UVA Football Round Table: Will Virginia Sink or Swim in the ACC?

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IAugust 25, 2009

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - AUGUST 30:  Tailback Mikell Simpson #5 of the Virginia Cavaliers scores a touchdown past cornerback Shareece Wright #24 of the Southern California Trojans during the game at Scott Stadium on August 30, 2008 in Charlottesville, Virginia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

It is my pleasure to introduce the University of Virginia football round table for this season here on the Bleacher Report.  If you would like to join, make sure to just write on my bulletin board.


Here are our current members:

Aaron Mullins

Not only has Aaron been a Wahoo since the fetus, he has a strong memory, too.  Check out his recent article here chronicling the tenure of coach Al Groh and his eight years in Charlottesville. 

Wade Peery

Wade has been writing sports articles for quite some time and has a great deal of knowledge and experience with the Cavaliers.  Wade has worked with cavscorner.com and has a great interview with former Virginia quarterback Marques Hagans which you can find here

Ben Gibson

Then there's me.  I hate when authors talk about themselves in the third person so let's just I've been covering Virginia sports since 2005 for various outlets and have loved my opportunity to write here on the Bleacher Report.  If you want to join our Wahoo community, we welcome you!

Here is a look at the questions we discussed.


1. Complete the following sentence: Virginia will be successful people if...

Aaron Mullins

The young receivers are able to quickly pick up the spread offense and develop a good chemistry with whoever earns the starting quarterback job.

Don't worry about the linebackers.  They will be fine.  Say what you will about Al Groh, but he knows how to coach linebackers.  The name Lawrence Taylor comes to mind.


Wade Peery

The Cavaliers follow through on my prediction and go 8-5 this season. I honestly think that all of the preseason magazines are not giving the Cavaliers enough credit. Granted the ACC Coastal Division will be extremely tough this season, with teams like GT, UNC, Miami, and VT looking extremely strong.

I still think you have to put the Cavs right in there with that group and say they could easily beat any of those teams on any given day. Although I think the chances the 'Hoos beat the Heels at UNC are very, very slim.

Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech come to Scott Stadium and I honestly feel like many people tend to forget how good Virginia plays on their home turf.

Quarterback Vic Hall is a natural born leader who is one of the more complete and versatile football players in Virginia football history. As a coach, your eyes would have to light up when this guy walks into the room. When he was gliding down the field last year against VT, it seemed like it took him forever to turn the corner, but once he did he just glided down the field ever so smoothly and nobody could catch him.

No matter what anybody says about Virginia football, I feel like No. 4 is a proven winner—the guy led his high school team to back-to-back state titles as a QB. Virginia fans have been waiting for years to see Vic Hall at QB and I think he's just one of those types of players that will make big-time plays happen.

He reminds me alot of Marques Hagans in that he plays with a tremendous amount of heart and he's extremely versatile.


Ben Gibson

...if they just loosen up.  I think the anemic offense for the past three years had the Cavaliers playing so tight, they had little margin for error. 

If Virginia wants to be successful this season they need to come to the realization that they cannot just "out-talent" the competition.  They have to take risks like they did under Bill Musgrave's offense.  In 2002, Virginia was picked to finish eighth in the nine-team league and finished in a tie for second because they rolled the dice and utilized their play-makers (regardless of experience).

With a completely new offense being installed, Virginia is in prime position to surprise people again.  They just have to learn it and execute it properly.  Ultimately that will rely on letting the players play and have fun out there.


2. What game are you most looking forward to and why?

Wade Peery

First, the TCU game. I'm excited to watch the 'Hoos against a very tough top-25 opponent and I was actually shocked they priced the TCU game at $35 bucks, lower than many other games on UVA's schedule. Defensive end Jerry Hughes will be a treat to watch and Coach Gary Patterson has always been one of college football's most underrated coaches.

Hughes will be a big-time draft pick, possibly even a first rounder, so it's quite a treat to see a player of that caliber on your home turf. TCU's always had a dominant defensive unit, so it will be a fun matchup to watch with Virginia's explosive offense with players like Mikell Simpson going up against them.

