Monday, July 30, 2012

season preview: Boston College Eagles

Schedule:

9/1: Miami
9/8: Maine
9/15: @ Northwestern
9/22: BYE
9/29: Clemson
10/6: @ Army
10/13: @ Florida State
10/20: @ Georgia Tech
10/27: Maryland
11/3: @ Wake Forest
11/10: Notre Dame
11/17: Virginia Tech
11/24: @ NC State

Skip: Duke, North Carolina, Virginia

Projected starters:

QB: Chase Rettig (Jr.)
RB: Rolandan Finch (rJr.)
WR: Colin Larmond (5Sr.)
WR: Bobby Swigert (Jr.)
WR: Alex Amidon (Jr.)
TE: Chris Pantale (5Sr.)
LT: Emmett Cleary (5Sr.)
LG: Bobby Vardaro (rSo.)
C: Ian White (rJr.)
RG: Harris Williams (rSo.)
RT: John Wetzel (Sr.)

DE: Kasim Edebali (rJr.)
DT: Kaleb Ramsey (5Sr.)
DT: Dillon Quinn (rJr.)
DE: Brian Mihalik (So.)
SLB: Steele Divitto (Jr.)
MLB: Sean Duggan (So.)
WLB: Kevin Pierre-Louis (Jr.)
CB: Al Louis-Jean (So.)
CB: Manuel Asprilla (So.)
SS: Spenser Rositano (So.)
FS: Sean Sylvia (rSo.)

K: Nate Freese (rJr.)
P: Gerald Levano (5Sr.)

Coach: Frank Spaziani (4th year)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Media prediction: 5th, Atlantic Division

All-ACC:

2011 1st team: LB Luke Kuechly
2011 2nd team: none
2011 HM: none
2012 preseason: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Boston College's season started off so pitifully last year that nobody bothered to notice them finishing the season by winning three of their last five, including wins over NC State and Miami.  They were supposed to have a nice easy stretch that sat them at 5-0 after the first five games; they bombed and went 1-4 instead.  But they improved in the second half, breathing life support into Frank Spaziani's so far lackluster tenure.  This year, there's very little that's easy about the Eagles' schedule, and bowl eligibility will require at least one upset and several wins away from Chestnut Hill.

OFFENSE

Boston College fans thought they were going to get Montel Harris for one more season after the star running back hurt his knee last year and missed most of the season.  Alas, Harris was kicked off the team this past spring for repeated rules violations, and so the committee that replaced Harris last year is back for another spin.  The leader there is Rolandan Finch; the bigger back in the tandem is Andre Williams, although both run with pretty similar styles.  Not a lot of flash and juke to either one, but both can be tough to bring down and both averaged 4-4.5 yards a carry last season.  They'll probably end up about the same this year.

They'll run behind a solid and experienced offensive line, albeit one that's shuffled a ton.  Emmett Cleary is the team's best tackle - he came in fourth among tackles in the ACC's preseason all-conference media poll - so he and John Wetzel switched sides this season.  Ian White slides over from right guard to play center, and Harris Williams moves from backup left guard to starting on the right side.  Only LG Bobby Vardaro will play the same position he did last year.  There's a ton of starting experience on this line, but they'll have to overcome the shell game that's being played here.

The best and most experienced linemen are the bookend tackles, so Chase Rettig should have plenty of time to operate.  Now going into his third year as the starter, Rettig has never blown anyone away with raw talent, but for the most part he won't lose games, either.  He doubled his touchdown total from his freshman to his sophomore year and kept his INTs constant at nine; his completion percentage improved slightly, and he's never been and probably never will be a downfield slinger, preferring to work mostly with underneath and midrange passes.

In that regard, it doesn't help that BC's receiving corps lacks a major home run threat.  Colin Larmond and Bobby Swigert are dependable types, with Swigert playing the role of the stereotypical white-boy slot and possession receiver and doing it very well.  Helping out there will also be tight end Chris Pantale, whose third-place finish in ACC media voting for all-conference was the highest of any BC player.  Missing, however, is the speed element, and the Eagles hope sophomore receiver Spiffy Evans can provide that as he transitions from special teams to a place on the regular offense.

The long and short of BC's offense is that it's full of solid, experienced players who are totally unlikely to break off any game-changing big plays.  If BC wants to score this season, barring a breakout from someone like Evans, they'll have to do it four and eight yards at a time.  They'll lose games where they have to play catch-up early.

DEFENSE

A big loss on the offensive side of the ball in Harris - and an even bigger one on defense, where Luke Kuechly moved on to the NFL after spending his junior season racking up 191 tackles.**  Fortunately, the linebacking corps should be pretty good without him, probably even the strength of the defense.  Outside linebackers Kevin Pierre-Louis and Steele Divitto picked up 70+ tackles each, meaning the three starting LBs were responsible for nearly 40% of BC's total tackles.  Pierre-Louis could be another star in the making, although not quite on the level of Kuechly.

Kuechly bogarted all the snaps in the middle, though, so finding a replacement will be tricky.  The Eagles turn here to Sean Duggan, who started three games last year on the weak side when Pierre-Louis was out with an injury.  Duggan is at worst adequate and should really turn out pretty decent; he finished sixth on the team in tackles despite starting only those three games and playing in only nine.  All in all, BC's linebackers will set the tone for the defense.

Up front and in back, though, there are some question marks.  The defensive line is a little more solid, but mostly unremarkable, and better in the middle than on the ends.  DE Kasim Edebali started all 12 games last year and managed to record just half a sack, and the other bookend, Brian Mihalik, is still getting his feet wet.  In the middle, Kaleb Ramsey was supposed to be a rock in 2011 after being the Eagles' top D-lineman in 2010, but his season was lost to injury, so he'll get another chance this year.  Dominic Appiah performed well as a freshman in Ramsey's absence, so those two and 312-pounder Dillon Quinn should prove to be a decent, though not spectacular rotation.  But the Eagles badly lack a true pass rushing threat from the ends.

In the backfield, the Eagles could be vulnerable.  Nobody returns who had more than one interception, and the team leader was Yup, Kuechly Again with three.  Cornerback should be a battle on both sides of the field, where Albert Louis-Jean and Manny Asprilla have the advantage of experience over C.J. Jones and James McCaffrey, but not an iron grip on the job.  Safety is another pitched battle: at free safety, Sean Sylvia would appear to have the edge on Josh Keyes, and that in fact is the best I can say for anyone's starting prospects in the secondary.  At strong safety, it's between Jim Noel and Stone Bridge product Spenser Rositano; Noel has more experience, but it's my humble opinon that Rositano is the better playmaker and will probably horn in on Noel's playing time as the season progresses.

It's that word - playmaker - that's again holding Boston College back, however.  See: lack thereof.  Their best chances at seeing someone do something fun probably lie with Pierre-Louis and Ramsey.  But there's nobody here that you absolutely must game-plan for.  BC's linebackers will mop up a lot of the messes and force opponents to slog through some long campaigns in order to score, but they need some help.  Someone in the secondary must step up and prove themselves able to cover opponents' #1 receivers, and BC must also find a way to manufacture a pass rush, as they managed just 11 sacks last year.

**!!!!!!

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker Nate Freese had the ability but not the consistency in 2011.  Freese nailed a 52-yarder last season and four total FGs over 40 yards, but missed a chip-shot 23-yarder that cost BC the game against Duke.  (But let's face it: you played like ass if you need a last-second field goal to beat Duke.)  Last season was definitely a step back for Freese, who was more consistent but less rangy in 2010.  BC will have a very good kicking game if Freese can put it together.  5th-year senior punter Gerald Levano gets his one moment in the sun this year after sitting four years behind Ryan Quigley.

OUTLOOK

This is really the year we find out if Boston College can contend under Frank Spaziani.  Most teams would truly envy the kind of stability and experience BC has on offense right now.  At least on the field; they've gone through offensive coordinators like Henry VIII and his wives.  The lack of continuity in game-planning and schemes may hurt the Eagles.  Either that or the players are just not that good, another distinct possibility.

Even with the OC merry-go-round, the on-field continuity on offense takes away a lot of Spaziani's excuses.  On defense, there's some replacing to do, but not really any more than most teams.  So this year has to be a final referendum on Spaz's ability to contend in Chestnut Hill.  This is the profile of a bowl team, except for one thing: for the most part, these players have never accomplished that outside of a couple trips to San Francisco to play in the Nobody Gives A Damn Bowl at the bottom of the ACC's bowl hierarchy.  The continuity and the linebackers are big assets; the lack of any major-league playmakers is an obstacle.  BC could go bowling this year, but they'd have to pull off a surprise or two to do it, and they face a real uphill battle to improve their standing beyond perennial Hunger Bowl participants.

Friday, July 27, 2012

questions at camp for the defense

Continuing the series from yesterday with the camp issues for the defense.

1. Can Eli Harold be a terror on the edge?

The least proven ability on the entire defense is pass-rushing.  Your starting defensive ends are Billy Schautz and Jake Snyder.  Schautz has an outstanding head for football, but isn't athletic enough to speed-rush the quarterback, or powerful enough to bull-rush.  When he gets by his man, it's through technique and footwork.  Snyder is a big, strong-side run stopper, whose job is to hold the edge, and his backup, Brent Urban, is the same.

