Wednesday, December 30, 2009

future schedules

This is the future schedules page, such as it is.  With the ACC in flux, nothing is really determined inside the conference.  Used to be you could extrapolate the ACC schedule to eternity if you liked, but they haven't made any final decisions on a new model, so don't take the ACC parts too seriously.  I guess you can substitute Louisville for Maryland if you like, but I'm not sure UVA won't push for some kind of shuffle so as to avoid having a thoroughly nontraditional game as a rivalry.  No offense to Louisville.


Home (8): Brigham Young, Oregon, VMI, Ball State, Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech

Away (4): Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, Wake Forest

ACC skip: Boston College, Florida State, NC State, Syracuse

Open dates remaining: 0


Home (7): Richmond, UCLA, Kent State, Boston College, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina

Away (5): Duke, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech

ACC skip: Florida State, NC State, Wake Forest

Open dates remaining: 0


Home (5): Boise State, William & Mary, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech

Away (5): UCLA, Boston College, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina

ACC skip: Clemson, NC State, Wake Forest

Open dates remaining: 1


Home (5): Richmond, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, NC State

Away: (6): Connecticut, Oregon, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech

ACC skip: Boston College, Clemson, Wake Forest

Open dates: 1


Home (6): Stanford, Connecticut, Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

Away (4): Boise State, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, NC State

ACC skip: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State

Open dates: 1

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

game preview: UAB

So we're back. Hope your Christmas was a good one. Lots of schwag from Santa's bag, family, big-ass ham or turkey or other tasty animal (or maybe latkes if you maybe light a menorah instead of a tree), too many cookies, mistletoe, the works.

The hoopsters had a pretty good time of it while FOV was on break, but only against the crappiest of crappy competition; we didn't get the answer to whether or not UNC-Wilmington would be the roadblock we worried about. Everybody played against both NJIT and Hampton, which is about the extent of the analysis you need - both games were slaughters, as expected. We'll get our crack at Wilmington in a few more weeks.

Might seem like the Wilmington game will be diminished in importance, what with it now coming in the middle of the ACC season, but I say just the opposite. There's a scary-real chance we'll need that game to break up a three-game losing streak.

Anyway, the task at hand is UAB. And if you weren't convinced by their #24 ranking in the AP poll, I'll tell you right now: we're as underdoggy as we'll be in a lot of our ACC games this year. UAB already has one major-conference skin on their wall (Cincinnati) and a win over never-shabby Butler. They'll probably be a tournament team this year.

The good news is Mike Scott is back on the court, and should probably be in action tomorrow. We'll need him in order to take advantage of (what I think is) UAB's weakness - they're very much a donut team. No middle. They start four guards and a forward, and they rely very heavily on their starting five. Pretty strict 8-man rotation, and only three forwards in the group, two of which are bench players and really don't even get half the minutes of the guards. On the offensive end, if we can get the post players involved, Scott especially but also Sene, Sherrill, and/or Meyinsse, we ought to be able to find a mismatch somewhere. Either that or force them to take their better players off the court.

At the other end, UAB would seem to be the kind of team we match up well against. There's only one real scoring threat down low - that'd be forward Howard Crawford, whom a healthy Mike Scott would dominate on the boards - and they don't rely all that much on the three-pointer nor shoot it exceptionally well. It's the kind of offense the pack-line should handle pretty well. What worries me is Elijah Millsap. In our losses, we've been vulnerable to shred-a-thons by the opposition's top guy. Penn State had Talor Battle. USF had Dominique Jones. Stanford had Landry Fields. They all topped 20 points and mostly without needing a lot of three-pointage to do it. Millsap is both a scorer and rebounder, and the #1 worry for this game would be that he decides it's a good time for 26 points.

The other obvious worry is the talent gap, which sucks to say as an ACC team going into a game with a C-USA team. Mismatches go both ways - if we can find them with our size, they should be able to find a few by forcing our bigs to guard their quicker players. Jerome Meyinsse is many things, but quick is not one of them. This will probably be a closer game than the rankings and records would indicate, but, as with pretty much every game from here on out, we need to do everything right in order to come out on top.

