Ranking the Virginia Football Programs Since 2000
Virginia football has had one roller coaster of a 21st century so far.
In the past decade, the Cavaliers have finished a season tied for second in the ACC and another season with only one win in conference.
Virginia has beaten every single ACC team and also lost to Duke three years in a row.
With the Cavaliers bowl eligible for the first time since 2007, the question becomes where does this current team rank against some of the other teams in recent history? Obviously they can beat the debacle that caused head coach Al Groh's departure, but how do they fare against the Matt Schaub-led teams?
So here is the breakdown of every Virginia team starting in 2000. Which teams were loaded with talent and which were lucky to get out of the season alive.
Let the debate begin!
2009 Virginia (3-9)
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Is there even a debate as to the worst?
Virginia had their worse record in 2009. They lost to William & Mary at home after coughing up the ball seven times.
The Cavaliers experimented with a spread offense in desperation to improve their sinking offensive statistics only to fall deeper in the mire.
They began the season with the versatile Vic Hall, only to discover he did not have the arm or the height to actually be the starting quarterback.
The Cavaliers only scored over 20 points three times the entire season and gave up at least 26 points eight times.
Virginia finished the season with a paltry crowd on hand to watch the Hokies blast the Cavaliers, 42-13, in Scott Stadium, only to hear soon-to-be fired coach Al Groh read a poem about "The Man in the Glass."
If that does not scream horrible, nothing will.
2010 Virginia (4-8)
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Rebuilding the Virginia program was not an easy task for new head coach Mike London.
Look at the 2010 season for example.
The Cavaliers had four wins, but two of them were against FCS teams and the other was a pretty awful Eastern Michigan team.
Virginia's lone ACC win that season came from a Miami team whose starting quarterback got hurt. The Cavaliers nearly blew a 24-point lead in the fourth quarter but escaped with the 24-19 victory to give Virginia hope before losing out in November.
While this team had some major growing pains, particularly on defense, they played hard and believed in the system. If they had to play their 2009 counterpart, they would win simply because the former team became so dejected and uninspired that any team could have taken their lunch money and ran.
Keith Payne had a strong year running the ball and the seeds were planted to make 2011 a success.
Still, it could not have occurred without the growing pains of 2010.
2006 Virginia (5-7)
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Virginia had gone to four straight bowl games and appeared to be on the right track with coach Groh.
Unfortunately, the Cavaliers quickly learned they did not have an heir apparent at quarterback after the departures of Matt Schaub and Marques Hagans.
Christian Olsen was meant to be the future of the program, but his tenure lasted less than six quarters.
Virginia started out 1-3 that year, their sole win by a point at home against Wyoming. The Cavaliers also lost in overtime to Western Michigan, their first loss at home to a team not named Miami, Florida State or Virginia Tech since 2002.
The 2006 team was the one that truly destroyed Virginia's budding football culture. Before 2006, you had to get to a game three hours early to get into the front row of the student section. By the end of the season, you could get great seats with an hour to go or even less.
Jameel Sewell was thrown into the fire as a freshman and showed his inexperience in a 15-of-31 for 115 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions performance against Georgia Tech.
Virginia had a small turnaround by nearly sweeping the ACC in North Carolina by beating the Wolfpack, Blue Devils and Tar Heels. They even knocked off the Miami Hurricanes, 17-7, in November.
The team, though, was anemic on offense and had to rely on their defense to win games. Seven times they scored 14 points are fewer. That is a tune fans of Virginia are used to hearing.
This team was so one-dimensional it would make it hard to sustain success. While Virginia's offense progressed and allowed the defense enough rest to make plays, their offense was simply not good enough to put them any higher in the rankings.
2001 Virginia (5-7)
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Virginia had a rough quarterback battle in 2001, one that frustrated fans and led to big offensive woes from time to time.
The Cavaliers had Matt Schaub and Bryson Spinner fight for the starting spot at quarterback in 2001 under new coach Al Groh.
2001 was highlighted by a hook and ladder play to beat Georgia Tech and Virginia won their pseudo-bowl game by taking down Penn State at home to end the regular season at 5-7.
On the other hand, Virginia also lost all four games in October by a combined 86 points. They also lost to Wake Forest for the first time since 1983.