Mike London moved Ausar Walcott down from linebacker - for real this time, not as a wake-up call after offseason foolishness - in an effort to provide some speed-rush for pressuring the QB.  But not one of these DEs has the raw athletic freakishness of top recruit Eli Harold.  Harold will get a chance right off the bat to make his presence felt in the backfield.  And truthfully, if he isn't yet up to the chore, this season's pass rush will be inconsistent and not terribly productive.

2.  Is Steve Greer the real deal?

Greer was one of two Hoos named to the preseason all-ACC team.  He's not very big and not very fast, but he's developed into a crucial player - captain on the defense, unquestioned leader, and team tackling champ for two of his three years on the field.  And probably this year, too.  He's always been able to work quietly in the background, though, or at least, as much as you can do that at middle linebacker.  Being named one of the top three linebackers in the league is a high honor, but it means teams are gonna be gameplanning for him.  He'll have a lot on his plate no longer being backed up by senior safeties, and UVA's defense is going to go as he goes.  That's likely to be great news.

3.  Do the defensive backs know what's about to hit them?

Folks had complaints about the play of our defensive backfield at times last year, but they still were mostly seniors, and the plaudits for Chase Minnifield outweighed any complaints about safeties sometimes giving up big plays.

As veteran as that group was, though, this group is greener.  Let's put it this way: Tre Nicholson is a true sophomore and has six times as many starts as every other defensive back on the roster combined - which is because the only other player to have started a game is Rijo Walker, with two.  The other safety, Anthony Harris, is as green as they come.

At cornerback, it looks like a three-man rotation (a familiar setup - you'll remember how much time Dom Joseph saw despite not technically being a starter) with Nicholson as the veteran leader and Drequan Hoskey and Brandon Phelps rotating.  Hoskey - for now - has a leg up.  There's a ton of talent in the cornerback group, but barely enough experience to fill a paper bag.

And if that weren't enough, it seems a near certainty that a true freshman will be forced onto the field, and it's anyone's guess who that might be.  Defensive back might be the position that draws the most scrutiny in the whole camp.

4.  Am I right about Chris Brathwaite?

I've long felt that Brathwaite is a sleeper talent in the truest sense of the word.  I hate when people use the word "sleeper" or "diamond in the rough" because usually they do it wrong, but Brathwaite is the type the terms are meant for.  And this is a possible breakout year for the big, strong DT from New York.  Brathwaite is poised to leapfrog Justin Renfrow on the depth chart and earn a starting role alongside Will Hill, which is really great because I think there comes a time when Brathwaite is seen stepping on some right guard's face on the way to eating his quarterback as a light tea-time snack.  Practically every time Brathwaite has been mentioned on this blog in the past it's accompanied by effusive praise for his future prospects, and now that he's getting first-team reps, I'm excited to find out if this praise is well-placed.

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Get excited yo: next week I kick off the ACC previews.  As always, FOV readers will be the best-informed UVA fans on the competition.  Can't get this stuff anywhere else, and you will be able to talk intelligently about the rest of the ACC and where the Hoos fit into the pecking order.

Oh, and finally, speaking of kickoffs, as the Olympics begin their two-week run tonight, check out the list of UVA athletes participating in the Games in London, as put together by Streaking the Lawn.  Included are no fewer than three former Cavalier of the Year nominees as well; there's a reason that award exists.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

questions at camp for the offense

And so it begins.  Today and tomorrow, we look at the questions that need answering in fall camp, which is right around the calendar's corner.  Yes, it's the official start of football season as far as FOV is concerned.  After this weekend, there are four weeks that'll be filled with previews of the eleven other ACC teams (holy crap, I just realized - I don't always time these very well and sometimes find myself rushing to get these done by the time I've reached Miami, and next year it gets even harder) as well as a pair of posts dedicated to our OOC opponents.  This year, that's Richmond, Penn State, TCU, and Louisiana Tech.  Man, that PSU one is gonna be weird.

After those four weeks, believe it or not, it'll be Game Week, and thus, the fall football rhythm begins.  That week will contain the honest-to-goodness UVA season preview, split into offense and defense just as these are here.  It'll be later than everyone else's previews, but damn if it won't be worth it.

For now, we have a look at fall camp's most pressing questions.  These are the ones you hope to see an answer to in the next month.....and often don't get one.  (You know it's a good question if you have to wait til October to find out the answer for sure.)  Today, the offense, and tomorrow, the defense.

Also, the depth chart is updated for your perusal and referral, with presumptive starters and backups listed, at least to some extent.

1.  Who's going to play quarterback?

siiiiiiiiiggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh

I was really looking forward to a camp without this question.  Don't get me wrong: it's a lot of fun, adding a potential talent like Phillip Sims.  At least this year, it's a win-win question.  Mike Rocco played well enough last year that if Sims beats him out, you know Sims is the real deal.  And Sims has enough raw talent on display that if Rocco keeps the job, you know he's only going to build on his successes in the second half of last year.

It's just that quarterback battles are wearisome.  But then, even the most worn-out cynic can't fail to appreciate the exciting potential of finally having a real star under center again, such as hasn't been the case for a decade.

The other point is this: there are competitions and then there are competitions.  Last year's was the latter.  This year, the coaching staff says "competition" but I also expect that there'll be first-team reps and second-team reps and so on, and initially at least, Rocco will be running with the first team.  He's earned that.  He has the knowledge, the savvy, and the experience.  He's going into his junior year, where quarterbacks tend to make their biggest leap.  And yet there won't be a UVA fan anywhere who isn't going to have their eye on Sims's progress.

2.  Is this the year Tim Smith puts it all together?

Smith has tantalized with his potential so far, but he's also never had the pressure of being the #1 guy.  Never had to go against the other team's Thorpe Award candidate cornerback.  He was OK in 2009 when the team was miserably bad, hurt in 2010, and reasonably productive last year.  "Reasonably productive" isn't going to cut it anymore; Smith is the senior man of the wide receiver corps, and will be expected to have a big season.

3.  Are we going to have center issues?

Anthony Mihota was a very pleasant surprise, and his play and health turned a potential disaster zone into a strength after backup center Mike Price was kicked off the team in January of 2011 for actin' a fool in Harrisonburg.  Mihota and his steadying influence have graduated, though, leaving behind nothing resembling an heir apparent.  Matt Mihalik worked out at center in the spring, and was apparently pretty underwhelming; Mike London has talked about starting Luke Bowanko there instead.

Ross Burbank is apparently being groomed for the position eventually, but he's a redshirt freshman and center is a very, very demanding position.  It requires leadership, and is the foundation of your run-blocking.  Burbank isn't ready.  Mihalik is a fifth-year senior, but he was very lightly recruited out of high school and his career has reflected that; the vast majority of his snaps have been on field-goal and extra-point blocking.  Mihalik will likely begin the year as a starter, but whether it's at center or guard is the question.  Bowanko seems like the probable center, and the real butterflies come when you realize neither he nor Mihalik have any game experience there.  Hopefully someone steps up with a Mihota-like year, and truth be told I hope it's Bowanko, who can also play next year and help assure a smoother transition to Burbank in the future.

4.  Is David Watford going to redshirt?

I guess we can't technically find out the answer to this question til the end of the year, but we should have a pretty good idea by the end of camp.

I put this question here, though, not because I care.  I put it here because a lot of people do; I really don't think it makes a difference.  It's not because I don't think Watford has what it takes to start; given the time and development, he probably could.  I won't be terribly uneasy if he's forced to play this year.  That said - he's probably already been passed over.  Sims will be here until 2014; if Watford redshirts, he'll stay until 2015, and could theoretically be the starter that year, but he'd have to fend off Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns, both of whom have a world of potential and will likely be redshirt juniors in 2015 and chomping at the bit for their chance.

But.....fall camp this year should do a pretty good job of sorting out quarterbacks, and Watford may just find a way on the field.  But the truth is, it's Watford and not Mike Rocco that Sims's arrival has the most effect on.

5.  Is this the year UVA returns to being Tight End U?

The short answer is "probably not" and our de-emphasis of the tight end under London and Bill Lazor has probably hurt recruiting at that position.  Lord knows we tried for some big ones this year and didn't get 'em.  Recruited as a tight end, Zach Swanson has moved to fullback, which is probably more of an H-back deal, and both he and LoVante' Battle will probably catch a pass or two out of the backfield.  Perry Jones is a big pass-catching threat (metaphorically speaking.)  The receiver has returned as a position after appearing only occasionally under Groh; Tim Smith, the Wondertwins, E.J. Scott, and others, are all expected to vie for catches.

That doesn't leave much for the tight ends.  Colter Phillips and Paul Freedman are more on the blocking end of the spectrum, especially Freedman who checks in at 260 pounds.  Jeremiah Mathis is a red-zone guy.  If anyone is going to breathe life into the pass-catching hopes of tight ends, it falls to Jake McGee, who has drawn some pretty nice reviews for his offseason work.  Recruited as a 210-pound quarterback (who everyone assumed would end up at TE), he now looks the part of a tight end, having added 25 pounds.  But only 25 pounds - he's quite a bit lighter than the other tight ends, and if he goes in the game it's not going to be to block.  We'll see if Lazor has anything up his sleeve for tight ends this year.

***************************************

Tomorrow - the defense.  Topics will include but not be limited to Eli Harold, Steve Greer, and Brandon Phelps.  Bring your readin' eyes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

2012 baseball recruiting, part 3

So I've let this series drag on a bit, but here is the final third of the incoming baseball recruiting class.  Best part: it's completely intact, at least as far as MLB is concerned.  Not a single one of our players was even drafted, a statistic that gets an assist from Nathan Kirby's voluntary withdrawal.  Early returns on the new draft slotting system and earlier deadline are a big positive for college baseball.