Friday, December 18, 2009

awards time

Time to hand out awards in college football, and when you're a losing team you don't tend to be well represented. You can obviously forget about anyone on the offense being recognized for any reason, but the defense has its stars. You might remember that Nate Collins was named first-team all-ACC - a correct call by the writers. Collins isn't eligible for freshman awards though, and the smaller pool of players to choose from for that flavor of award means Steve Greer shines pretty brightly. Greer has been taking home all-ACC and all-America freshman honors from all over the map.

Not to be outdone, soccer rolls on with the award selections too.

And hey, just because you haven't played your season yet doesn't mean you can't collect on the awards circuit - that's what preseason all-Americans are for, and baseball's Danny Hultzen and Jarrett Parker each nabbed an NCBWA selection.

And now for one they're not handing out right this minute, but I wish they were: the Director's Cup, in which we're still first in the standings released yesterday.

Actually, let's talk about this last one for just a second. How totally sweet would it be to win this award, eh? Anyone at all who cares about this award, besides those in Palo Alto, would love to see it wrenched from Stanford's death grip. I wouldn't really get your hopes up, though. Stanford and UNC both have some points left in the bank for the fall, and we got killed in the winter sports last year. Relatively speaking, anyway, as compared to the biggest contenders. We have these great swim teams, but Stanford's are even better and they own random shit like men's gymnastics and fencing. I'd say if our spring sports live up to expectations, we should nab a top-five finish in this thing, but until Stanford trips over their own feet, they're not letting go this award.

Lastly, the recruiting board needs a little shuffling, so I'm shuffling some players on and off.

- Removed QB Hutson Mason, DT Harold Legania, and OT Shane Johnson. I don't know why I forgot to remove Legania after he committed to Minnesota. Johnson is off to Pitt. Mason isn't off to anywhere yet, but it's not here.

- Added DT Stephen Lawe and S Ed Reynolds. Wooo blast from the past! Mike London put Reynolds' offer back on the table.

- DT Brandon Sparrow, who we've probably heard the last of, is moved to red.

Okey-doke. That about wraps things up. Tomorrow, I'm getting on a plane for home, so we are going into Christmas shutdown mode. This is where I take like ten days off, slacker that I am, and post kinda sporadically on an if-I-feel-like-it basis. There might be one or two posts thrown up against the wall in the next week or so, especially if I decide I can't keep my mouth shut about some basketball event or something. If not, regular posting resumes on Tuesday the 29th. Til then, have a Merry Christmas, or a Happy Hanukkah if that's your thing (and you ought to be having one right this minute, anyway), or just enjoy your December 25th if the answer is none of the above.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

the near future in basketball

We are getting ready to go into Christmas shutdown mode here at the fictitious offices of FOV, and in that span of time, basketball has three games. This was supposed to be the super-easy three-game stretch of the schedule, but UNC-Wilmington has put a bit of a scare into that idea by beating one of the common opponents on our schedule so far (Penn State.) And we may or may not have our only inside scoring threat available. Let's have a look at what's in store for the next week-plus as finals week (thankfully) draws to a close.


They were 7-25 last year. So they looked a lot like the rest of the cannon fodder in this part of the schedule, until they went out and beat Penn State. And they did it even with Penn State's Talor Battle doing the same thing to them as he did to us, which is to say, score an obnoxious amount of points. PSU had 69 points in both games; the difference was that UNC-W scored, and we didn't.

Not only that, but they gave Miami (10-1, by the way) a really hard time and hung with Wake Forest for most of the first half. This is their third and final crack at an ACC team.

If Mike Scott doesn't play, this is a scary matchup, to the point where I'd just go straight pessimistic and call Wilmington the favorite. It's that scary. Wilmington has their own version of Scott in John Fields, who is an extremely similar player. Same size, same stats, same game. They also have several guys whose purpose in life is to shoot the three, which has been the bane of the pack-line so far.

