In a 2-10 season, very little. But we're going to try and put on a smiley face and see if there weren't a few nuggets of goodness here and there. It's kind of a fake smiley face, mind you.
Also, as good as Brent Urban was this year, we're going to limit it to things that can be applied to next year. That way there's no false hope. Nope, nothing but real optimism in this post.
Parks recorded the first 1,000-yard season by a UVA back since Alvin Pearman in 2004. This is a pretty nice individual achievement. I'm going to break my optimism rule, though, by pointing out that it was largely due to not having to extensively share carries. Several seasons since then, there would've been a 1,000-yard rusher if the carries had not been split, and that 2004 season almost had two such accomplishments, with Wali Lundy falling 100-and-some short. Even the much-maligned Michael Johnson looked awfully good that year. UVA had a powerful rushing attack in 2004.
Still. The more-overarching point to this is that Steve Fairchild deserves a pretty good deal of credit for this. Parks is a solid back with good vision and balance and he hits a hole pretty quick. And, obviously, highly durable. But he's also thoroughly unexplosive; he had just one run all season over 50 yards, and in seven of twelve games, didn't pass 20 on any one run. This means he can't pad out his stats by being bottled up all game and then bursting through for one huge run to make the whole day look good. In order for Parks to rack up yards, he has to do it on a lot of different plays, and he needs good blocking to do it.
And this was an offensive line that lost most of its physical battles. So how to get an unexplosive back running behind an unproductive line to the 1,000-yard marker? Schemes. Fairchild's playbook deserves much of the credit for the accomplishment. It's why when the whole fanbase is giving him an F-minus, I give Fairchild a C. I had as much hate and discontent as anyone over things like short-side sweeps on 4th-and-2, but we have to apply Sherlock Holmes's maxim here. When you've eliminated all else, whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth. Parks didn't get to 1,000 yard by racing away from defenders and he didn't get there because the offensive line blew open holes for him. What remains is Fairchild, however, unpopular a conclusion that may be.
Actually this sort of breaks another rule, the one about being able to apply this stuff to next year, because seasons like Harris's regress to the mean most of the time. Still, you just can't knock the nation's interceptions leader. The problem with a safety, unfortunately, is that a good one cannot make a bad defense good, but a bad one can make a good defense bad.
So the defense as a whole didn't really follow suit. But a guy with instincts like Harris's, but with 12 extra games under his belt, ought to be a force on the field next year.
Smith was a true freshman on the offensive line, which at times went about how you'd expect. Georgia Tech was a particular case, in which Smith had to go up against Jeremiah Attaochu all day and spent the whole day eating Attaochu's cleats. Sometimes he was just freshman-y.
Sometimes, though, he was fantastic. Clemson's Vic Beasley finished the season with 12 sacks, but never recorded one against Smith and UVA. Smith had a good game against VT as well, and over the course of the season, the good outweighed the bad. UVA has a good one in Smith, who could be the left tackle for the next three years.
I asserted early in the season, here and on TheSabre too, that I thought Daquan Romero should be the top candidate to lead the team in tackles. I ended up being off by two; Henry Coley nudged him out 91-89. Both Coley and Romero showed impressive instincts this year; Romero was particularly excellent at sniffing out and blowing up screen plays.
Combined with Harris, these two will give UVA more quarterbacks on defense next year than it knows what to do with. Their ranginess gave Jon Tenuta confidence enough to use his third linebacker spot on Max Valles, who couldn't do much more than pass rush.
Not only did he pile up eight sacks, he averaged 10 yards on them.
There are a few honorable mention names that don't really qualify as full bright spots. David Dean piled up very nice numbers for a DT but generally needed Brent Urban next to him. Without Urban, teams tended to smother Dean. Hopefully next year as he becomes an upperclassman he'll be the guy opening up a lane for his neighbor. Daniel Hamm had that one really nice game; pity he got relegated to the back of the bench anyway. Khalek Shepherd, when healthy, was a nice change of pace back. Urban, of course, was outstanding, and his loss probably cost UVA a win somewhere along the line.
Everything else that happened pretty much earns a D at best. And if there's a grade lower than F-minus-minus-minus, I'll hand it out to the quarterbacks and receivers. Can you get a Z-minus? At least, though, a few players kept us interested. Bravo to that. I have every confidence this team can show the progress it needs to double its win total next year.