David Rosenberger - LHP
Allentown Central Catholic HS (PA)
Undrafted

You always love those players for whom UVA is the dream school.  David Rosenberger attended a camp at UVA four years ago - before his freshman year in high school - and wanted to be a Hoo ever since.  A southpaw, Rosenberger capped his high school career by being named all-state in Pennsylvania.

A well-deserved honor: he struck out nearly two batters per inning (96 Ks in 56 IP) and set a personal best as a junior by striking out 19 in one game.  A tendinitis-shortened junior year saw him strike out 70 in 34 innings(!) and rack up a 0.80 ERA; he topped that his senior year with an ERA of 0.50.  Rosenberger isn't a hard thrower; his fastball "touches 89" which means it's really in the 85-86 range, but Perfect Game rates him highly and speaks well of his change-up and curve, noting that he maintains his arm speed well (essential for a good change) and that his "fastball has life."  (It had better, if it only sits 85.)

As a lefty who doesn't light up the radar gun, Rosenberger will probably be saddled with the "crafty" label at some point.  I'm torn on whether his future is the rotation or the bullpen; it can be tough for a guy without really overpowering stuff to last two or three times through the order.  Then again, he probably has pretty good stuff if he can strike out 19 in a game and average two per inning.  Even in high school that is something.  And Whit Mayberry doesn't have a wicked-ass fastball either, but he knows like hell how to locate.  I could see Rosenberger fitting into any number of roles from Saturday or Sunday starter to closer, and doing them well.

Josh Sborz - RHP
McLean HS (VA)
Undrafted

You know I'm gonna brag on my Tigers during baseball season, and here is another prospect with a Tigers connection; Josh Sborz's older brother Jay was a hotshot prospect in the Tigers' system for a while.  I won't tell you about the part where he appeared in one major league game and left baseball with a 67.50 ERA.

Very little chance of that happening to Josh at Virginia.  Sborz was the Virginia Group AAA Player of the Year - yes, beating out Nathan Kirby - as he's a dangerous two-way player.  Sborz throws a 90+ fastball and has two excellent off-speed pitches, and at the plate, has homered 20 times in his career.  Sborz is a big, big guy, standing 6'4", and plays first base when not pitching.

Jared King will be a tough one to knock off his first base perch, as he's a strong hitter and sterling fielder, but Sborz will be in the mix for that role as soon as 2013, and of course, he's one of the top moundsman prospects in the class.  He and Kirby make up the top two in that regard.  Sborz could push for a spot in the rotation this coming spring, and might get one of those early-season midweek starts that the coaches like to use to evaluate their arms.  By 2013 and 2014, he and Kirby could be the next Danny Hultzen-Tyler Wilson combo on Fridays and Saturdays.  Not to peg expectations too high.

Cameron Tekker - RHP
Cuthbertson HS (NC)
Undrafted

Tekker won't have a lot of adjustment to do in getting to college, at least in one respect.  The other neat thing about him: he might be the hardest thrower in the class, with a fastball that reaches 93.  Tekker is a tall (6'3") well-built right-hander, and might have something to say about pre-ordaining Josh Sborz as the second part of any 1-2 punches.

Tekker is also a versatile player; he's a good hitter with a little pop, and plays the outfield, and was used both as a starter and in relief for his high school team.  His future is almost certainly as a pitcher, though.  His ERA this season: a sparkling 0.39, and he recorded a few saves along the way to go with his wins as a starter.  There's a good chance he makes his way sooner or later to the starting rotation at UVA, but he also has the mentality to come in from the pen whether in long relief or as the closer and slam the door.  The only thing: he'll need education on the ironclad rule about keeping your trap shut when a no-hitter is in progress.

Brandon Waddell - LHP
Clear Lake HS (TX)
Undrafted

I always hate to give anyone the short shrift, but it happens every year; Waddell is the guy in this class where there isn't much out there on him.  He's a soft-tossing lefty whose fastball tops out at 85, and he did make all-district in the Houston area - as a first baseman.  That said, his bat likely is not college-caliber, and it's as a pitcher where he'll make his bread.  But he's a dead-certain lock for the bullpen, and has an uphill battle.  He's got a good slider but a "mostly straight" fastball (Perfect Game's assessment) and is probably a future LOOGY or one-inning specialist.

Scott Williams - C
Conestoga HS (PA)
Undrafted

Here's a guy who's been to the top and bottom already.  Williams won a state championship with his Conestoga team last spring as a junior - and then missed his whole senior year with an injury.  It's not even a guarantee he'll be in playing shape for the fall.

However, when healthy, he's an excellent hitter and very good defensive catcher.  He and Robbie Coman will eventually have a pretty good battle for the second spot behind Nate Irving, and catcher is a place where the #2 guy will always see some playing time.  Williams is probably the superior defensive catcher, with a pop time (glove to glove on a stolen-base attempt) of 1.88, outstanding for a high school junior.  He has probably a slight edge with the bat, but Coman comes to us from Florida where the competition is stronger.

Regardless of how the competition turns out, though, it's great that we're having one.  You have to admit, as thoroughly awesome as Keith Werman is, it's not ideal to have your neutron-sized second baseman as your backup catcher.  Between Coman and Williams we're sure to have a solid option on days when Irving is getting a rest, and both of these catching prospects have enough potential that they can ensure Irving doesn't get too comfortable in the starting job.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

the recruit: Tim Harris

Name: Tim Harris
Position: CB/S
Hometown: Richmond
School: Varina
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 185

24/7: 94; four stars; #11 S; VA #6; US #115
ESPN: 80; four stars; #31 CB; VA #17; Atlantic #59
Rivals: 5.8; four stars; #11 CB; VA #11; US #161
Scout: four stars; #24 S; US #299

Other offers: Michigan, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, California, Syracuse, Rutgers, Mississippi

Tim Harris is the embodiment of the new age of UVA recruiting under Mike London, and of the reason Hokie fans don't like what they see in the crystal ball.  It was pretty rare, under Al Groh, to have an instate recruit be one of those guys where everyone else shrugs and says "if he hasn't already announced he's going to UVA, he will eventually."  We used to take it as a fact of life that some guys were Hokies and we just wouldn't be able to change that, and we'd just work for the rest.  Now there are guys like Tim Harris where no amount of Hokie recruiting is likely to flip him away from UVA.

A couple VT fans, by the way, expressed their frustration at this development by tweeting nasty things at Harris.  That didn't used to happen, either, and don't be a smartass it's not just because Twitter is a new thing.....it's not that new a thing, and Facebook-stalking is older yet.  What's new is the idea of a high-profile recruit being solid with UVA basically before the recruiting cycle even begins.

When Harris dropped the other shoe and made his commitment official, he became the first truly highly-touted recruit of the class, and the first instate one as well.  Helping Harris's decision along was the fact that he hails from a mini-pipeline school (Varina) where UVA snagged two commitments last year (Maurice Canady and Tyrell Chavis) and also has wide receiver Bobby Smith.  Harris closed his recruitment relatively early, so he didn't get the full list of offers that he might've if he'd sent more I'm-wide-open vibes, but interest from Michigan and Ohio State was legit, and highlights the type of interest he might've gotten had he not otherwise been such a UVA lean.

On the field, Harris is an athletic and versatile player.  He doesn't bring freak athleticism to the table, and he's lanky and kinda skinny for now - another 15 pounds would easily fit on his frame.  But he comes in with the ability to play both safety and corner, and could be like Rodney McLeod, moving back and forth as necessary.  (Though it seemed clear even when McLeod was at corner, that he'd be a more natural safety.)  "Smooth" is a word used by both Rivals and ESPN to describe his skills, as is "well-rounded."  Rivals says he "does everything well and nothing great," and gives the impression of a cornerback that might go entire games without making a blip on the radar screen.....and forcing his assigned receiver to do the same.

ESPN, on the other hand, also evaluates him as a cornerback, but almost the whole damn thing reads like exactly what you want out of a safety.  Harris's "traits": zone coverage, run support, instinct.  They like his "ability to make plays sideline-to-sideline on run support and cover a lot of ground in coverage," and they have a lot of praise for his ability to play in a zone - timing his breaks, very good tackling, effective in deep coverage.  This is all the kind of stuff you want your free safeties to do.  24/7 and Scout also peg him as a safety.

So I think the coaches will make a decision for themselves when Harris gets to school.  The scouting services are pretty divergent on whether he's one of the top players in the country or not - Rivals and 24/7 have him in or just outside the top 150, but ESPN has him outside their top 300 and Scout is close - 299th.  They all agree, though, that he's a four-star type and highly likely to succeed in college.

Which brings us to the question - how quickly?  As a cornerback, Harris would come in and most likely see the top three spots occupied for two years.  At least, that's our ideal scenario.  Tre Nicholson is a star in the making, and Brandon Phelps and Drequan Hoskey are locked in a tight battle for the other starting spot, and truth be told both will get heavy playing time this year.  All are sophomores.  Harris is capable of leapfrogging this year's entire freshman cornerback class, which right now constitutes five players, but it would still probably be not until his junior or redshirt sophomore year that he sees major playing time.