So how do we win? Figure out real quick how to step out and defend the three while at the same time staying true to the principles of the pack-line defense. That's going to be a long, ongoing process - let's hope we have one of our better games in that regard on Saturday, because if they're burying threes, we lose, Scott or no Scott.

The big advantage we have? Discipline. We've been very disciplined with the ball and done a good job of winning the turnover battles, while UNC-W is just the opposite. They turn the ball over a whopping 17 times a game, which puts them 303rd in the nation; they also foul 22 times a game, good for 309th. That means we can basically expect to be in the double bonus probably in both halves. Their forwards, Fields and Dominique Lacy, are the leading culprits with more than 3 fouls a game each. Getting Fields into foul trouble would be huge, because otherwise his ridiculous .618 shooting percentage is going to hurt. A couple extra measures of aggressiveness on both ends of the floor would be key here.

Getting through here with a win would be big. Three of the next five teams are positively horrible, so Saturday is the key to going at least 4-1 before ACC play starts.


The Great West Conference has arrived on the scene. They are so new and so lousy that they don't have an autobid to the NCAAs. Two of the next five are against Great West teams - this is one of them, despite the fact that New Jersey has never been mistaken for a western state.

The Highlanders made some headlines by going 0-29 two years ago. They followed that up with an infinity percent improvement last year by winning a game. This year, they managed to improve over their two-year, 1-59 showing by winning three so far, but don't be fooled - they had to add two Division III schools to the schedule to get that far. Not Division Two, Division Three. Ever heard of SUNY-Cobleskill? Apparently NJIT has.

It doesn't matter that we can't shoot from the outside, still have trouble with the nuances of the defense, and might be missing our post scorer. Spot this team 25, promise all the walk-ons 5 minutes, and call it a day. En-jitt is horrible and any win by less than 30 is a disappointment.


Another good matchup for us. Last year I sort of halfway predicted a blowout win, and whaddaya know, we got us a blowout win. Hampton is a good matchup partly because they shoot very poorly and partly because they don't win basketball games. Also they get outrebounded like crazy, which you'd sort of expect from a bad three-point shooting team, but they're 318th in the country in rebounding margin at -7 - bad shooting doesn't explain all of it.

They do play a good defense. Teams don't shoot well against the Pirates (though this could be a function of them playing mostly bad teams) and they also get a lot of steals. 10 or so per game. We don't play very good offense, so a good-defending team is always a threat to be a nasty thorn in the side, but might I remind you that Hampton is 2-8 against a schedule that includes just one team from a major conference - USF. If this isn't a win, I will start pining for baseball and lacrosse.

This mini-stretch between the break for finals and the break for Christmas will see us out with a winning record at the end of it. The question is, will the record be 7-4 or 6-5? Wilmington is a bigger game than it might seem; at least, if you think the CBI tournament is a worthwhile goal. Which I do. Get that win and we can set ourselves up with, at worst, 8 wins heading into ACC play. That's not going to grab anyone's attention, but it would mean that even holding steady at last year's 4-12 record in the conference would be a two-game improvement over last season. And remember, I think we have gotten better and the conference has gotten worse.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

santa claus is coming to town

'Tis the season. It's Christmastime, the season of generosity. You know, peace on earth and goodwill towards men. In that spirit, Santa Claus is here to hand out presents to all 12 ACC schools. Yes, even VT and Maryland. Most of these 12 have been naughty and not too many have been nice, but it's a time of forgiveness. Here are your presents.

Boston College - A men's lacrosse team. Seriously, northeastern private schools ought to be required to have one by law. BC fans want one, but Title IX makes it a no-go.

Clemson - A basketball coach that knows what all those little X's and O's on his clipboard are for.

Duke - A bowl game sometime in the next couple seasons.

Florida State - To be in the same baseball regional as Ohio State for the next ten years.

