Last April, the Virginia Cavaliers celebrated their first NCAA national championship, courtesy of the men's basketball team. The Cavaliers also could be headed for a special season on the gridiron.
Each season he has been at Virginia, head coach Bronco Mendenhall's wins have increased. After winning only two games in 2016, Mendenhall won six in '17 and eight last season.
Now, the Cavaliers are the preseason favorites to win the ACC Coastal Division. However, they will need to navigate a conference schedule that has them opening up the season with a divisional game at Pittsburgh.
From there, the Cavaliers will play Florida State and Louisville from the Atlantic Division. They also have a difficult non-conference game against Notre Dame in late September followed by a road game against ACC Coastal foe Miami.
The rest of the schedule on paper is favorable, including a home game against in-state rival Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers will get another chance to exorcise their demons vs. the Hokies, who they haven't defeated since 2003.
The reason many are optimistic about the Cavaliers' chances is quarterback Bryce Perkins. Last season in his first season under center in Charlottesville, Perkins threw for 2,680 yards and 25 touchdowns with just nine interceptions. He also finished with 923 yards on the ground and nine touchdowns.
Will Virginia live up to expectations and advance to the ACC Championship Game for the first time this season? Or will they disappoint and not increase their win total for the first time since Mendenhall took over?
Athlon Sports asked a couple of its editors and a college football contributor to share their realistic win/loss projection for Virginia in 2019.
Virginia Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2019
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Virginia has improved significantly under coach Bronco Mendenhall’s watch, and this team is poised to push for the program’s first trip to the ACC Championship Game. Mendenhall needs to restock the playmakers around quarterback Bryce Perkins and plug a few gaps along the line of scrimmage, but the Cavaliers are Athlon’s pick to win the Coastal. With Perkins and All-America cornerback Bryce Hall in place, Virginia has two of the ACC’s top talents at its disposal for 2019 – a huge advantage in a wide-open Coastal Division. The Cavaliers went 8-5 last fall and all five losses came by 14 points or less. Mendenhall’s team should have better luck in close games this season, but as usual, some chaos or upsets in the Coastal Division prevents this team from reaching 10 victories.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Virginia picked a good season to have its best team in years; the Cavs' ACC schedule is about as soft as possible, with no Clemson, Syracuse or NC State from the Atlantic Division and the rivalry game with Virginia Tech at home. It's tempting to forecast an even stronger record than 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the league, but I just don't believe this team is good enough to make it through with just one league loss. A 6-2 record and a Coastal Division crown would show significant progress in Bronco Mendenhall's fourth season.
Antwan Staley (@antwanstaley)
Mendenhall has guided the Cavaliers to back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 2004-05. That should not only continue in 2019, but the Cavaliers have a legit opportunity to win 10 games for the first time since 1989 when then-head coach George Welch led the team to a 10–3 record and a share of the ACC championship.
Everyone will talk about how much of a weapon quarterback Bryce Perkins is offensively, but the Cavaliers defense is probably their calling card. Last season, Virginia finished third in the ACC in scoring defense, holding opponents to 20.1 points per game.
Cornerback Bryce Hall returning to school for his senior year will give the Cavaliers secondary a significant lift after the loss of Juan Thornhill and cornerback Tim Harris.
Offensively, the Cavaliers will need to find replace their biggest offensive weapons, running back Jordan Ellis and wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus. Ellis rushed for 1,026 yards and 10 touchdowns. Zaccheaus had 93 receptions for 1,058 yards and nine touchdowns as he was a first-team All-ACC selection.
Mendenhall has been building a tough, competitive team since he took the job after the 2015 season. Although the Clemson Tigers are the cream of the crop in the ACC, Virginia has the talent and the coaching staff to be the second-best team in the conference.
Looking at the rest of the Coastal Division, Miami has a first-year head coach, a first-year starter at quarterback and a new offensive coordinator. Although it wouldn't totally shock anyone if the Hurricanes won the Coastal, they have a ton of questions to address.
Georgia Tech is transitioning from the triple option to a pro-style offense. North Carolina also has a new head coach in the return of Mack Brown. Virginia Tech has several questions, but the Hokies could challenge both Virginia and Miami in the Coastal. And never count out a Duke team coached by David Cutcliffe.
But unless the something drastic happens, the Cavaliers have the easiest and probably the best chance to get to Charlotte to play the Tigers in early December for the ACC crown.