At safety, the path is a little faster, as prospective starter Rijo Walker is a junior this year.  I think Harris, if he goes this route, projects as a free safety, which is where Walker plays.  There's a lot less star power on the depth chart at safety, too.  Harris could get playing time as a true freshman here, if he shows well in fall camp, and could even be a starter by his second year in the program.**

I sort of doubt Harris has "college superstar" in his future.  Maybe I'm being biased by the "everything well, nothing great" line, but neither is Harris a superstar recruit like, say, Kendall Fuller.  (Ugh.)  But my impression is he's the kind of talent that's the foundation of a really good program.  The Alabamas and Michigans and USCs are as good as they are because they have Tim Harrises on a conveyor belt.  One graduates, another shows up, and they move on as before.  It's very likely he's a multi-year starter at whichever position he ends up at (and I'm more and more inclined to believe it'll be safety) and should have a shot at some all-ACC honors.  He doesn't seem the type to top the charts when interceptions are tallied, but he could start for three years and you'd never hear his name, which in itself is a huge plus for a defensive back.

**Lets hope so, because Anthony Harris is the presumptive starter at strong safety and a defensive backfield of Harris and Harris is a neat idea.

Monday, July 23, 2012

recruiting board update and a surprise

So nothing earthshattering really happened over my break, which I can say with a straight face because I'm not a Penn State fan.  (More on that in a bit.)  We did have the expected Pitt announcement - sooner than I thought, but still totally expected.  So without a load of news to get off my plate, it's time for the first recruiting board update in a while.  Like a month, actually.  Here goes....

-- Added S Malcolm Cook to orange.  OK, so something did sorta happen while I was gone.  Cook was a camp offer this weekend and supposedly has eye-popping measurables.  He plays for FUMA, but the high-school team, not the post-grad one where non-qualifiers go.

-- Added TE Max Valles and DT Tyrell Chavis to orange.  If you feel like you've heard these names somewhere, congratulate yourself on having a long-term memory.  Chavis and Valles will be FUMA-shirting and entering with this class.  That's why there's been that one blank line at the top all year - I always leave a space for the inevitable prep candidates.

-- Moved DT Tevin Montgomery from green to blue.  Montgomery has a top five, but I think we're ahead of at least two of them, possibly more.  It helps we have his buddy Jack McDonald, who's not gonna let Montgomery go to Not UVA if he can help it.

-- Removed LB Doug Randolph from green.  I think that one's about over, and even if he doesn't pass Stanford admissions, we'll be full by the time that answer comes back - hopefully, because it'd mean two certain other very big instate commits.

-- Removed TE Kyle Chung, LB Reggie McGee, and DE Shaun McGee from yellow.  Chung went to VT, where he is a legacy, Reggie McGee to Houston, and Shaun McGee to UGA.

-- Removed DE Dajaun Drennon from red, who recently committed to UNC.

I should probably just go ahead and remove the whole red section and half the remaining yellow, since space is getting squeezy-tight, but we might as well keep this going until the class actually fills up.  I'll probably shut down the board when the recruitments of the blue and green section are resolved, though.

OK.  Penn State.  It's one of those constitutionally-mandated topics.

Unless you've been living under a boulder which is under a mountain, you know the NCAA finally got rid of the Punishment Hammer that it used to deal with Ohio State.....

...and upgraded to a different model for Penn State:


This new one is much faster, too.  Had the NCAA used its normal procedure, we wouldn't have found out about this stuff til next year at this time.  (This, by the way, has led to whining that the NCAA sabotaged its own credibility with the process it's gone through to get here.  Nonsense - how can anyone complain the NCAA moves too slowly and brings too light of a punishment to the table and then make this complaint too?  If they're going to change their obnoxiously slow ways, they have to start somewhere.)

I think the PSU punishment is fair.  I'd've been OK with anything that wasn't the death penalty or removal from the Big Ten.  There's a lot that depends on the Big Ten research money - hospitals and the like - that would've suffered.  And the death penalty would take away an important choice for the players in the program, who clearly did not sign up for this.  The way it is now, they can choose to stay or they can go.  I think that's fair.  To sum up the sanctions:

-- No bowl or B1GCG for four years, and no bowl money either.

-- $12 million per year for five years in fines, adding up to $60 million.  Altogether this is going to cost Penn State about $75 million, not counting lost donations.

-- Wins back to 1998 vacated.  1998.  That must be what they meant by "unprecedented."  It really rewrites the record books.  Yes, it means Bobby Bowden is your wins leader now and forevermore, and no I'm not happy about it because if there's one person obsessed with Bobby Bowden's legacy, it's Bobby Bowden, and he cheated and slimed his way to that record and threw a hissy fit when some of his own wins were vacated.  And he basically showed his ass on that one, complaining about the impact on the coaches and ignoring the players when that penalty was announced.  No, Bowden never sheltered a child rapist, but he had no problem at all looking the other way when he learned his players were cheating on tests and stealing shoes - I'm not actually convinced he wouldn't have done the same at Penn State.

-- Loss of ten scholarships this year and then twenty each the next three years.  In other words, PSU will operate at a limit of 75 this year (instead of 85) and then 65 in 2013, 2014, and 2015.  Basically they will be a I-AA team trying to compete in I-A.

-- Loss of ten scholarships from the yearly limit: 15 per year instead of 25, starting in 2013 and running until the 2016 recruiting class.  15 times four is 60 - they can't even get to their 65 limit that way.  It'll be even worse if they get slammed with transfers, because.....

-- Any PSU football player that wants to leave may do so without sitting out a season.  That's standard.  What's not standard is that tampering rules have been thrown out the window - teams can freely contact PSU players with only a requirement to notify the PSU coaches, and the PSU coaches can do nothing about it.  Plus, if you're already at the 85 limit this year?  No biggie!  You can take a player and go over your limit - you just have to give that schollie back next year.  (In other words, let's say you take a Penn State transfer and carry 86 players on scholarship this year.  You can only carry 84 scholarships in 2013, so you'd better manage your recruiting class.)  Any player currently on the roster may transfer at any time - he doesn't have to make up his mind for this year, he can use his Get Out Of Jail Free card now or two years from now.

So - impact on UVA?  Remains to be seen.  I don't think this year's game against them will look all that different, but it depends on who transfers.  Ask again in a month.  As for next year's game in Happy Valley, we'll be going against a severely decimated squad and if we're any good of a team, as we should be, it could be a romp.

Recruiting-wise, I think Penn State will still have some pull inside the state borders.  It's outside the state they're going to bomb out.  We probably recruit against Penn State more than against any other school except for VT.  Most good players we recruit out of Maryland, New Jersey, the Northeast, all have Penn State offers.  I count at least 23 players in the 2012 class that had offers from both us and PSU, three of which went to UVA and three of which went to PSU.  I could be missing some.  We will benefit for sure in not going against them.  As will a lot of surrounding schools - Rutgers, Maryland, OSU, Michigan, VT, BC, WVU, and, of course, new ACC members Cuse and Pitt.

As for their roster, could we poach it?  People have been pointing at Brent Wilkerson as a possibility.  I won't rule it out, but look - it's very unlikely we take any Penn State refugees.  Barring any further attrition - unlikely at this late stage - we're at 83 schollies this year.  That would make it appear we have room, but we have 12 departing seniors, 18 known incoming freshmen, and probably three or four more than that since certain players named Taquan Mizzell and Wyatt Teller have seats saved for them.  So it's gonna be hard to find room on the bus.  Yes, we could possibly go over the limit in 2013 to include a PSU refugee, but not a PSU refugee and the regular incoming freshmen.  Maybe there's a senior who wants to leave, but seniors are probably the least likely to do so.

I'll end with this suggestion: there's a chance, which is small but greater than zero, that Penn State is forced to make the decision to shut their program down for a year.  SMU, remember, only got a year's death sentence from the NCAA - the second year was their own idea, feeling it would've been wrong to send a team of totally untested freshmen out against the monsters of the old SWC.  If PSU can hang around the 65 limit, they'll probably field a team.  But nobody knows how many transfers there'll be, and they can't replenish their team very quickly with only 15 signings a year (and who knows if the waters are so poisoned they can't even reach that number?)  If they find themselves with maybe 55, or 50, or even 45 scholarship players, they might have a hard time justifying trying to compete against the Ohio States and Michigans and Wisconsins of the world.  Don't be completely surprised if this turns into the death penalty in a couple years anyway.  There's a reason they said this was worse than an NCAA-imposed shutdown.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

weekend review, sort of

A few topics of discussion before I hit up my summer sabbatical.....

-- Syracuse.  Will officially be an ACC member on July 1 next year.  It's really weird that they and Pitt didn't, like, coordinate their efforts and carpool over; Pitt still has this lawsuit going on and Cuse managed to just negotiate their way out.  Still, here's betting it'll be announced within a month or two that Pitt has also reached an "amicable" agreement for departure and ACC membership on July 1.  And the Biggish Eastish will once again announce they've never been more excited about the future of the conference despite the fact we basically just burned their house down.

Seriously, it's actually pretty impressive that the ACC managed to, piece by piece, force an effective merger of the two conferences under the ACC banner.  It's like if an airline basically merged with another by buying all its planes and hiring all its workers and the pillaged airline replaced all the planes with Spruce Goose replicas and then declared how excited they were about their future.  Right.

Anyway, with this news, there are lots of interesting things left to be worked out by the ACC.  They've made (publicly) exactly two of those decisions: how to split the divisions, and how to set up the basketball schedule.  They haven't announced how the nine-game football schedule will rotate.  They also need to figure out things like:

- how to set up the lacrosse tournament.  Likely: seeds 4 and 5 play in.