Georgia Tech - A chain around Paul Johnson's ankles so he can never leave Atlanta. Except maybe to recruit. His first two years have put him on pace to exceed the accomplishments of even the great Bobby Dodd.

Maryland - A check large enough to buy out Ralph. Both of our programs have been in the kind of death spiral that only a new coach can fix. The size of Ralph's buyout locks Maryland into another couple seasons of doom.

Miami - An on-campus stadium. Sharing a building with a pro team is an inexcusable setup for a college team, especially one like Miami. Even worse, it's 20 miles away.

North Carolina - An occasional football win over rival NC State to go with their basketball dominance. It's been four years.

NC State - An occasional basketball win over rival UNC to go with their football dominance. It's been three years.

Virginia - National championships in everything, obviously. Failing that, I'll settle for a functional offense for both the football and basketball teams, and go from there.

Virginia Tech - A national championship in volleyball, so they finally have something to put in the trophy case. Also, while I was out shopping for BC's men's lacrosse team I found a cheap discount one they can have. That way the ACC can be an autobid league.

Wake Forest - Room for about 5,000 more students. Wake has managed to be a strong competitor in most sports despite being a relatively itty-bitty school. They could put the extra resources that a larger alumni base would bring to good use.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


In my self-appointed role as Al Groh apologist, even I have to raise my eyebrows at a couple of Al's decisions this year regarding true freshmen. Most people do more than that, of course - a couple folks going all the way to the extent of pointing to the 14 true freshmen used this year as proof positive that Al does in fact hate the University - for why else would he so irreversibly damage our future?

Last week, Jeff White presented the breakdown of true freshmen on the field. Who played, and how much. Al's always liked to use them, this year more so than just about ever. 14 is a big, big number, and one of the usual tacks when criticizing Groh is that it's way too many. Often, people point to just the number as evidence. I thought I'd break this down a little further, though. A lot of these are justifiable - you'd have to be just not even thinking about it to claim all 14 shouldn't have played. Let's see who should and shouldn't have been out there.

Not Only Justifiable, But Would Have Been Criminal Not To Use Them:

- Tim Smith. Third-most productive receiver, and could easily be remembered as the best of this bunch when all's said and done. With the unit absolutely desperate for talent, I don't think I ever saw anyone argue that he shouldn't have played, and nobody should.

- Tucker Windle. Don't look at me like that. Another common criticism of Al is that he didn't develop enough playable depth. Actually kind of a problem for the linebackers this year - the previous group was so solid that they played all the time, and now we have seniors and juniors stepping up that really haven't seen much action. Well, here's your playable depth. Granted, our need for ILB's just got cut in half, but Groh can't be assuming that. Windle looked solid enough in his time out there, and he needs his share of reps.

- Oday Aboushi. Left tackle has been a punching bag of mine all season. Not 100% sure how fair that is in the end, but I can't say I was pleased at all by Landon Bradley's play this year. This should be an open competition next year, and Aboushi not only deserves his reps, the team needed him to get them.

- Will Hill. Before the season, DE depth was one of the major concerns. We always really knew we'd need to dip into the true freshman pool at DE, and Hill enrolled early, giving him a leg up. Not only that, though: having Hill on the field is useful proof for the admissions people, should the coaches ever want to make the case (they better), that early enrollment is a big benefit to the program.

Not Essential, But Perfectly Justifiable

- Dominique Wallace. It looked like he was headed for quite a bit of use until he got hurt. And we ended up with not a lot of usable depth at running back. Mikell Simpson is an injury magnet, Torrey Mack proved himself unable to pass-block, and Perry Jones is itty-bitty and not your first choice when the offensive line is average at best at run-blocking. We didn't really need Wallace out there, but I personally was wanting to see more. And we get that year back anyway thanks to a likely medical redshirt.

- Perry Jones. Again with the need for a little rotation at running back. Plus, Jones averaged 16 special teams plays a game - that's basically most of them. Might as well use the best we got, if he's it.

