UVA Football Recruiting: Talent Upgrade Key to ACC Revival

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IJuly 15, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31:  Head coach Mike London of the Virginia Cavaliers against the Auburn Tigers during the 2011 Chick Fil-A Bowl at Georgia Dome on December 31, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Virginia football in the 21st century has been defined by numbers, and not all of them are pretty.

The 2011 season saw the Cavaliers post their first winning season since 2007, the second and third victories in the state of Florida ever and a fourth appearance in the Chick Fila Bowl.

Why the magic turnaround occurred can be answered simply: recruiting.

In the final three years of Al Groh's tenure as head coach of the Cavaliers, Virginia ranked 61st (2008), 33rd (2009) and 67th (2010) in recruiting, according to Rivals.com.

In coach Mike London's first three years as head coach, Virginia has been ranked 25th, 27th and 19th.

That change has been concentrated on the Tidewater, Virginia Beach area of the Commonwealth. An area ripe with talent, including current ACC starting quarterbacks Tajh Boyd and EJ Manuel, let alone All-Star Virginia transfer Phillip Sims.

That increased competitiveness has served two goals, elevating the stature of the Cavaliers and lowering the recruiting haul of arch-rival Virginia Tech.

The Hokies' final recruiting ranking has been lower than Virginia's in two of the three recruiting seasons so far for London and company.

By comparison, only one other time since 2003 (the last time Virginia beat the Hokies) have the Cavaliers beaten the boys from Blacksburg in the recruiting battle.

Recruiting rankings are only as good as the evaluators, and good coaching can help players go above and beyond their 3-star ceiling.

Still, no one can deny that talent is one of the most important factors in getting a team turned around.

Looking at the current Cavalier team, talent is definitely bubbling up and the ACC is taking note.

If you look at the 2012 depth chart for Virginia, there are three 4-star recruits and two 3-star recruits starting in the recruiting class of 2011 alone.

Overall, Virginia has five 4-star recruits currently starting and a sixth on the way in Sims. With three more 4-star recruits—Eli Harold, Kwontie Moore and Michael Moore—coming this August, Virginia could have one of its deeper teams in recent memory.

When you combine that with the progression of former 2-star recruits, starting lineback LaRoy Reynolds and starting quarterback Michael Rocco, Virginia fans have to be pleased.

Still, strong recruiting classes are common with regime changes in college football.

After all, one of the reasons that players come to a struggling program is guaranteed playing time. The opportunity to make an immediate impact is there.

Typically, those teams begin to find problems once depth becomes so much that freshmen are having to bide their time on the sidelines.

Virginia expected similar consternation when Sims was announced as part of the team, giving the Cavaliers at one point six projected quarterbacks before transfers.

Nevertheless, coach Mike London continues to find recruiting success—even with fewer glaring weaknesses on the roster.

The current class of 2013 may be the best yet. With 13 commitments already including the versatile Tim Harris of Varina and wide receiver Zack Jones, not to mention two more quarterbacks, Virginia keeps reaping recruiting rewards.

Talent, speed and size can make or break college football teams. Virginia's inability to recruit within its own borders helped create a huge disparity between the two flagship programs of the state.

That gap cannot be overcome overnight. In fact, despite all the strides made in 2011, the Cavaliers did not score a single point at home against the Hokies.

That tide will turn, however, and these talented youngsters are going to be the reason. As long as London can bring them into Charlottesville, expectations will continue to grow and the ACC may finally have another contender from the Old Dominion.