The ACC had a down year as a conference last year, and Virginia was one of the programs that took advantage of that opening. After a 2-10 record in year one and a 6-7 mark in year two, Bronco Mendenhall led the Cavaliers to eight wins in 2018. The ‘Hoos lose some key pieces, but my top players on each side of the ball, QB Bryce Perkins and CB Bryce Hall, both return.
In a division that already has two of them, Bronco is trying to avoid the reputation of Virginia being just a basketball school, 2018 and then a great recruiting class this year started to change that narrative, but can he keep it up?
Two awesome players depart from the program in RB Jordan Ellis and WR Olamide Zaccheaus, but Bronco returns the quarterback of his dreams, dual-threat Bryce Perkins who had a terrific year (65%, 34 combined TDs, just nine INTs, a 7.7 YPA average passing, and 6.2 yards per carry rushing not counting sacks).
Perkins is a threat in the run game, but I’m not sure who Virginia has at the runningback spot. The top returning back is PK Kier, who had just 80 yards, zero touchdowns and a poor 3.1 yard per carry average. Low three-star sophomore Wayne Taulapapa actually finished spring ball at the top depth chart. The line worries me a little bit. Three starters are back but the other two spots feel like complete mysteries, and there are no seniors in the O-Line room to provide some veteran experience.
The receiving corps, despite the loss of stud Zaccheus, still has a lot in a group led by Hasise Dubois and big-play threat Joe Reed (18.6 YPC). The group also adds Arizona State grad transfer Terrell Chatman, and Richmond grad transfer Dejon Brissett, who averaged 14.9 yards per catch with the Spiders.
Zaccheus and Ellis are big losses, but there is still enough talent on this team to say that they could improve as long as they find a good back to compliment Perkins.
Virginia was excellent in pass defense last year, all four starters in the secondary were excellent, but they do lose two of them. Joey Blount (five TFL, three PBUs, two INTs) is back at safety, and future first-round draft pick Bryce Hall returns at corner after two picks and 22 (!) PBUs last year. Darrius Bratton (seven PBUs) and Brenton Nelson (eight) return as well, and despite the losses of Juan Thornhill and Tim Harris, this may still be the top secondary in the conference outside of Clemson.
The front seven was decent, helped by the great pass coverage, but they lose their only true pass rusher, Chris Peace (7.5 sacks, four TFL). Someone is going to have to step up in that department, potentially junior end Charles Snowden, who was kind of a do-it-all guy last year that could drop into coverage too (2.5 sacks, five TFL, nine PBUs, two picks).
Generating a reliable pass rush would be my one worry about this defense, but if someone can figure that out, this could be one of the top defenses in the country with eight starters back from an already good group.
This team has a ton of potential. The defense should be excellent, and I love Perkins and the receiving corps. There are a lot of projected tossups on the schedule, including the season finale against Virginia Tech, a team they haven’t beat in 15 straight tries, including a thriller last year.
While they will have to travel to Coral Gables to face Miami, as long as they can figure out the run game and the lines this is absolutely a Coastal contender and the ‘Hoos have a good shot at improving on last year’s 8-5 record with a bowl win.
|William & Mary
|at Notre Dame
|at North Carolina
Average Projected Record: 7.4 wins, 4.6 losses (4.5 wins, 3.5 losses)