Would Have Preferred Not To See Them, But You Can Still Make An Argument

- Laroy Reynolds. Got some special teams action - about 10 plays a game - but not really enough to say we were using him because he was clearly the best at it. What I'd like to have seen is the breakdown of which special teams plays he was in on. If he was a kickoff/punt coverage regular but maybe not in for the returns, you could waffle him back and forth between here and the above column.

- Connor McCartin. Ended the season on the two-deep. Playable depth would again be a workable argument if he'd gotten more than four plays on defense. Still, when you're on the two-deep, you're on the two-deep - it seems disingenuous to list a guy there and then not play him in situations where you'd play the backup.

- Drew Jarrett. People forget: The guy's a walk-on. Redshirting him is the same thing as telling him he'll need to pay his way through a fifth year of college - and grad school at that, which is much more expensive. I don't think you ask that of a guy, unless you're prepared to offer him that fifth year gratis.

- Paul Freedman. Our tight ends - that is, Torchia and Phillips - were not too spectacular this year, either. Drops were a problem. I can see where you'd want to fire a shot across their bow by putting the third-string in there.

Put The Redshirt And The Matches Down, Coach

- Quintin Hunter. We had enough wide receivers out there. Hunter had one catch all year despite participating in 89 offensive plays. That's not justification to play him.

- LoVante' Battle. The contribution from him just wasn't worth it. Battle is probably not destined for stardom, but you might as well be patient and see what happens.

- Javanti Sparrow. See Battle.

- Corey Lillard. See Battle and Sparrow, times ten, and maybe minus the part about stardom. Lillard was a well-though-of recruit we had to beat a lot of good teams for. Ten plays? If you're going to get angry about redshirt-burning, this is the one to hang your hat on.

There's the possibility, by the way, of a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that we fans aren't privy to. Maybe one of the freshmen told Groh, "hey, I don't want to play a fifth year, I want to get my degree on schedule and get moving with my life - play me if I deserve it." Maybe we have a highly motivated freshman class that wanted to get out their and prove their special teams chops - Groh always said that special teams were your gateway to the field.

Still, from a purely analytical standpoint here, I think there are at least four and possibly eight that shouldn't have played, and six that definitely should have. But you have to remember: this isn't irreversible. What's irreversible is the redshirts. If Mike London wants to, he can put the shirt back on these fourteen players.

In particular, I think the following players would be excellent candidates: McCartin, Freedman, Hunter, and one or two of the defensive backs. There's not enough depth at defensive back to redshirt them all again plus the incoming class too. But two tight ends for the year are plenty, and we get back Torchia and Phillips. The 4-3 gives us lots of depth at ILB - we shouldn't need McCartin. We don't graduate any receivers but Hall, and we're never going to see another four- or five-receiver set, so Hunter can sit. And Robert Randolph is certainly capable of kicking extra points if we really want a fifth year out of Jarrett.

Bottom line here: Groh could certainly have run this year without using so many true freshman, but anybody who complains about using 14 without a look at who actually played and how much isn't thinking it through enough. And it's not as if any damage is irreversible. Redshirts aren't only for the freshman year. Myself I am only complaining about four. That's not program-killing stuff.

Monday, December 14, 2009

hair of the dog for your championship celebration hangover

It struck me sometime after the game yesterday that that is the sort of game which perfectly displays two things:

1) why America doesn't dig on soccer like the rest of the world does
2) why the rest of the world does

The rest of the world has given us a game where you can run up and down the field for 110 minutes, kicking a ball around, and not ever achieve the one solitary mission of the exercise. This doesn't jive with a country that loves a sport where failure to score once a minute results in a low-scoring borefest. It shouldn't come as much surprise, then, that the NCAA soccer finals are held in a not-even-close-to-full "soccer park" that seats 7,000, and the lacrosse finals are in a 68,000-seat NFL glitzpalace. A matchup between the #3 and #4 defenses in history doesn't promise fireworks.

