Virginia enters a new era with first year head coach Mike London taking over the program after leading Richmond to a FCS title two years ago.
ACC fans will see a new offense, new defense, and a new attitude in Charlottesville. To get a better look at UVA I contacted Ben Gibson for his take on the Cavaliers this season.
Q: How has the hiring of former UVA assistant Mike London been received?
A: I think initially it was lukewarm. London is obviously well known at Virginia, he was a two-time assistant with the team, he has relatives who played here and he's certainly a likable guy.
However, with all the big names that were being floated around, it had to be a bit of a let down. Since then though, he has done tremendously well.
He has said the right things, he has opened up the staff far more than his predecessor and he has gotten Virginia football out there with the open scrimmage at ODU and the television series playing across the area.
People are no longer ashamed to be UVA fans. He has clearly established himself as the anti-Groh. However, he still needs to do something on the field before the fans will fully buy in.
Q: Virginia really struggled on offense last year. What kind of system is London going to implement?
A: Well, when you're lacking in offensive talent like Virginia is, you need a good coordinator to utilize what you have. London seemed to strike out when it came to finding a hotshot offensive guru, something everyone knew he had to do.
He made a smart hire in Shawn Moore, a former Virginia quarterback and Heisman finalist, but he lacks the experience to lead an offensive unit.
So the Cavaliers settled for Bill Lazor, whose greatest accomplishment these past two seasons has been watching Matt Hasselback deteriorate as quarterbacks coach of the Seattle Seahawks.
All of this is to say, I expect very little to change with the scheme of the offense. It will still be a pro style system built on the running game and a West Coast offense.
Virginia's only hope can come in recruiting better talent and sparking a fire within the players with a passionate coach and staff.
Q: Is Marc Verica the starter at QB or could a dark horse emerge?
A: From everything I have seen and heard, Verica had a great spring training but he was pretty woeful in the Spring Game. He went from the prohibitive favorite to leaving the door open for others.
Verica is the most experienced option and he has had some success like turning around the Cavaliers in 2008 with back-to-back victories against Carolina and Georgia Tech.
However, he cannot seem to avoid interceptions and appears way too timid when the lights are on him. He may not have what it takes to translate success on the practice field to the gridiron.
If not, expect greyshirt Michael Strauss to be the favorite to take over and experience the growing pains that come with being a freshman in the ACC.
Q: The skill positions were really lacking in game breaking ability last year. Is there a back or receiver who can step up this year?
A:Well, I think Virginia has a game breaker in wide receiver Tim Smith. They simply have not had a quarterback good enough to get him the ball. Smith is one of the fastest guys on the team and Verica has enough of an arm to give him opportunities to break through.
However, if Virginia's to be successful then they need to find it in the running game. Dominique Wallace looked like a diamond in the rough until an injury against Southern Miss took him out for the year.
He will work alongside K.P. Parks, a Parade All-American, in the backfield and look to make some opportunities for the Virginia offense.
Q: One area UVA has usually been strong is the offensive line. How does this unit look heading into fall?
A: The offensive line certainly has been a strength in the past. Last year, coach Groh brought in Gregg Brandon to implement a spread offense and the result was disastrous.
The line had no idea how to properly block and Virginia struggled. Give Groh credit for going back to the pro style offense these guys were made for.
After the shift back to the norm, the line looked okay and I expect it will be better this season.
Austin Pasztor is the cream of the crop, a young and experienced guard who will be leading the unit. Will Barker's loss may be addition through subtraction at this point. He's also the only real loss off the line.
Q: London has a defensive background and is switching from Al Groh's 3-4 to a 4-3. Which players does this benefit the most? Where could the transition cause issues?
A: Well defense has certainly been the calling card of the Cavaliers for years. London is a defensive guy first and foremost so I have faith that they will be just fine.
However, it is a little scary considering just how many players are changing positions next season.
Watching practice this spring, you could see many players had trouble just lining up.
However, LaRoy Reynolds appears to be the biggest beneficiary. Coming from the secondary to the linebacking corps, Reynolds is now a starter. He brings speed and athleticism.