- how to set up the baseball schedule.  An odd number of teams will make it interesting, as Syracuse has no baseball team.  And are they going to keep these stupid divisions?

- what the logo will look like.  OK, that's probably not that hard, they'll just add two more stars on the map.  What I'm actually interested in is what they'll do if they can convince Notre Dame to join.  It wouldn't fit on the map and is probably somewhere on the L in Atlantic.

- how to set up the basketball tournament.  The easy way is to take away the byes for all but the 1 and 2 seeds.  It doesn't preclude them from getting creative.

So it should be an interesting year; the last in a 12-team ACC.

-- Hokies.  Good Lord.  A lot of this stuff I'm about to reference got deleted from Hokie message boards because some of them got to realizing what nincompoops they looked like on all this.  It started, more or less, with some Hokies getting it into their heads that a certain football camp in Tidewater was "steering" its players to UVA over Tech.  There being nothing really wrong with that even if true, and VT having certainly been the beneficiary of "steering" in the past, nefarious claims of street agents and a shadowy "Godfather" were tacked on so as to make this thing worthy of the NCAA hammer.  Calls to investigate went out.  Wouldn't you believe it, someone did.  The looney-bird Hokies were not happy with the results, but they started to sound like the conspiracy-addled moonbats who think the Apollo missions took place on a soundstage.  "You didn't ask the hard questions!"  "I did.  The answer was no."  "Then you didn't ask them hard enough!"

And then we get to the part that makes you do a spit-take once you actually pay attention to the words.  Hokie logic says:

"Andy..Most of the players that participate with them guys all transfer to other schools once they get with them.[ed. meaning high schools; that is, players supposedly go to this camp and are encouraged to switch high schools] This is worst then the Penn State Scandal. A cover up!"


Stunning lack of perspective has been achieved.

With Hokie fans attacking the credibility of the coaches in the 757 area, it's already coming to pass that the players are taking notice.  Again from that article's comment section, the money quote:


Im a athlete for sports academy and yall sound rediculous these coachs have coached us since kids.. Wolfpack all dat we are a family from all schools all they want is to see us benefit somewhere safe and we can call home.. Never has coach lele or lex or dave ever asked any of us for anything but our time and effort.. They spend their time and money to. See us benefit some of us cant afford to go to. Vtech or uva every week but we as a brotherhood look out for eachother as brothers.. We are all over the 757 all of the best athletes.. All we want is to be football players why do our coachs get blamed for helping us called cheaters.. Its not vtech time any more the program at uva is changing no reason why vtech is mad they shud be uva is honest.. With there players uva is grimey they took away nthony cooper and kyle dockins and others offers and blasted them on the internet saying they never got it.. Call it what u want but its us that decide not to go to vt not out coachs vt is not for us


Cutting through the typos and text-message-style writing common to high schoolers** you get a few insights.  As in, it's not just UVA fans cracking jokes about Tech pulling their offer when it looks like a kid is going to UVA instead.  The players are seeing that stuff.  "VT is not for us" should have been a wake-up call to any Hokie reading it; instead, yet another maroon-sporting numbnuts thought it would be a bright idea to respond to that post with more trash talk.  Hilarious.

**The really important passage from the player's post is probably also the most confusing; it should read like this: "UVA is honest with their players.  VT is grimy, they took away Anthony Cooper's and Kyle Dockins's and others' offers and blasted them on the Internet saying they never got it."

-- Some interesting offseason basketball stuff, from the people who call themselves experts.  ESPN offered a best-case-worst-case analysis of the ACC, and what they say should be, believe it or not, heartening.  Because for UVA, there isn't much difference between best and worst.  Best: "back in the NCAA tournament."  Worst: "on the bubble in the first two weeks of March."  So, like, with a chance to make the tournament anyway.  And Jay Bias (uh, Bilas) has UVA 5th in the ACC in the offseason power rankings, for what that's worth.  I think it's worth something, as UVA tends to be either underrated or ignored by ESPN.  "Underrated" is one thing, but "ignored" tends to have a bad effect on recruiting.  Not being either brings attention, which means publicity, which tends to have a way of building on itself.

-- Reminder that today is the last post until next Monday.  It's too friggin' hot to post, anyway.  If I wanted my thermometer to nudge past 100 I'd move to the desert.  I'm never moving to the desert.

Monday, July 16, 2012

2011-2012 Cavaliers of the Year

That's no typo.  During the course of voting, I got a little concerned about ballot-stuffing.  I don't really mind a campaign to stuff the ballot box, mind you - it's happened before.  I'm more worried about one person sitting there and racking up votes, and I thought there was a chance that it'd happened.

Fortunately, I'm reasonably satisfied that it's not actually possible to do that.  What did likely happen was a Facebook campaign.  No worries then.  The people have spoken, and the ballot box winner is something of a surprise, and the first female winner of the FOV COY Award: Morgan Brian.

That's her, doing Virginia proud indeed by scoring a pinpoint free kick goal at the women's U-20 CONCACAF championships against Mexico; the US would go on to win the tournament and take the gold, and Brian will be among those representing the US at the U-20 Women's World Cup in Japan next month.  Outstanding.  You can't ask for much more than that from a Cavalier of the Year.

It's my award, though, and I can bend the rules a little.  This is not to take away anything from Morgan Brian: she's the vote winner, and I don't nominate anyone for the award who isn't a deserving winner of the award.  That said, the vote tally shows two runaways from the pack, in a way that didn't happen in previous years.  And I like to think as a UVA blogger I have my finger at least a little bit on the pulse of UVA fans, and for the regular readership and indeed, UVA fans in general, there's really only one who captured everyone's imagination in a truly unique way:


With apologies to the man himself for ripping it off his Twitter feed.  It does a Hoo proud that for once, we're right when we see the brilliance that most others miss.  Well, us and the talent evaluators that matter.  Mike Scott is getting his shot in the NBA, drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Hawks, and I for one will be surprised if there isn't room in the League for a body-banging power forward that can outmuscle you for the rebound and then soft-touch a jumper when you don't respect he can do it.

So there you are: Co-Cavaliers of the Year, Morgan Brian and Mike Scott.  For posterity, here is the voting tally:

Morgan Brian: 107
Mike Scott: 99
Steele Stanwick: 14
Keith Werman: 6
Chase Minnifield: 4
Briggy Imbriglia: 3
Meredith Cavalier, Sidney Thorston: 2
Brittany Altomare, Jarmere Jenkins, Josie Owen, Matt Snyder: 1
Will Bates: 0

Congrats to the two champions.  Another fine season is finally in the books, and honestly, I'm already kind of excited in wondering who'll be next year's nominees.

*******************************************************

Some scheduling notes: Tomorrow there'll be a belated weekend review, in which we'll discuss Syracuse, Hokies off the deep end, and other fascinating topics.  That'll be it for posting this week, as I'll be taking my yearly summer sabbatical.  You can always tell when that is on your own; it coincides with this.  The only reason I'm not sabbaticaling right now is because my internship made it too tough to participate this year, but otherwise I don't miss that for nuthin.  And either way I need a summer break.  I'll spend part of it this year putting together the August previews, or at least, that's what I'm telling myself.  So one more post tomorrow, then back next Monday.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

2012 baseball recruiting, part 2

We continue the series profiling the incoming freshman baseball class with a name that's familiar even to casual fans of the team.....

Nathan Kirby - LHP
James River HS (VA)
Undrafted - ineligible

There hasn't been this much hype around a UVA pitching prospect since Branden Kline, some three years ago.  Give Brian O'Connor credit: he not only knows how to find pitching aces, he knows how to find pitching aces with what MLB scouts call "signability issues" and what UVA fans call "keep your goddam hands off our prospects thank you very much."

As a left-hander, though, Kirby will probably draw his comparisons to Danny Hultzen.  That's immediately unfair, as Hultzen is the best ballplayer to ever suit up in Charlottesville, but Kirby was projected to go as high as the first round of the draft; he's not gonna be able to avoid expectations.  Despite that, Kirby was dead set on going to college; he went so far as to refuse to submit to the MLB drug testing and medical examination requirements, thus making him not only unsignable, but ineligible.

Kirby brings a fastball that sits 90-91 mph and can touch 93; you'd expect that a college strength and conditioning program will bring that heat up to a consistent 93 by the time he's a junior.  He's got a plus curve and is developing a change-up; this latter pitch will be the difference between a good pitcher that can turn in six solid innings, and a great one that makes you giggle like a schoolgirl as a parade of helpless souls trudges back to the dugout.  Once Hultzen had developed that change piece and really learned to command it, he liked to pitch exclusively fastball-curve the first time through the batting order and then unleash the changeup the second time through.  It made fools out of people.  Expect similar tactics from Kirby.  He told the Times-Dispatch that he "can't wait to be at the bottom of the food chain again," a high schooler's way of saying he's looking forward to honing his skills under the tutelage of college coaches; if things go as they should, though, he'll be the apex predator in no time.

Joe McCarthy - OF
Scranton HS (PA)
Undrafted

Joe McCarthy is not the first baseball man to share his name with an infamous senator, which makes him this year's winner of the Hard To Google Award.  Haven't had this much trouble looking up a player since we had a player in the 2010 class named David Mixon (who never made it to UVA); there happened to be a minor-leaguer of the same name, and Mixon attended a high school called Prairie, which was totally unhelpful.