This team was on the way up, but they too had to deal with a transitional coaching scheme and had some very rough patches.
That lack of continuity made them vulnerable.
2000 Virginia (6-6)
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2000 was the final year in the legendary career of Virginia coach George Welsh.
Unfortunately, 2000 proved to be like most Welsh years, stellar mediocrity.
The Cavaliers, led by Dan Ellis, had an up-and-down year where Virginia had some good wins and some bad losses.
In fact, they were so up and down Virginia was never more than two games above .500 all season long.
Running back Antoine Womack ran for 1,000 yards but Virginia gave up more points than they produced. Worse yet, the Cavaliers were outscored 69-26 in the fourth quarter.
Virginia still managed to produce a good team and made it to a bowl game where they lost to Georgia, but the mediocrity was wearing thin on Virginia fans and they wanted a change.
Be careful what you ask for, the next decade proved to be far more chaotic than the consistent winner in coach Welsh.
2011 Virginia (6-3)
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Virginia is looking good this season for the first time in awhile.
The Cavaliers have the third-best total offense and rushing offense in the ACC. The trio of Kevin Parks, Perry Jones and Clifton Richardson can give any defense nightmares and have helped Virginia make their first bowl game in four years.
A developing quarterback and a renewed focus on defense make Virginia a relatively young and inexperienced but talented, dangerous team.
The Cavaliers have been unpredictable, beating Georgia Tech and Miami while losing to North Carolina State and escaping a game against Idaho in overtime.
This team has talent that could really do some damage down the road, but they are just too young to beat some of the other teams on this list. The secondary still gives up too many big pass plays and the offense can turn the ball over.
However, this team is definitely one that is inspiring a beleaguered fanbase.
2007 Virginia (9-4)
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It's rare that a defensive player can make or break your season, but in 2007 that is just what Chris Long did.
The stellar defensive end created havoc at the line of scrimmage, using his motor to will his team to victory.
The 2007 team was just one win away from the all-time wins mark for a season in school history and yet five of the nine victories were by two points or less.
Going to the Gator Bowl was one of Virginia's best accomplishments since the early 1990s. On the other hand, they were just a few bad breaks away from not making any bowl game at all.
Quarterback Jameel Sewell had a very sporadic season. Even within the game, Sewell would go from clutch to choke artist in the course of a drive.
However, with the game on the line, Sewell found ways to snap victory from the jaws of defeat.
His late drive against Middle Tennessee State helped keep the momentum of the season going and the defense was able to do the rest against teams like Connecticut, Wake Forest and Maryland.
While this team had some impressive accolades, they were a bit of a paper tiger. Even in the bowl game against Texas Tech, Virginia showed its scary lack of depth when Sewell was knocked out.
This team could surprise and definitely beat some of the other teams because of their playmakers on both sides of the ball. However, to think they could control a game for 60 minutes is just plain foolish.
2005 Virginia (8-5)
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Marques Hagans never quite found the mojo in his final season as the Cavalier quarterback.
Sure, Hagans helped lead Virginia to a victory over fourth-ranked Florida State, but the Cavaliers followed that up with a humiliating 7-5 loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels.
This team was much more loaded than any of our previous contenders.
Hagans had a versatile backfield of Wali Lundy and Jason Snelling to go along with the dynamic linebacker duo of Kai Parham and Ahmad Brooks.
Yet, despite the talent, Virginia had some rough outings in 2005. They lacked continuity and really represented a shift in the eras of Al Groh's tenure as coach.
The Cavaliers ended the season beating Minnesota in a shootout without their offensive or defensive coordinators who had received head coaching gigs.
While the talent was there, this team had a few too many mental lapses to be labeled the best of the 21st century.
2002 Virginia (9-5)
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The 2002 Virginia team had a rough start to the season but ended the year as one of the most dangerous teams around.
The Cavaliers flirted with Hagans at quarterback but settled on Matt Schaub, who proceeded to lead the ACC with 28 passing touchdowns.
Virginia finished the season strong, winning three of their final four games. Two of those three wins came against North Carolina State and Maryland who were near the top of the ACC standings at the time.
