect that came about partly because of an inability to stretch the field in the passing game.
The Cavaliers are hoping a fleet group of receivers can remedy that situation. Virginia has lacked speed on the outside for years, but that’s no longer the case. Tim Smith, Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell comprise a “very fast group,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor says. Smith, a junior, is being counted on for a breakout year. How quickly Jennings, Terrell and fellow sophomores Miles Gooch and E.J. Scott develop could tell the tale on this side of the ball.
The continued growth of quarterback Michael Rocco should also help, provided he’s able to hold off a challenge from David Watford. Rocco hit his stride in the middle of last season, when Virginia stopped rotating Watford in for several series each game. But Watford remains a tempting option because of his running ability.
A deep stable of running backs, led by the do-everything Perry Jones, and a solid offensive line bode well for the ground game. Virginia is also hoping to make better use of its tight ends, which were a staple of the Cavaliers offense for many years.
The biggest reason for optimism, though, could be the return of Lazor, a well-regarded young offensive mind who was pursued by the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the offseason.
After a rough transition from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 in 2010, Virginia was much improved in 2011. Unfortunately, many of the players responsible for that improvement have moved on. The biggest holes are up front, where three players graduated. The Cavaliers have a mix of veterans who previously played backup roles, and young players ready to fill in.
Linebacker looks to be the strength of the unit. Fifth-year senior Steve Greer has seen it all, and weak-side backer LaRoy Reynolds has the tools and motor to be an all-league player.
The secondary, prone to giving up big plays a year ago, must be rebuilt. Demetrious Nicholson, thrown to the wolves as a true freshman a year ago, is the only returning starter. Coaches are excited about the young talent there, but there will be growing pains.
“I believe that we’ll get better as the year goes on,” defensive coordinator Jim Reid says.
The competition here is wide open. The only familiar face is placekicker Drew Jarrett, who returns to the team after taking a year off from football. He hasn’t kicked in a game since 2009, however, and was used only on extra points then. Still, he’s the most experienced of a bunch that also includes punter Alec Vozenilek and kicker Ian Frye. There’s also a casting call underway in the return game, which was anemic last year.
Mike London was a deserving pick for ACC Coach of the Year last season, keeping the surprising Cavaliers in Coastal Division title contention until the final weekend. Building on that momentum will require another stellar coaching job, with several gaps to fill on both sides of the ball and a more difficult nonconference schedule. London has made all the right moves so far, recruiting well and reviving interest in the program. The general trend is up, but the Cavaliers could level off for a year before really surging.
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