Let's hope McCarthy doesn't end up the same way; this is a guy with unholy athleticism.  Standing 6'3" and 230 pounds, McCarthy was a power forward in basketball, a running back and quarterback in football, and a .500 hitter in baseball.  This kid was practically Scranton's entire athletic program.  Two years ago, as a sophomore in hoops season, he was an "unassuming role player" who came into the starting lineup cold and scored 10 and blocked three shots in a district tournament game.

But McCarthy isn't coming to play for Tony Bennett.  Later that sophomore year, when baseball season rolled around, McCarthy batted over .600.  He's also a standout pitcher, with a 1.65 ERA his senior year, although he's coming to UVA to hit.  He can certainly do that: McCarthy has always hit for an outstanding average, and has good power in his swing.  He probably won't crack the lineup immediately, as there is some established talent ahead of him in the outfield, but as a left-handed bat it wouldn't surprise me to see him get some pinch-hitting chances early on.  Not a stretch at all to envision him growing into a role as the season wears on, similar to how Brandon Cogswell did, and has "starter" written into his future at some point.

Trey Oest - RHP
Durant HS (FL)
Undrafted

I have to root just a little harder for Trey Oest; his granddad played a short time for the Tigers back in 1960, and Oest plays his summer ball for a team run by Detroit fan favorite Chet Lemon.  I'm a sucker for trivia like that.  And Chet Lemon was awesome.

Oest is a righty pitcher with good size, standing 6'3", and he throws a fastball that's improved from the high 80s to topping itself out in the low 90s.  Perfect Game's scouting report from last year states: "Upper 80's fastball, topped at 89 mph, mostly straight. Good bite and spin on 12/6 curveball. Good command from the windup, inconsistent release point from the stretch. Has shown a workable change up in the past."  The guy had offers from the big instate schools (Miami and UF both offered) so to pull a player out of the state of Florida with that pedigree is an impressive coup.

With Oest, you get the impression of a pitcher that needs refining before he's a candidate to crack the rotation, but has a chance to contribute right away from the pen.  Consider Whit Mayberry, who got spot chances to start during his first two years but made most of his appearances in relief before moving full-time to the rotation as a junior.  I can see a similar path for Oest, who doesn't dominate games the way, say, Nate Kirby does, but does have excellent control (only nine walks in 44 innings, against 52 strikeouts, as a senior.)

George Ragsdale - SS
North Port HS (FL)
Undrafted

Gotta commend BOC for his work in the state of Florida this year.  We've already profiled the quality potential of Trey Oest and Robbie Coman, but the prize of the state for UVA's class is infielder George Ragsdale.  Ragsdale is the only UVA commit to make Rawlings' first-team all-Florida, a list which is heavily populated by FSU, Miami, and UF commits.

It so happens Ragsdale is also a teammate of Oest's on Chet Lemon's Juice - yes, that's the name of the summer team.  He's a smooth, compact-swinging hitter (and is one of the rare baseball prospects with a YouTube video, even if it's only 30 seconds and only shows a couple swings) who is a little skinny but oozes potential that should be realized when he grows into his frame.  He's listed as a shortstop because it's either that or center field for high school's best position players, but the scouting reports I've read all project him as a third baseman.  That puts him squarely in the mix for playing time next year; with Stephen Bruno off to the pros, third base is up in the air.  Colin Harrington could move there, as could Kenny Towns or Nick Howard; Howard might pitch, though, and Harrington could stay in right field, and who knows where Reed Gragnani will end up....you get the picture.  Ragsdale will be one of the players to watch in this year's Orange and Blue World Series in the fall, as a strong showing could move him closer to the front of the line for third base duties.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

the recruit: Andre Levrone

Name: Andre Levrone
Position: WR
Hometown: ???, MD
School: Good Counsel
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 195

24/7: 86; three stars; #94 WR; MD #20
ESPN: NR
Rivals: 5.7; three stars; #56 WR; MD #10
Scout: three stars; #48 WR

Other offers: USC, Auburn, Mississippi State

The way Good Counsel churns out talent every year, it's amazing Andre Levrone got a sniff from anyone at all this spring.  See, Levrone platooned as Good Counsel's third receiver last year, which meant playing behind Stefon Diggs and Kendall Fuller the whole year, and when you do that you rack up gaudy stats like one catch for eleven yards.  All season long.

So his offer list is weird for a reason.  It doesn't include standard schools like Penn State because they wanted to see him actually catch a football, and it doesn't include Maryland because well who the hell knows what Maryland is thinking these days, as they're doing a fantastic job of screwing up DC-area recruiting.  The offer list didn't matter much to Levrone, anyway.  He showed some interest in schools like Clemson that were recruiting him but holding back on an offer, but he showed a lot more interest in UVA.  It wasn't hard to guess where he would eventually commit, because for like a solid month (at least) before he committed in April, his Twitter background was Cavman on his horse.

So with basically zero on-field experience, how do we know what we've got?  Fortunately, Levrone hit up a few camps.  (I mean, he probably would've never had any early offers otherwise.)  Scouts always mention Levrone's size; the takeaway from the Rivals/VTO tour had Levrone as the 16th-best receiver of the nine camps they ran, and the two-second scouting report said: "Levrone is a big receiver who runs well and is difficult to handle physically because he's so strong, thick and physical."  His high school coach also calls him a "big, physical guy," and as he's pushing 200 pounds he'd already be in the upper echelon of size, were he to be placed on the roster today.

Levrone also got praise for his route-running at VTO ("showed good footwork in drills and rarely rounded a route and he's a big target for quarterbacks," - and there's that "big" thing again.)  The downside: "He struggled with a couple of drops on the day or he'd be higher on this list," which is to suggest he'd likely have beaten out DaeSean Hamilton in the evaluation, whom UVA is still one of many schools chasing.  The dropsies showed up again at a summer passing league tournament Levrone attended with his Good Counsel teammates; his coach didn't single anyone out when talking about dropped ball because that would've been a shitty thing to do (obviously) but Levrone is the #2 receiver now, so you can read between some lines there.

Levrone also gets kind of damned with faint praise for his speed, and it sounds like his wheels and athleticism are good but not great.  24/7 lists his 40 time as 4.57 and ESPN says it's 4.99, which is an absurd gap and one of many reasons I call most 40 times baloney.  I'm sure it's closer to the 4.57, but the point is he will probably move well enough to be a good college player but it's not like he'll be sprinting past cornerbacks.

And still, there's that size, which among everything else was enough to attract the attention of the USC Trojans, 3,000 miles away - almost a month after Levrone had already committed to UVA.  No doubt they offered at least partly with the notion that little ol' pffft Virginia isn't really the kind of school that can hold onto its commitments when big bad USC comes calling, but it was a legit offer had Levrone wanted to take them up on it.  Fortunately for us, he didn't, and the Trojans' offer ended up serving only as basic confirmation that we have a great shot here at digging up the proverbial sleeper.  (You can't be a "diamond in the rough" at a factory like Good Counsel.)

The recruiting services are pretty unanimous in giving Levrone a three-star rating of the mid-to-high sort, which is to say that they all basically saw the same thing at the camps he went to.  I doubt any of them would've given him four stars based on some camps and one catch for eleven yards; this is why Levrone is one of the two prospects I'm most interested in seeing on the field during his senior year.  (The other is Corwin Cutler, who has a chance to turn the big 3 quarterbacks in the state into a big 4.)  A big year catching passes from fellow UVA commit Brendan Marshall would be a lot of fun to see.

When he does get to UVA, Levrone will see a really crowded depth chart.  With six incoming freshman receivers this year, it's anyone's guess from that list who'll redshirt.  Levrone surely projects as a possession receiver and red zone target in the mold of a somewhat shorter Matt Snyder; on the team right now you've got guys like Miles Gooch and freshmen Canaan Severin and Mario Nixon who fit a similar template.  And none of them have seen any field time.  As I'm sure you know I usually like to make an educated guess about whether a player will redshirt and how soon he'll see the field, but there'd be nothing educated about this: the subject has basically never played, his most likely closest competition has also never played, and so I throw my hands in the air in defeat on this one.  We'll just go with the default answer, which is "he'll redshirt" which seems safe given how many players are in the classes in front of him; check back in five months and we'll have ourselves a much better picture.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

vote often?

Cavalier of the Year voting ends in a couple days, and I've been tracking the results as they go.  And I have to admit I'm not especially happy with what I see.  The way things have played out in the voting pattern suggests shenanigans; specifically, the possibility of cheating and voting multiple times.

The absolute last thing I want to do is throw out a result just because I "don't like" what I see.  The second to last thing I want to do is be played for a bloody fool and let some asshole decide my award - yes it's just a little thing but I take it seriously - by spending ten minutes applying votes to the same candidate.

I'm gonna ask that people do me a favor: in the comments section of this post, post who you voted for, and if you found the contest via a link, post the page it came from.  Use a name - I don't care if you use a pseudonym or Internet handle or whatever, but don't post as "Anonymous."  The results of that will determine whether or not I have to start over.  Sorry to have to do this but I think it's necessary.

Monday, July 9, 2012

new world order

For better or for worse, this year will be the penultimate (I have always wanted to use that word) season for the "BCS" as we know it.  It arose in its current incarnation (with some evolution along the way) for the 1998 season, after the Rose Bowl joined what was then the Bowl Alliance.  Thus was born the BCS, which will have lasted 16 years when its controversial present form flips to a "playoff."