Second, the Maryland game. If there is one team Virginia fans cannot stand it's Maryland—the rivalry between the two teams has only intensified over the years and Virginia's thrashing of the 'Terps last season in Scott Stadium surely doused a little gasoline on the fire. I think all Virginia fans are excited to watch Virginia go on the road to Maryland, because of the magical performance of Mikell Simpson two years ago.

I would love to see him "rekindle the magic" and have another phenomenal performance like he did on Homecoming in the Cavaliers "heart-stopping" 18-17 win in 2007.

Third, the Virginia Tech game. I think all Cavaliers fans would love to see the 'Hoos spoil the Hokies season by beating them for the first time since 2003. I think Virginia Tech is slightly overrated in the preseason rankings—I would rank them around 15 or 16 to start out the season, no way would I place them in the top 10.

I think it's ridiculous to put a team with an erratic passing quarterback like Tyrod Taylor in the top 10. He's a playmaker with his legs, but still very raw as a passer and I think too many people, fans and media alike, tend to forget that.


Ben Gibson

I would have to say the Georgia Tech game because I think it is a barometer for the rest of the season.  The Yellow Jackets have not won in Charlottesville since 1990 and if the Cavaliers can pull off the upset it may be the difference between a bowl game and another losing season.

It will not be easy though, Georgia Tech remembers what happened last year when we shocked them on the road and they have the talent to do it certainly.  I think we are helped out by the fact that this game is the week after their huge Virginia Tech duel. 

If the Yellow Jackets win in Atlanta against the Hokies, it will be the perfect trap game and a chance for the Cavaliers to springboard into the second half of the season.


Aaron Mullins

The Virginia Tech game is always the highlight of the season for me, and with that game being at home this year, I am eagerly awaiting Nov. 28.  However, that answer seems too obvious, so I will say the Georgia Tech game on Oct. 25. 

Last year, the Cavaliers ventured down to Atlanta and shut down Paul Johnson's triple option offense.  Experts say that the Jackets' offense will be even more dangerous in Johnson's second year, but look for Al Groh's infamous 3-4 defense to yet again pose problems for the Jackets.

3. Who will be the biggest surprise player this season?

Ben Gibson

I am going to say Joe Torchia.  Let's face it, Groh loves tight ends and that is not going to change even in a spread offense. 

In practice it is clear that Torchia is earning the respect of the head coach and has earned his time by playing tough on special teams.  Once the offensive line solidifies in the spread offense I am certain Groh will use Torchia as a decoy.

Considering how limited Sewell's accuracy is and the jury is still out on Hall, I think that he will become a favored target and continue in the tradition of top tight ends to come out of Virginia.


Aaron Mullins

Javaris Brown made too much noise in the offseason, so I no longer consider him a secret.  He will have a tremendous impact in Gregg Brandon’s spread offense, but he won’t be surprising anybody familiar with Virginia football.

My vote for surprise player goes to Rashawn Jackson.  Nobody expects much out of the fullback position in the new spread offense, but Rashawn can play.  Rashawn catches the ball very well out of the backfield, and has great speed for his size.  Brandon insists that the best athletes will play regardless of position, so look for Rashawn to turn some heads this season. 


Wade Peery

I think quarterback Jameel Sewell has the chance to be a big time player in Virginia's offense. Obviously Vic Hall is the go to guy at quarterback, but I would love to see Virginia utilize Sewell and Hall on the field at the same time. Offensive coordinator Greg Brandon needs to take advantage of Sewell and Hall's strengths.

Many Virginia fans might be down on Sewell, but they shouldn't forget that he was a very big part of their surprise 2007 season. Sure, he can't complete a pass over twenty yards, but he has excellent football fundamentals. His ball fakes are some of the best I've seen, his shovel passes and screen passes are excellent, and he's also excellent at hitting the tight ends and receivers with the shorter passes inside 15 yards.

This prediction hinges on how many snaps a game Sewell will get, but I think Gregg Brandon is innovative and creative enough to put Sewell out there more. I think he'll be making a big mistake if he doesn't, because Sewell was simply captain clutch in 2007 when it came time for the Cavaliers to move the sticks.