Well, America's missing out. There's nothing like the knowledge that one solitary mistake means your doom to put your heart in your throat for two and a half hours. The confluence of historically proficient defenses puts historical pressure on those defenses, and you and I the spectators spend the whole time going "Yes...yes...NO NO, STOP THAT....ok phew...get that get that GET THAT, SHOOT DAMMIT ARGH...don't let what are you doing???....someone PLEASE NOOOO oh thank god agh don't ever do that to me get the ball NO NOT THAT WAY JUST %&$#ING KICK IT! great another corner please just grab the ball this time." At least, that was me. I don't know, maybe you have the ability to sit there in stone silence every time the ball gets close to one goal or another.

So it's a shame that America missed that one. If this was another sport, it'd have been an instant classic, no doubt. You've got the #1 and #2 seeds, two of the best defenses that ever existed, and one team looking for undefeated immortality. And then they beat the hell out of each other in the driving rain and play a game as tightly contested as it's possible to be, all the way through to the Hollywood finish.

Well, not quite Hollywood. There's no way Hollywood would have drawn up the finish quite exactly the way it was. Championships are won many ways, but not by moonshot penalty kicks that end up in the parking lot. There has got to be a less cruel way to write that story. It's not that I enjoy this title less because we won on their miss and not our score, it's just that I would have saved that particular ending for someone I hated more. Way more. I don't think I've ever seen a more miserable picture of defeat than that Akron team; when the kangaroo mascot is out pulling condolences duty, you know it's bad. And it's too bad because they were laying their guts on the line for 110+ minutes and generally acting like the dictionary definition of "worthy opponent." Sometimes the schadenfreude of seeing the other guy lose is included in the joy of winning. Not so, here.

But a national title is a national title, after all. After we managed to make a big dent in the ACC tournament last year despite losing everyone who'd ever scored us a goal to injury, I expected bigger things this season. And then we lost all our exhibition games, and left our goal-scoring mojo on the tarmac in Portland after the season-opening tournament, and tied Liberty, and things looked bleak and all underachievey and I realized I had absolutely no way to figure out for myself what was going wrong because nobody televises soccer games, and all in all it was frustrating. Trophies fix everything. And after the party is over, there's still the fun times of checking out where that trophy puts you in the historical picture. I'd go over it, but it's already been done better than I would have, so just you click on that if you want some interesting numbers. The cliffnotes version is that we're now just one shy of Indiana, which doesn't seem to think it's in line for another title any time soon as they recently fired their coach.

Babblings in bullet format follow:

- If there's one guy to feel really, really happy for, it's Sean Hiller. Guy spends the bulk of the season plastered to the bench, gets basically some garbage time in the tournament and zero minutes in Cary, and then gets called on for the penalty kick - which turns out to be the winner. Gelnovatch has balls the size of grapefruits for putting a guy cold into the national title game like that just because he scores 'em in practice. Gotta appreciate a coach who has confidence in his whole roster and shows it.

- I toyed around with the idea of suggesting in the game preview that, after playing a pretty tame, clean game against Wake, we'd change gears against Akron and try and rough it up a little bit. They hadn't faced a lot of adversity all season - you know, close games, high-pressure opponents (the MAC tournament is a joke) - that sort of thing. Maybe give them something to think about as the game goes on. I couldn't think of a good reason why that would be something we'd do - just a gut feeling - so I left it out. Five yellow cards and 32 fouls later, my gut thinks my brain is stupid. I would say we deserved the 22 fouls called on us - if some were chintzy, others were missed, so it evens out - but I couldn't help but wonder if maybe, you know, the ref would please consider calling a few on Akron too? Their official final count was 10; let's just say I respectfully disagree with such a low number.

- You know what I never said to myself or the TV during either of the two games this weekend? "Dammit, Volk." I think I swore under my breath at least once at every other player on the team for something - bad pass, missed opportunity on account of too much dicking around, crappy clear, whatever - except Mike Volk. The reason Gelnovatch's way-defensive philosophy works is because of the rock-solid Mike Volks of the world.

