2014 CFN Preview - Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia CB Demetrious Nicholson
CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - It's been a rough run for Virginia, but can this be the turnaround year? (Getty Images)
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Virginia Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer
Head coach: Mike London
Fifth year: 18-31
Off. 25, Def. 28, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 16
1. S Anthony Harris, Sr.
2. CB Demetrious Nicholson, Sr.
3. DE Eli Harold, Jr.
4. LB Henry Coley, Sr.
5. RB Kevin Parks, Sr.
6. LB Daquan Romero, Sr.
7. DT David Dean, Jr.
8. WR Darius Jennings, Sr.
9. CB Maurice Canady, Jr.
10. WR Keeon Johnson, Soph.
Aug. 30 UCLA
Sep. 6 Richmond
Sep. 13 Louisville
Sep. 20 at BYU
Sep. 27 Kent State
Oct. 4 Pitt
Oct. 11 OPEN DATE
Oct. 18 at Duke
Oct. 25 North Carolina
Nov. 1 at Georgia Tech
Nov. 8 at Florida State
Nov. 15 OPEN DATE
Nov. 22 Miami
Nov. 28 at Virginia Tech
Mike London: Crackerjack recruiter, but a mediocre head coach.
London keeps cranking out homeruns on Signing Day, while whiffing on Saturdays. And for that reason, he faces a do-or-die situation in his fifth year on the job. The coach has succeeded in getting talent through the door, but that's where the celebrating has stopped. The Cavaliers won just a pair of games in 2013, and they're 18-31 since the coach replaced Al Groh in 2010. Yet, five-star studs, like DT Andrew Brown and S Quin Blanding, have chosen to play in Charlottesville, highlighting the riddle that is London. The coach cleaned up in February, but he won't be teaching his blue-chip pupils for very long if Virginia doesn't bowl in 2014.
There's a lot to like about London. High school kids admire him. So does the administration and the local community. But popularity contests don't impact the ACC standings, and three losing seasons in four years is a problem. London's downfall has been an offense that's gotten progressively worse in each of the last three seasons. More specifically, he needs a competent quarterback to lead the offense.
The last time a Wahoo quarterback ranked in the top half of the ACC in passer rating? Would you believe Marques Hagans in 2004? Yup, the situation has been that consistently bad behind center. And there are no signs of guaranteed improvement ahead. Incumbent David Watford was a disaster in 2013, throwing nearly twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. Predictably, he's been replaced at the top of the depth chart by sophomore Greyson Lambert, whose job it is to lose.
If London survives to coach the Cavaliers in 2015, bank on the D playing a huge role in the reprieve. Jon Tenuta's unit, which underachieved last fall, begins this season with nine returning starters and something to prove. The good news in C'ville is that the defense boasts star power at each level; Eli Harold up front, Henry Coley from the second level and Anthony Harris and Demetrious Nicholson out of the secondary. All four Cavs are NFL-caliber, so there'll be no excuses for not being one of the saltier ACC defenses this season.
The Virginia players like London. But if they love their coach, they'll find a way to compete at a higher level in 2014. It's desperation time in the commonwealth, and no amount of quality recruits or personal goodwill is going to save London if he can't guide the ‘Hoos back to .500 for the first time since 2011.
What to look for on offense: The ongoing battle at quarterback. Sure, there are other competitions, such as the left tackle opening vacated by Morgan Moses, but they pale in comparison to behind center. Junior David Watford may be the incumbent, but sophomore Greyson Lambert had the better spring, which is why he sits atop the depth chart. Lambert is a strong-armed 6-5, 220-pounder, whose been noticeably more consistent this offseason than in 2013. He has a long way to go and just 75 career passing attempts, but he has clearly erased the gap that was already beginning to shrink last fall.
What to look for on defense: Filling the openings up front. Virginia's biggest vulnerability is along the D-line, which must replace DE Jake Snyder and DT Brent Urban, a pair of underrated performers. The base is in place with DE Eli Harold and DT David Dean, but who joins them in the lineup? Tackle doesn't figure to be a major problem, since 2012 sack leader Chris Brathwaite is back from academic suspension, and uber-recruit Andrew Brown has already participated in practice. A reliable end, though, needs to be mined to keep offenses from loading up Harold's side of the line.
This team will be much better if… the offense makes even modest gains this fall. You can't average fewer than 20 points a game in this age—or any age—and expect to win many games. After ranking 13th in ACC scoring, the Cavaliers can take a quantum leap in the standings by even becoming a middle-of-the-pack league offense. While the defense is the clear-cut backbone of the 2014 squad, it doesn't mean the unit can survive on its own. It needs help from an offense that punted, stalled and turned the ball over far too much a year ago.
The Schedule: Uh-oh. The Cavaliers not only have a nasty conference slate, but they're not exactly taking it easy in before diving in starting the season out against UCLA and going to BYU in mid-September. Richmond and Ken State ease things up a little bit, but not enough considering what's happening in ACC play. Louisville comes to Scott Stadium, and so do Pitt, North Carolina and Miami, but there's a brutal, brutal stretch of three road games in four weeks starting out against defending Coastal champ Duke and going to Georgia Tech and Florida State after dealing with North Carolina. The rivalry date with Virginia Tech is on the road just six days after facing the Hurricanes.
Best Offensive Player: Senior RB Kevin Parks. Parks isn't just the focal point of the Cavalier offense. He's also one of the most versatile all-around playmakers in the ACC. He'll pick up tough yards and blitzes with equal effectiveness, while serving as a reliable safety valve in the passing game. Parks brings leadership and a high football IQ to a Virginia backfield facing uncertainty at quarterback. After earning a spot on the All-ACC Second Team, he has his eyes on a top spot this fall.
Best Defensive Player: Senior Anthony Harris. The undisputed strength of the Cavaliers is the defensive backfield. And the leader of a very talented group is Harris, who carries All-American honors with him into his senior year. He's like having a third ball-hawking cornerback on the field, which creates nightmares for the other team's quarterback. Harris does it all out of the secondary, from flipping the field with picks to lowering the boom in run defense, which has not been lost on the NFL scouting community.
Key players to a successful season: The quarterbacks. Whether it's Watford or Lambert who ultimately gets the nod from the coaching staff in Week 1, that guy has to operate with more efficiency than any of his last six or seven predecessors. Poor quarterback play is the primary reason Virginia is in its current rut. The Cavaliers need the offseason competition between the contenders to bring out the best in both, resulting in an offense that averages at least 25 points per game this season.
The season will be a success if ... the Cavaliers manufacture six wins out of a very difficult schedule. Whether or not a bowl is realistic in 2014 is somewhat irrelevant, because that's where the bar will be set for a program that hasn't been a part of the past two postseasons. At first glance, Virginia might be favored in no more than three or four games this fall. Still, if the school isn't playing an additional game in December, the year will go down as another failure, and the coaching staff will have to be overhauled by AD Craig Littlepage.
Key game: Nov. 28 at Virginia Tech. One of these years, the Cavaliers are going to defeat their rivals from Blacksburg. This season would be as good a time as any for a beleaguered regime that's trying to locate solid footing. Virginia has dropped 10 straight, and 14 of the last 15, meetings with Virginia Tech, a nasty trend that's haunted numerous coaches in Charlottesville. The Hokies aren't exactly flourishing these days, affording the Cavs an opportunity to finally snap one of the nation's longest current losing streaks in a rivalry series.
2013 Fun Stats:
- Touchdown passes: Virginia 9 – Opponents 19
- Third-down%: Virginia 38% – Opponents 32%
- Points per game: Virginia 19.8 - Opponents 33.2
Virginia Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
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