I was hoping they'd come right out with this big announcement and say THIS IS HOW IT WILL BE but the honchos in charge of this thing basically just kind of set up a skeleton of a plan and let a lot of it fall into place on its own.  This is probably necessary: if they get too bossy about how the various bowls will exist in the New World Order, antitrust suits would probably follow. 

(After all, the NIT sued the NCAA for creating a monopoly on the grounds that NCAA teams weren't allowed to go to the NIT if selected to the NCAA tournament, despite the fact that nobody ever would have ever turned down a Big Dance bid, ever, even if given the choice.  And the NCAA had to pay $56 million to make that go away; imagine if the bowls got together and sued as well.)

Anyway, I'm one who likes things to set themselves up in a pretty standard, well-ordered fashion.  (A standard that I can be admittedly inconsistent about applying, but whatever.)  Thus I was OK with the BCS because it had pretty well-defined, easy-to-understand rules and created a definite pecking order.  Laugh all you like, but it did.  Thus also I'm not completely pissed off about the "playoff" even though I'm positive it'll expand some time in the future to a too-large number.  The elements of the system have pretty much come together, and they're not done, but they're close enough that we can kind of hash this out:

-- Six bowl games will constitute the New World Order BCS: the Rose, the Orange, the "Champions Bowl" which is the SEC-Big 12 version of the Rose and will probably get a shiny new corporate name at some point, and three more, but one imagines that the Sugar and Fiesta will not be left out.  (Though they will have to bid for their spot.)  The other is an as-yet-unnamed bowl.  They'll bid that out too, and it'll probably be either the Cotton or the ex-Peach, the latter of which has made no secret of its intention to join the party.

-- They'll play three of these games on New Year's Eve and three on New Year's Day.  Much, much better than the slow creep into January that saw big important bowl games being played next to the most insignificant ones and like on a Tuesday evening when we were basically done with bowl excitement thank you very much.

-- Five conferences have auto-ins to send their champs this New BCS, but through arrangements with the bowls themselves, not through a contract with each other.  I told you the little guys were killing their golden-egg laying goose by making noise about antitrust lawsuits.  That'll probably be it, too: the Big East is highly unlikely to be able to negotiate themselves a similar arrangement.

-- The semifinals of the four-team playoff will rotate among the six bowls.  If the ACC champ is a semifinalist, they'll play in the semifinals and another ACC team goes to the Orange.  If the Orange is a semifinal host, the ACC champ (if not a semifinalist) will play in the Sugar or Fiesta or whatever bowl is out there and not hosting a semifinal or filled up with another team's championship.  The same goes for the other four conferences and their tie-ins.

-- The championship will be played on the first Monday in January that is at least six days after New Year's.  So, like, the 12th in some years - in fact, the first year of the deal.  Ugh.  It'll be sold to the highest bidding city.

-- A committee will pick all the teams - both the semifinalists and the bowl participants - that aren't autobidded in through their conference's respective deal.

So I can get behind this, I guess.  The main thing is that the ACC is taken care of.  People have this wack-job idea about four superconferences but that's not happening, because it requires a higher power to force it to happen, and the NCAA has no interest in doing that.  The ACC is here to stay.  There's still a bright line between the haves and have-nots, it's just that the Biggish Eastish finds itself on the other side of it.  I consider that a good thing; it's a sign that building a hideously ugly Frankenconference is not a path to success.  Speaking of which, now is when you get to hear the good things about the whole deal:

-- The ACC is taken care of.  But I said that.

-- Games on New Year's Day and Eve.  When they should be played.  That's a really nice way to throw a bone to me and the rest of the getoffmylawners (ok, traditionalists) and it's good enough to shut me up if I get too criticizey.  Obviously, the emasculation of New Year's was a big issue in the BCS's brave new world; this is a fantastic step in the right direction.

-- No longer watching the ACC and Orange Bowl get stuck with the Biggish Eastish champion, which three times out of four made for a crap matchup and then ended up with the ACC looking like ass when the champion lost.  OK, it happened less often than it seemed like, but it's a guarantee that the ACC champion will always play a top team and not the last one in the barrel.

-- A greater chance to play in different bowl games, if you've got a good enough team.  It doesn't have to always be the Orange Bowl to be fun.  Watching Michigan play VT in the Sugar Bowl was neat stuff (for me anyway.)

-- Selection committee.  People complain a lot about the committees for the other sports, but they're like democracy: the worst system there is, except for all the other ones that've already been tried.  It's certainly better than leaving it up to a bunch of computers and voters with questionable levels of buy-in to the process.

And what I don't like:

-- That chances are it's a stepping stone to six teams or eight or sixteen or..... you know the NCAA and that they can't keep their paws off something good.  I would consider this an overall improvement because of the New Year's Day thing if it weren't for the likelihood that it would expand at some point.  That pretty much casts a shadow on the whole thing.

-- The fact that even with just four teams, it basically removes the requirement of perfection from the equation.  In other words, that late-season stumble by a once-perfect team is cause for a shrug instead of shock.  Some might call that good.  I call it bad.

I guess we'll see.....the weird thing about this is that we have two more seasons before this even comes into play.  Do you realize that it was barely two years ago that Nebraska was announced as the newest Big Ten member and the first realignment domino?  A lot can happen.  But, ever the optimist, I'd like to believe that this announcement will actually settle the dust.  Maybe one more round of it?  Notre Dame going somewhere?  The Biggish Eastish falling apart?  At any rate I would guess that, barring a Notre Dame move and something else to balance it out, the five major conferences are pretty much done changing their membership rolls.  If shutting down the realignment madness is the legacy of the New World Order, I can completely get behind that.

Friday, July 6, 2012

the recruit: Devon Hall

Name: Devon Hall
Position: PG
Hometown: Virginia Beach
School: Cape Henry Collegiate
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 180

24/7: 95; four stars; #9 PG; VA #3; US #48
ESPN: 81; four stars; #22 PG; VA #4; Atlantic #21; US #99
Rivals: four stars; US #58
Scout: four stars; #13 PG

Other offers: Marquette, Florida, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Missouri, Memphis, Miami, Iowa, Wake Forest, Georgia, several others

Game over.  We win.  Finally.  After watching James Robinson head to Pitt; L.J. Rose, Javan Felix, and Mike Gesell head out elsewhere as well; TJ McConnell go to Arizona; Marcus Paige get his UNC offer and commit instantly; Jaren Sina enter, leave, and enter the picture; and Big Cat Barber drop the Hoos from consideration; finally Tony Bennett has the high-caliber pure point guard he's been seeking basically since he took over.

You probably know this: Devon Hall is the younger brother of Mark Hall, who'll make his first appearance in the V-sabres this fall as a freshman linebacker.  This commitment from Devon has been eagerly anticipated by Hoo fans ever since Mark was the first verbal in the football class of 2012, some 17 months ago.  They didn't attend the same high school (Mark went to the local public school, Green Run) but Mark's presence at UVA and the fact that the family is a UVA family were long thought to be Tony Bennett's "in" in Devon's recruitment.  They were right, and it didn't hurt that Hall looked at the PG situation and saw himself as the missing puzzle piece.  ("The missing piece" is the new "one big family" when it comes to recruiting pitches that work.)

As a bonus, Hall re-reclassified back to the 2013 class; he'd been a '13, moved to '14, and then back to '13 upon his commitment, owing to the need to replace Jontel Evans after this season.  It solves a lot of problems - primarily among them, obviously, the question of where the hell we gonna find a point guard, but also the need to "manage" 2013 recruiting so as to make sure we have room for all the '14 guys.  Bennett can now take one more guy in 2013 if he wants, or save it for 2014 and get two more then to go with B.J. Stith.  Hall won't have any problems with the transition, by the way; he was already on track to graduate early.

The first thing that pops off the page on any scouting report is Hall's size; he's probably bigger than the listed 6'4", 180, and if he's not 6'5" and 200+ now he probably will be when he gets here.  Big for a point guard.  Getting close to small-forward size.  It raises obvious questions about whether he'll be able to get to the rim or defend quicker point guards, but Hall wouldn't be such a high-major recruit if that was gonna be a big deal.

His strength is his passing: Rivals calls it "outstanding" and ESPN lauds his "ability to see the court and make precision passes."  The usual comparison is Kendall Marshall, which could be the scouts' way of saying he's a big-time distributor who'll really bring out the talents of guys like Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon.  Or it could be their way of saying "get used to not seeing him score very much."  It's probably a little bit of both: Hall's shooting and handle come out of the scouting reports as basically okay, although that should be read as "okay for a guy that half the ACC, SEC, and Big East tried to recruit."

No doubt, of course, that Hall will be thrown into the fire right away, and could very well start every game he plays at UVA.  How much that turns out to be true probably depends on what Teven Jones shows this season.  I have a lot of trouble trying to guess how the 2013 minutes will be divided between guys like Joe Harris, Evan Nolte, Justin Anderson, Anthony Gill, and so on, but the only question about Hall's minutes is whether it'll be 25, 30, or 35.

Here's the really important thing, though.  The bottom line.  After this next season, we're looking at a nice long stretch of time where (barring a disaster of some kind) we can use actual, real point guards at point guard.  This is not to knock the efforts of Sammy Zeglinski, who I liked quite a bit as a player as he could do a lot of the little things very well.  But Hall and Jones will form a proper 40-minute point guard combo that lets everyone else do what they do best, and Hall has a great shot at some all-ACC honors at some point, if those Kendall Marshall comparisons come out right.  After a lot of hand-wringing, that's all we could ever really ask for.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

2012 baseball recruiting, part 1

So normally I update the football recruiting board on Wednesdays, but last week's action just about cooled down any near-future updates to that puppy.  So instead it's the perfect time to hit up our annual baseball update.  In three parts, here are mini-profiles on the incoming freshmen.

