After a surprising 2011 season that saw UVA go 8-5, the thought was there would be some regression in 2012. And there was, as the Cavs went 4-8. But don't let the 4-8 record fool you. Four of those eight losses were by seven points or less. And there were key moments in those games, whether it be a dumb penalty or a bad coaching decision, that plagued UVA in those games. After the season, there were many changes made. There's a new offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, and special teams coach, among other changes on the coaching staff, and on the football field.
With both Michael Rocco and Philip Sims transferring, the quarterbacks on Virginia's roster threw a grand total of zero passes last year. The Cavs quarterback rating was 85th, which was worse than Maryland. Despite the losses here, there is experience. David Watford played as a true freshman, but was downright awful. To me, Virginia's success on offense depends on how well Watford performs. He has the talent to throw the ball to, especially in tight end Jake McGee and wide receivers Darius Jennings, Dominique Terrell, and Tim Smith, but it's a matter of getting it to them, without throwing it to the other team.
Even with the loss of Perry Jones at running back, I still think the running game will be fine. Kevin Parks really emerged last season, rushing for 734 yards and averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Behind him is one of the more highly regarded players to step foot in Charlottesville in recent memory in Taquan Mizzell. Parks' speed and Mizzell all around ability will make them a tough duo to tackle. But at the same time, the offensive line needs to be more consistent. At times, the line looked really good, and at other times, it looked like it couldn't block a pee wee football team.
Of all of the changes on the coaching staff, I believe the defense, with defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, will be the most improved this season. The Cavs had a -14 turnover ratio last season, and with a more aggressive scheme that Tenuta runs, that number will progress a lot closer to zero, if not turn in to a positive turnover ratio. And a lot of this will be helped by a much improved defensive line, and an experienced secondary. The defensive line played a lot better as the season went on, especially when Eli Harold played more. This is a name you will need to know, as I think he will have a break out season for the Cavs. He's quick and elusive, and offensive lineman will have trouble guarding him. Don't be surprised if he ends up with seven or eight sacks this season. As for the secondary, it should improve because all four starters return, plus there is some quality depth, especially at cornerback. Demetrious Nicholson is the anchor of this secondary. His 15 pass break ups were tied for 11th in the nation last year.
With its top two tacklers gone, the biggest question for UVA is at linebacker. There isn't a lot of starting experience back in the linebacking corps. The leading returning tackler among linebackers, Daquan Romero, had 44 tackles last year, but only started four games. That tackle total was still sixth best on the team. Henry Coley has the most starting experience in the group, starting eight games, and finishing with 40 tackles. Don't be surprised if this unit struggles early on this season.
This will be another question mark coming in to the season. Special teams in general was pretty weak for the Cavs last year. Two kickers combined to go 11-17 on field goals, and 2-5 from beyond 40 yards. This year's kicker, Ian Frye, hit three field goals, but his longest was 30 yards. There also needs to be improvement in the return game. Khalek Shepherd handled both, but was a pretty average returner. Don't be surprised if Taquan Mizzell helps in some capacity.
All four of Virginia's non conference games are at home. They will play BYU, Oregon, VMI, and Ball State, as well as Duke, Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Virginia Tech in ACC play. Pitt, Maryland, UNC, and Miami are the only road games UVA has on their schedule this year.
There is national speculation that Mike London is on the hot seat this year. I don't see London getting fired unless he goes 0-12 or 1-11.And I think this team will be much better than that. This is an up and coming team in the ACC. There are only five seniors starting on this year's team. Don't be surprised if UVA goes through some growing pains early on with the overhaul of the coaching staff, and the youth on the roster. But I think this team is still pretty talented. The schedule is pretty tough, but I do think they can make a bowl this year.