Virginia Football: Cavaliers Look to Their Running Backs to Move Forward

Ben GibsonSenior Analyst IJune 23, 2008

With the dog days of summer upon the horizon, sports fans across the country prepare for another exciting college football season

A chance for teams to build on their past successes or start anew with hopes of a brighter future.

Of course, that optimism seems a bit tamer in Charlottesville, Va.

2007 was a great year for the Cavaliers.  They had an NCAA-record five victories by two points or less and came tantalizingly close to their first ACC Championship game in the recently expanded super-conference.

2008, on the other hand, saw the pendulum of fortune swing violently in the other direction.  A heartbreaking loss to Texas Tech, where the Cavaliers blew a 14-point lead with three minutes remaining, was only followed by more problems for the Orange and Blue.

Quarterback Jameel Sewell was booted from the University for academic troubles.

Star defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald also left the school and helps deepen the hole already left by Chris Long.

Linebacker J'Courtney Williams was arrested on suspected larceny.

Cornerback Mike Brown, not to be outdone, was pulled over by police only to find marijuana and expensive electronics without serial numbers.

All of this, plus the departure of defensive coordinator Mike London to the University of Richmond, certainly gave Cavalier fans a January to forget.

However, now that the winter of our discontent has thawed, it is time to assess just what kind of team will take the field when the Cavaliers open their season against perennial juggernaut USC.

Although Virginia has its fair share of critics and losses on both offense and defense, one should not forget the team's one big gain:

Cedric Peerman.

The rising senior may have struggled in 2006 but made up for it in 2007.  He was the Cavalier offense in the early stages of the season, leading the ACC in rushing until an injury against Middle Tennessee State cost him the rest of the year. 

Mikell Simpson, who began the year at the bottom of the depth chart, emerged and helped salve the wound of losing Peerman.  He gained 271 all-purpose yards against Maryland, including the diving touchdown with 16 seconds left on the clock, for the 18-17 win that tied Virginia's longest winning streak in school history. 

Now, with both men healthy, the Cavaliers pack a powerful one-two punch heading into 2008.  The speed of Simpson mixed with the brawn of Peerman provides a variety of options for head coach Al Groh.

These men will undoubtedly be featured prominently, since quarterback heir apparent Pete Lalich is likely still looking for his mouthpiece after the vicious hit he received late against the Red Raiders in setting up their game-tying touchdown in the Gator Bowl.

They will provide just what Virginia needs in two months—a powerful and methodical style to try and keep the explosive USC offense off the field. 

The Cavaliers also bring in some interesting wide receiver prospects this offseason.  Virginia's passing game has been extinct since the departure of Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, but receiver Maurice Covington may have something to say about that.

Covington entered 2007 in complete obscurity but had an impressive performance against Miami.  His three catches for 50 yards and a touchdown featured some highlight-reel speed.  His elusiveness and great hands will be a perfect target for the inexperienced Lalich. 

The return of leading receiver Kevin Ogletree will also bolster a hurting receiving corps.  In 2006, Ogletree was one of just nine Cavalier receivers to ever record 50 catches in a season.  After season-ending surgery in 2007, expect the junior to step up big.

Of course, these things are always easier said than done, but if summer has proven anything it is that hope springs eternal.

Next time: We look at the defensive side of the ball—who are the names likely to fill the void of Chris Long?