The Terrapins had been on a high since making a BCS game with then-coach Ralph Friedgen in 2001 who had famously said Maryland did not lose to teams "like Duke and Virginia."
The Cavaliers proceeded to hammer the Terrapins, 49-14, and go to the Continental Tire Bowl where they pounded a good West Virginia team, 48-22.
Virginia appeared to be on the verge of greatness with a mix of young talent like the record-breaking freshman Wali Lundy at running back and the experienced Schaub.
Groh's freshmen looked to be building a foundation for a great future.
This team was a scary team by the end of the season, no one would have wanted to face them. Nevertheless, Virginia had more than a few road bumps early on and were still a bit young and inexperienced.
It does lead us to our next few teams, though.
2003 Virginia (8-5)
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Coming off the high of the 2002 season, 2003 was meant to be the year Virginia really did things.
Ranked in the preseason Top 25, Schaub led his team to a thorough dismantling of Duke in the season opener but got hurt in the process.
In the following game, the completely inexperienced Anthony Martinez was asked to carry the load at quarterback and failed at South Carolina.
Given Virginia's talent at the time, there is a strong argument that the Cavaliers would have won that game with the defending ACC Offensive Player of the Year calling the plays. Instead the preseason hype faded away quickly.
Still, the Cavaliers put up some impressive numbers. Virginia averaged 28 points per game including 23 passing touchdowns to only 12 interceptions.
However, the Virginia defense mantra of bend but do not break cost them in some of their higher-caliber matches. The Cavaliers actually gave up more yards running than they themselves produced. Their opponents were averaging almost the same total yardage which meant that games could come down to one or two plays.
In close games like that, luck is a factor and Virginia was burned in two games by a combined eight points.
The highlight of that season, though, was how the Cavaliers finished with a victory over their arch-rival Virginia Tech and shutting down wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and the Pittsburgh Panthers.
This team is probably the most talented team the Cavaliers ever produced. On paper, they had the ability to compete with anyone.
A stop against North Carolina State, a healthy Schaub against South Carolina, a touchdown instead of a field goal against Clemson in overtime and a fumble on the last drive of the game against Florida State are all examples of what could have been for Virginia in 2003
2004 Virginia (8-4)
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Unlike the 2003 team, people were not sure what to make of the 2004 team entering the season.
With the departure of Schaub, people wondered if Marques Hagans could even play quarterback.
He had spent last season as a wide receiver and in his limited experience as a quarterback in 2002 lost to the Seminoles, 41-9.
Hagans, though, proved to be efficient and used the talent around him to propel the Cavaliers to the No. 5 team in the country in mid-October.
Say what you want about this team but Virginia has never looked as good as they did in the first five games of the 2004 season. The Cavaliers outscored their opponents by a combined score of 212-58.
I do not care if you are playing FCS schools, that is a remarkable number. In their first two ACC games, Virginia won 56-24 against their rival North Carolina and humbled the Clemson Tigers, 30-10.
However, the Cavaliers suffered a season-ending injury to defensive end Chris Canty and the momentum began to shift a bit for this team.
Virginia got a bit too big for their britches and found their come uppance with a humbling 36-3 loss to Florida State. While the number looms big for Cavalier fans, that game was just one of those contests you have to discard.
Even the usually automatic Connor Hughes could not connect on a field goal early to give the Cavaliers some momentum to start the game.
The Cavaliers lost three games in the regular season to the best teams the ACC had to offer, Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech.
One small thing that was big for Virginia that season was they never lost to a team they should have beat. The Cavaliers did not throw away a game like they were used to doing in most years.
Granted, that statistic comes with a caveat, Virginia lost their bowl game and a big lead to Fresno State. However, that game has the built in excuse of the Cavaliers being hosed out of the bowl games they deserved because of exam scheduling.
The Cavaliers and their fans wanted nothing to do with that game and the result was not indicative of the team's talent level.
This team was the best Virginia had to offer. The Cavaliers combined to rush for 2,900 yards that season while holding their opponents to less than 1,500.
They made nearly half of their third downs and they had 35 touchdown in the red zone as opposed to 17 for everyone else they played.
This team surprised some people, but they showed the potential in Virginia football. Let's see if there is a team down the road that can take their place.