It seems clear that London's philosophy is "if you make mistake, at least do it at full speed." He knows that playing tentatively will kill the Cavaliers and he is trying to instill confidence in his young charges.
Q: Virginia has not recruited well the past few seasons and it showed last year. How is London changing the recruiting style to close the gap in the state of Virginia?
A: This is Mike London's biggest priority so far and I think he's done pretty darn well at this point.
London has done everything he can to get Virginia back in the minds of players in the Commonwealth. He has worked extensively in the Hampton Roads area, a place where London is from and where Michael Vick and Aaron Brooks helped shape both programs in the late 1990s.
London refuses to be ashamed of the high academic standards and believes he will find those that want the best of both worlds, a great team with great academics. I think his friendly nature; his passion, his youth and his staff will all help get us better recruiting classes.
It also helps when you need talent at just about every position. It's July and he already has 19 commitments.
Q: Who are some freshman that could see significant playing time this season?
A:K.P. Parks and Michael Strauss are two names I already mentioned that could see playing time. As long as Parks stays eligible, he is almost a certainty to play as a true freshman in the backfield. Unfortunately, some off the field issues have people worried.
Strauss will only play if the season quickly turns for the worse. He too has garnered some groans from Virginia fans since he originally committed to Mike London when he was at Richmond. Can a CAA recruit really make it in the ACC?
This freshman class on paper looks pretty weak, but considering the long-term project London has, I wouldn't be shocked to see him play some freshman and let them go through their maturation process early on.
It should be noted that Al Groh did that his first season here, and it resulted in his best years following that with four straight bowl appearances.
Q: How do you think Groh will do as Defensive Coordinator at Georgia Tech this year? Is there any bad blood on either side from his exit?
A: That's a great question.
I think Groh will do pretty well because, even though he is pretty terrible motivator, he is a very good strategist. He was able to scheme against some dynamic players during his time like Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Michael Crabtree, limiting their opportunities for success.
I think it will take some time though to adjust and although it may lead to overall improvement in the defensive statistics, it could hurt them in big games. Virginia fans learned the hard way that a 3-4 is only as good as the linebackers in it.
So while I'll say most fans are annoyed to see Groh back in the ACC coaching a divisional rival, we know how this script ends and soon the Yellow Jackets will too.
Q: Describe a successful season in Charlottesvile this year. Describe a disappointing one.
A: To me, success will be defined [more] by progress than it will wins or losses. Virginia has to show signs that it is improving, particularly on offense.
If the Cavaliers continue to struggle to move the ball, it will be hard for London to keep the fan base motivated.
He certainly needs to avoid the embarrassing losses we have suffered lately. We know that the Trojans of USC will destroy us, but we deserve to be competitive in just about every other game we play.
I know that another loss against Duke will certainly be disappointing, as would a loss to Maryland. No matter how bad we've been lately, at least we could find solace in beating up on the Terrapins. A 5-7 mark is probably the likely record in most fan's minds.
Q: What is your prediction for the season?
A: My current prediction has us at...5-7. Shocking I know after the answer to my last question but here's the breakdown.
WINS (in order of likeliness): VMI, Eastern Michigan, Richmond, Maryland, UNC
LOSSES (in order of likeliness): Florida State, Virginia Tech, USC, Georgia Tech, Miami, Boston College, Duke
My take of Virginia…
I thought the UVA program made the right move in hiring Mike London. He knows the state of Virginia and has won in the state of Virginia.
Groh’s record while not stellar was not terrible and not much different than many of his predecessors.
Where he failed miserably was in beating rival Virginia Tech. You can draw some comparisons between him and Chan Gailey.
The first year will be tough for London though because the cupboard is not exactly full, especially on the offensive side.
The switch to a new defense will have some bumps too. But I think London will have the UVA program on the right track by year two or three.
Though the team will be better, I am not sure how much better the record will be because of how tough the Coastal Division is this year.
Road trips include Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in the division. From the Atlantic they draw two of the top teams in FSU and BC.
If the Wahoos want to become bowl eligible, they have to steal two wins by keeping their home winning streak against UNC alive and beating Duke on the road.
4-8, 6th in Coastal Division
Thanks again to Ben for his insight.
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