Robert Bennie - OF
Stroudsburg HS (PA)
Undrafted

UVA got an athletic one out of Pennsylvania when Bennie committed last summer; he not only plays shortstop and center field for Stroudsburg (the usual locations for a team's best player), but was also the conference MVP this past season in football, where he was a two-way player as a (primarily running) quarterback and defensive back.

Baseball is his sport, though, and Brian O'Connor recruited him to UVA as an outfielder.  He hit .550 as a junior and .452 as a senior, has moderate power, and as you'd expect from a running quarterback and defensive back, also has good basestealing speed.

The Hoos have a surplus of good options in the outfield next year: Derek Fisher has a death grip on left field, center field could be manned by either Brandon Downes or Mitchell Shifflett, and right field is probably Mike Papi, Reed Gragnani, or Colin Harrington.  So any outfielder in the incoming class (and there aren't many) isn't likely to be factor in 2013.  Bennie has a decent shot to be the center fielder of the future, though - his speed and contact hitting make him a possible top-of-the-order hitter with a little development.


Tyler Carrico - RHP
James River HS (VA)
Undrafted

The best story of the draft class - maybe the best story of any recent draft class.  Carrico goes to something of a UVA feeder school; he's teammates with superstar recruit Nathan Kirby (to be profiled a little later) as well as Jack Roberts - brother to Will and another future Hoo in the 2013 class.  But that's not why he accepted a scholarship offer from Brian O'Connor before O'Connor was finished with his sentence.

Both his parents are UVA grads, but that's not why either.  Carrico broke his back playing football during his freshman year, and while he was in the hospital recovering from his first of three surgeries, his 11-year-old brother had surgery of his own to remove a (fortunately benign) tumor the size of a softball from his chest; the UVA baseball team rallied to the support of their occasional batboy and helped speed his recovery.  So it wasn't a tough decision for the older brother to act on that scholarship offer when it came.

That broken back is an obvious reason major league teams never even came close to giving Carrico a sniff in their draft process; he never really even got off the bench much his junior year until he pitched his team to the regional championship last year.  In a sport where colleges routinely recruit and offer sophomores, Carrico was a late bloomer indeed.

The feel-good-itude of the story probably ends there, for now anyway.  Carrico will have a long road to playing time in college.  He still pitches with pain in his back.  He brings a high-80s fastball and a very solid curve, but nothing else that's reliable; he'll be strictly on bullpen duty as long as he has only two pitches.  Carrico's back history will probably ensure he doesn't get enough attention from MLB to consider leaving early, so he'll likely be a four-year player.  He could follow a career track similar to Justin Thompson, who pitched well in scarce appearances as a freshman and sophomore, appeared reliably out of the pen as a junior, and became the closer as a senior; that would be a best-case scenario.

Robbie Coman - C/RHP
Park Vista HS (FL)
Undrafted

Primarily a catcher, Coman also throws off the mound in relief for his high school team, and is occasionally thought of as a possible college pitching prospect - but only occasionally.  His mid-to-high-80s fastball and OK stuff probably won't translate as well to college, especially when he's really a much better catching prospect anyway.

After his senior year this year, Coman was named to the 8A all-state team in Florida, no small feat in that state.  He's a guy who doesn't stand out in any one particular area, but still does everything very well; you could say well-rounded.  The scouting reports all give an impression of a guy with good polish and well-developed skills, but with a little lower of a ceiling.

Nate Irving basically put the starting catching job on lockdown this year by hitting .279 with a good batting eye.  But he's not invulnerable either; he fields his position well but could stand to do a better job throwing out baserunners (though his percentage is partially the fault of our pitchers, who mostly didn't do very well holding people on base.)  And the depth chart at catcher is so thin that the second catcher was Keith Werman, so Chace Mitchell (who only got seven at-bats all season) is probably not the answer as Irving's backup.  Fortunately, there are two catching prospects coming in the fall, and Coman is one.  Playing time is available if he brings what the coaches want to see.  Coman is also versatile enough to play some corner infield if need be, but he can help this team best behind the plate; he'll get a shot to earn the innings behind the plate that Werman had in 2012.

Kevin Doherty - LHP
Our Lady of Good Counsel HS (MD)
Undrafted

Yep, back to the OLGC well.  Doherty is the ace pitcher at one of the DC area's better baseball schools.  I hate to use the word "soft-tossing lefty" because it implies a certain kind of pigeonhole but Doherty is kind of a soft-tossing lefty.  BOC has actually loaded this class up with left-handers, so Doherty might have a hard time standing out.

However, he's also proven himself a big-gamer.  This April, near the end of Good Counsel's season and on senior day, Doherty took the ball against St. John's and pitched a complete-game shutout that ended St. John's 20-game winning streak.  Doherty struck out 11, walked none, and struck out the side in the final inning to preserve Good Counsel's 1-0 win.  He's not one of the really high-profile recruits in the class, but that might be the best game any of them have ever pitched.  Doherty's also not a bad hitter, compared to some other pitchers.

This year's starting rotation left a few question marks; it was respectable but not really what you'd call dominant, and Branden Kline of course is off to professional pastures.  Everyone will be looking to Nathan Kirby to fill that spot, but the door is open a crack for some new blood to earn a role.  Doherty's initial spot is most likely the pen, and he probably won't be in the regular bullpen rotation as a freshman, instead having to fight his way in.  The most likely effect of all these southpaws in the class is really (and hopefully) that one or two of them emerge as a good enough bullpen option that Kyle Crockett can take his talents to the weekend rotation.

Monday, July 2, 2012

weekend review

Sometimes it's best practice to shut up and let Homer Simpson do your talking:


There.  Glad to get that out of my system.

As might have already crossed your radar screen, our long national point-guard-less nightmare is over, put to rest when Devon Hall made his long-hoped-for commitment to Tony Bennett this weekend.  Hall reclassified to the 2013 class to make it happen, which is really a re-reclassification as 2013 was his original class after dropping back to 2014 due to his rather young age.

That clears up a whole host of problems at once.  We don't have to worry about where our next point guard is coming from, for one.  Teven Jones may or may not be pretty good, but there's still only one of him, and this puts an end to all the fretting about whether or not Malcolm Brogdon is suited for the job.  We also don't have to worry about saving a spot for Hall.  No more "can we still get Hall if we bring in Jaren Sina and what if we don't get Sina and Hall goes to Maryland anyway aaaaaaaaaaa help me baby Jesus."  Plus, with Brandan Stith announcing last month he was eliminating UVA as a destination (we wanted him to reclassify and he struggled with that decision and decided not to) there's nobody left to "save a spot" for at all.

In essence, Tony has just gone from being forced to be picky to having the luxury to be picky.  I'll have more on all this later in the week; today would've been a full-out Devon Hall profile except that the recruiting services need a little time to reclassify him in their system.  Then we'll see where he shakes out with respect to his class.  Most of them have him in the top 40 or 50 players in the 2014 class, so the answer will eventually be "high."

*************************************************

-- VT defensive end Dadi Nicolas got himself suspended, the result of a felony charge for grand larceny.  What did he steal?  (Help in stealing, actually - technically he wasn't the one riding the bike away.)  A bicycle.  Let's check out some of the other crimes perpetrated by Hokies in recent(ish) times:

  • Kicker Cody Journell breaks into a guy's house while the guy is in the house, and gets himself chased down the street without the weed he went there to retrieve.
  • Marcus Vick throws the ultimate temper tantrum and infamously stomps on an opponent's leg.
  • Jeff Allen.
  • Nicolas and the bicycle theft.
This is not at all to suggest that UVA is free of legal shenanigans; nobody is.  But is it just me or, is it that when a Hokie gets in trouble, it's for being a 13-year-old?

-- Let's not be too hard on Tech, though.  Did you know that this year they had their highest finish ever in the Director's Cup?  35th, to be exact.  The Hoos were 15th, making UVA one of 14 schools never to finish outside of the top 30.  Hokie math is when you're better at three sports and your rival is better at 20 and that means you dominate.

-- Ouch.  The good news for Carolina is that they put quite a few of their pitchers in the major leagues.  The bad news is that they all suck, and the worse news is that no less an eminent publication than the Wall Street Journal took notice.  Harsh.

-- The final chapter in the President Sullivan saga closed this weekend with Helen Dragas's reappointment to the Board of Visitors.  I find myself caring much less about that than I thought I would.  We got the president back and that's really what matters; I suppose this is the governor's reward for Dragas's playing nice and voting for Sullivan's reinstatement so that it would be a unanimous vote.  It didn't escape my notice, though, that the governor also appointed Leonard Sandridge as a "senior advisor" babysitter.

-- Now that it's July, and it's the offseason, the posting schedule will lighten up a tad.  Probably will aim for four days or so a week instead of a full five or six (you probably noticed a little bit of that going on already, the difference being that I didn't do it on purpose.)  And of course there is my scheduled annual summer break which goes on in a couple weeks.  Full time posting resumes in August (or late Julyish) with the yearly opponent previews.  Your job is not done, however: vote in the Cavalier of the Year poll if (and only if) you haven't already done so.