I think running back Keith Payne could have a big year as well and I think he's an excellent complement to Mikell Simpson. Payne is blessed with excellent hands and kind of reminds me of Jason Snelling. I think with all the attention focused on Simpson, Payne will have every opportunity to come out of the backfield and make plays as a receiver and as a bruising runner.


4. Who will be the biggest disappointment this season?

Aaron Mullins

This question kills me.  I hope he proves me wrong, but I don’t see Mikell Simpson returning to his 2007 form.  In the open practice that I attended, Mikell did not hit the holes well, and struggled to advance past the line of scrimmage.  He looked very much like the Mikell from 2008. 

If my prediction is true, look for Torrey Mack and the aforementioned Rashawn Jackson to excel out of the running back position. 


Wade Peery

Quite honestly, I don't think there will be any disappointment.

If you want to talk about the weak link of the team, well there's no question it's the linebacker unit.

There are some extremely talented players in the linebacker corps, but they have very little to no game experience under their belts, which makes a huge difference. I'm expecting a big year from linebacker John Kevin Dolce—he's extremely strong and explosive and can lay the big hit.

Cameron Johnson has created quite a buzz in practice and Al Groh has high words of praise for him as well. I'm also excited to watch Steve Greer, from Solon, Ohio. The second I watched his high school highlights on Rivals.com I thought the kid was going to be a star on the Division One level.

He's remarkably good at shedding his blocks and making the play. I like his game alot and from what I've read so far about Greer, so far, so good. He'll get tons of experience for his very bright future in Charlottesville.


Ben Gibson

I hate to agree with Aaron but I also think it will be Mikell Simpson. 

This kid came out of nowhere in 2007 and his performance against Maryland was legendary.  However, injuries derailed him last season and he still seems to be far from 100 percent heading into training camp this season.

Simpson has struggled and I think with Jackson, Mack and even Payne in the mix, playing time will be hard to come by if you are not playing well.  Let's not forget, I expect to see both Sewell and Hall running a fair amount this season as well.


5. What is your prediction for the season?

Aaron Mullins

8-4.  The skid against Virginia Tech finally ends.


Ben Gibson

My official prediction is 7-5 for the Cavaliers this season.  I think the Cavaliers will go 6-1 at home this season, their lone loss being again to Virginia Tech.

I would love for the Cavaliers to break the 1-7 mark against the Hokies but the weird thing is that they've done better at Lane Stadium than in Charlottesville.

That means Virginia will have to win at least one game on the road and that is not an easy task for Al Groh and company over the years.  Southern Miss would seem like the smart choice but my bet would be Miami.

The Cavaliers trashed the Hurricanes in the final home game for Miami at the Orange Bowl ever 48-0.  Two years before that, Virginia had only lost by 8 points.  Now the caveat with this is that Virginia has only won once in the Sunshine State in school history. 

Let's make it two baby!


Wade Peery

I've already said it, but 8-5. I know the schedule is tough. Southern Miss on the road is extremely tough, TCU at home is tough, and VT, GT, UNC, and at Miami are tough, but I definitely think that Virginia is capable of winning a few of those.

In the end, it all comes down to the fact that Vic Hall will be at quarterback this season. One of the greatest quarterbacks in Virginia high school football history is finally at his natural position and it's going to be a thing of beauty.

He was born for the spread offense and the "zone-read", which I'm sure the 'Hoos will utilize as their bread and butter this season. Running back Mikell Simpson thrives in the "zone-read" play as well, just ask Maryland from 2007.

The Virginia Cavaliers are a far more talented team than many of the preseason magazines are giving them credit for. It's one of the best defenses Virginia fans will see in a while, of course the linebackers will likely go through growing pains. I think the rest of the defense is so talented that the 'Hoos will be able to bring their linebackers along slowly and not throw too much at them.

Many people might call me crazy, but I say the Cavaliers go 8-5 and yes, that's including a bowl win at the end of the season, something like a Champs Sports Bowl victory or maybe even a Meineke Car Care Bowl win.