Despite starting the season with an impressive, last-second 19-16 win over BYU, the Cavaliers struggled to be competitive in most of their games, finishing with just a 2-10 record and going 0-8 in conference play (the other win was a 49-0 victory over VMI). It is difficult to discern where the proverbial wheels fell off for the Hoos last season, but one can guess it was near mid-October - somewhere between the three-touchdown loss to Ball State at home in front of a less-than-packed house and the 27-26 heartbreaking loss against rival Maryland on a missed 42 yard field goal with ten seconds left.
The good news for Virginia is that its starting QB and two main RBs from last season will be back on the field this fall. The bad news is that two of quarterback David Watford’s favorite targets, TE Jake McGee and receiver Tim Smith, are both gone. Virginia likes to throw the ball, so it will be key for new receivers to step up. Other than that, though, the 2013 edition of the Cavaliers only had 5 seniors on the roster and a whole wealth of juniors and sophomores – this team won’t be lacking for experience.
Virginia has seen great success on the recruiting front in the past years, and this year was no exception. Their incoming freshman class boasts two five star recruits, DT Andrew Brown and DB Quin Blanding. Highly-touted four star receiver Jamil Kamara is also a member of the 2014 class, and will look to help replace some of the losses at receiver.
Players to watch for: Offense
Virginia’s prized gem from the 2013 class, five star RB Taquan Mizzell, could be poised for a breakout season. After a solid but quiet freshman campaign running in the shadow of 1,000-yard rusher Kevin Parks, Mizzell should not be a forgotten element of the Cavaliers backfield. While Parks returns for this season, Mizzell was the ninth-ranked running back in his class and could easily catch fire.
Players to Watch For: Defense
As many of you probably know, Virginia’s defensive coordinator is none other than former Georgia Tech DC Jon Tenuta. Last year was his first season with the Cavaliers, and it is not uncommon for defenses to see a significant jump in performance between years one and two under a new DC. That said, Virginia’s secondary is loaded with experience at every position and could be dangerous. Couple that with junior DE Eli Harold, who led the Hoos in TFL (15, 7th all-time at Virginia) and sacks (8.5), and you’ve got a potentially surprising defensive squad. If Brown plays his way onto the defensive line as a true freshman, too, look out.
After playing eight home games last season (yes, eight home games), Virginia has a bit tougher of a schedule this season despite dropping Oregon from it. Home contests against UCLA, UNC, Louisville, and Miami will all be difficult games, but a win against UCLA or Louisville could go a long way in defining this team’s identity as both matchups are early on in the season. On the road, the Cavaliers will travel to Georgia Tech and Florida State on consecutive weekends in early November before ending their regular season schedule with a Friday game at Lane Stadium against the Hokies.
Consider it a successful season if the Cavs go bowling. The biggest game of the season is by far the finale against Virginia Tech; head coach Mike London is surely on the hot seat, but snapping the Hokies’ 10-game win streak over the Hoos could be enough to buy him an extra year and develop his recently strong recruiting classes.