Virginia Football: Failure Is Not an Option in 2011
When Mike London took over the program at Virginia, many thought they knew how things would transpire.
So far, things have gone more or less according to plan.
Sure, the Cavalier defense was worse than Virginia fans expected and they were surprisingly non-competitive in too many ACC contests. However, no one expected much in year one and that is exactly what they got.
A 4-8 record is not going to wow anyone.
What people did expect though was a big recruiting shift. Virginia had been nearly run out of their own state with broken recruiting pipelines over the years.
London brought an energy, a passion and a blueprint that far surpassed his predecessor. If he was going to make progress, the time was now in his first year.
With his reputation as a top-notch recruiter and a pledge to re-establish the Cavalier presence in the Hampton Roads/Virginia Beach area he has done just that.
Promises of playing time have lured some of the best talent in the Commonwealth including Gatorade Player of the Year Demetrious Nicholson, the dynamic running back Clifton Richardson and quarterback David Watford.
Virginia is also among the four finalists for top in-state recruit and the top linebacker in the country Curtis Grant.
Will Virginia make a bowl game next season?
Win, lose or draw, Virginia is poised to have its best recruiting class in a long time and infuse the program with a desperately needed shot of talent.
Bringing in talent is one thing, winning is quite another.
Although London has won a national championship with the Richmond Spiders while in the FCS, this is his first time building a program as the man in charge.
Undoubtedly there will be growing pains, but he has so far lived up to people's expectations.
Usually the second year is still a honeymoon period for head coaches, particularly those with such a momentous task as London's.
However, these are not ordinary times and the Cavaliers know it.
The ACC is one of the weakest BCS conferences around and everyone knows it. The opportunity to compete for an ACC title is more wide open than ever before, yet the Cavaliers have not even sniffed success the past few years.
Virginia has not gone to a bowl game since 2007, a quirky year that featured an NCAA-record five wins by two points or less. Virginia has not gone to consecutive bowl games since 2004-05.
With so many bowl games being played in college football this is simply too long a hiatus. How can Virginia expect to continue to win over recruits if they cannot post a winning season?
The Cavaliers cannot afford a setback in their image. They must convince people that the program is heading in the right direction, so excuses cannot be acceptable.
That means Virginia must make a bowl game in 2011.
Despite some key losses, the Cavaliers should retain a good majority of their starters next season. Virginia will have a new quarterback but both Ross Metheny and Mike Rocco got experience last season.
In their limited action, they appeared to be fairly competent and can hopefully learn on the job in 2011.
Virginia will have some redshirted recruits to bolster both the offense and defense.
The Cavaliers will have a stacked backfield with speedster Perry Jones returning and former PARADE All-American K.P. Parks making his debut in 2011.
Defensively, the Cavaliers will have a year under their belt in the 4-3 and the stigma of poor performances to motivate them next season.
Most importantly, question marks remain around every other Coastal rival.
Georgia Tech must find a way to replace quarterback Josh Nesbitt and so far that has proven difficult.
Duke is still young and inexperienced at critical positions.
North Carolina has the NCAA breathing down its necks and a coach that consistently underachieved with the talent he brought in.
Miami has a new coach and no proven quarterback.
Virginia Tech must replace a four-year starter at quarterback and fill holes in their backfield.
Every single Cavalier knows the truth. Virginia will never be successful unless it can steal momentum from Virginia Tech and that means beating the Hokies on the gridiron.
Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, that streak is also an unacceptable seven years and counting.
While Virginia has struggled to post a winning record, the Hokies have produced 10-win seasons and ACC titles like clockwork.
The gap is enormous but not insurmountable.
The frustration in Blacksburg is evident after that shellacking against Stanford in the Orange Bowl. Fans are angry with their 1-27 record against top five opponents in school history and deservedly so.
Even the most successful programs fall eventually and the rumblings in Blacksburg convey an emotion they have not felt in a long time: fear.
Fear that their window for greatness may begin to close.
Yet that cannot happen until Virginia does something it has looked so inept in doing and defeat their arch-rivals.
It may not happen in 2011, but the game must become more competitive if coach London ever can aspire towards turning the program around.
Failure may have become a bit too familiar with Virginia fans these past few years, but another losing season in 2011 might be too hard to take.
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