2012 Virginia Cavaliers season preview
Last season, Virginia enjoyed its best record and first bowl game appearance in five years with a campaign that got second-year coach Mike London named the ACC’s Coach of the Year. While the season didn’t end in fanfare — the Cavaliers fell to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl — Virginia still boasted its share of successes. Among its signature wins were narrow victories at Miami and Florida State, and at home against Georgia Tech. The Seminoles and Yellow Jackets were nationally ranked at the time of those wins.
UVA still has a quarterback battle going on as of this writing. Starter Michael Rocco is back. He completed 60.7 percent of his passes a year ago for 2,671 yards with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. But his play improved once October hit – for example he engineered a last-ditch, 75-yard drive that produced the winning touchdown at Florida State and threw He threw for a career-best 312 yards in the Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Auburn. Rocco also he developed leadership skills that London demands from his signal callers. He’s also an intense competitor, the son of a coach, and determined to keep his job.
But Rocco is being pushed by Phillip Sims, considered by some the nation’s top QB recruit in the Class of 2010. A consensus All-American at Chesapeake’s Oscar Smith High, he set state records for career passing yards (10,725) and touchdown passes (119), and led the Tigers to the 2008 Division 6 state championship. He went to Alabama but lost out on the starting job there and transferred to Virginia (he’s from the state) this offseason. He’s eligible to play immediately.
The Cavs are set at tailback. Senior Perry Jones earned honorable mention all-conference honors in 2011 with his 915 yards rushing and 5.0 average in 13 starts. Jones, a high school teammate of Sims at Oscar Smith, is also the team’s leading returning receiver with 48 receptions and a 10.5 average. Sophomore Kevin Parks appeared in 12 games and contributed big, often in short yardage; he tallied a Virginia freshman-record nine touchdowns. Parks averaged 4.7 yards per carry and caught 11 passes for a 7.5-yard average.
At receiver, Tim Smith, Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell comprise a “very fast group,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor says. Smith, a junior, is being counted on for a breakout year.
Defense will and should be an area of concern for the Cavaliers. After the departures of Matt Conrath, Cam Johnson, Chase Minnifield and four other key starters from last season’s team, Virginia will be working to find suitable replacements for them. Demetrious Nicholson returns at corner after a strong freshman campaign, but the unit loses more than 90 career starts from the other three starters. Up front, Cam Johnson and two other starters are gone from last year. The Cavaliers gave up 81 points over their final two games of 2011 and lose seven starters. Junior end Jake Snyder is the only returning starter up front.
After a rough transition from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 in 2010, Virginia was much improved in 2011. Defensively, the Cavaliers are more athletic up front, and a year in the new 4-3 should make them better despite graduation losses.
Virginia has one of the best schedules in the ACC, with home games against Richmond and Penn State to start off the year. A 2-0 start with tough road trips at Georgia Tech and TCU looming, will let the Cavaliers know early on just how good they are. If they get out of the first four games with a 3-1 or 4-0 record, look out ACC.
Top returners: WR Tim Smith, LT Oday Aboushi, RT Morgan Moses, RG Luke Bowanko, TE Colter Phillips, QB Michael Rocco, RB Perry Jones, DE Jake Snyder, OLB LaRoy Reynolds, MLB Steve Greer, CB Demetrious Nicholson
Key losses: WR Kris Burd, G Austin Pasztor, C Anthony Mihota, FB Max Milien, DT Matt Conrath, DT Nick Jenkins, DE Cam Johnson, OLB Aaron Taliferro, CB Chase Minnifield, SS Rodney McLeod, FS Corey Mosley
WagerWeb.com odds to win ACC: +1500
Sept. 1 Richmond
Sept. 8 Penn State
Sept. 15 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 24 at TCU
Sept. 29 Louisiana Tech
Oct. 6 at Duke
Oct. 13 Maryland
Oct. 20 Wake Forest
Oct. 27 Open
Nov. 3 at NC State
Nov. 10 Miami
Nov. 15 North Carolina
Nov. 24 at Virginia Tech