- Another guy that I thought played a pretty solid game was Neil Barlow. Couldn't see it on the scoresheet, obviously, because there's nothing to see there at all, but Barlow impressed.

- A friend of mine at work watched the Akron-UNC replay on Saturday and asked me if this soccer tournament wasn't really just an ACC party that we let somebody crash out of generosity. Well, yeah, it sort of tends to be that way. It's been six years since the last time a College Cup was held without at least two ACC teams. Even the field said ACC on it, as much as they tried to clean it off.

- Wooooooo!

Akron video

Normally I just procrastinate on this stuff, but a national championship calls for same-day delivery. (I haven't gone to bed yet, so it's still Sunday as far as I'm concerned. Get off me.) The videos page, therefore, is updated with sweet sweet national title goodness. Go watch. It's the first soccer highlight video I've even had a chance to make, but I'm way happy with how it turned out. If I do say so myself.

And yes, eventually, the semifinal against Wake will be posted too. But that probably won't be til after Christmas. Way things go.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

game preview: Akron

Date/Time: Sunday, December 13, 1 PM


Last matchup: Virginia 5, Akron 1 (1997)

Last game: UVA 2, Wake 1; Akron 0 (5), UNC 0 (4)

History against the Zips: 3-0

Special occasions call for a little extra work, and if playing for a national title isn't a special occasion, I don't know what is. Yesterday's match against Wake Forest was the first time I've gotten to see the soccer team in action all year, so naturally they almost blew it, but as it turned out I could hardly have lucked into a better one. And it sets up the first national championship game for the soccer team since 1997 and the first appearance of a UVA team in a title game of any kind since the lacrosse championship in 2006.

So what kind of team is Akron? Nobody ever thinks of Akron as a powerhouse in anything, because they aren't. But if they do anything well, soccer is it. Last year they were the #5 seed in the tournament and bowed out two rounds shy of the College Cup. They show up sporadically in the upper echelons of the NCAA soccer ranks throughout the years; this isn't even their first crack at a national title, having lost to Duke in the 1986 final. They're no dynasty, but they're no upstart either.

As you might expect from a team that hasn't lost a game all year (or even tied until just yesterday) they dominate the nationwide stat sheet. Offensively, they're #1. Defensively, #1. (We were #1 on defense til we gave up that goal yesterday.) They've scored 58 goals - the only other team to top 50 is Drake, which has played one more game and is skewed a bit by that 6-goal outburst they had earlier in the tournament against BC. Defensively, the numbers are just as gaudy - they've allowed seven goals all season. Frightening.

The obvious comparison is to Memphis's run a couple basketball seasons ago. They too posted a ridiculously good record in a crappy conference and made it all the way to the championship before losing. (Let's hope that part of the comparison holds up.) But the temptation, then and now, is to dismiss the unbeaten record as a product of a crappy schedule. Don't. Akron is legit. The average RPI of the teams on our schedule is 60.08; Akron, despite not playing an ACC schedule, is at 63.17. Not much difference. And they actually had a much tougher run through the tournament, RPI-wise, than we did, despite being the top seed; the only time our opponent was better than their opponent was yesterday.

They also put together a pretty rough nonconference schedule for themselves. They took on just about everyone in the Big Ten worth taking on - Penn State, Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Michigan. All tournament teams but Michigan, which also wasn't too shabby, and all tournament teams but Indiana (which advanced to the round of 16 anyway) seeded in the top 16. And they beat Tulsa (10th in the RPI and the tourney 8th seed) twice. In fact, if it weren't for Wake Forest showing up three times on our schedule, Akron would have the opponent's-RPI edge. No way of getting around it: Akron's no fluke.

The good news for us is the weather. Not that they're probably not used to the kind of shitty cold-ass rain that's on tap for tomorrow's game, being in Ohio and all, but it should really slow down the game. That's a good thing when we're about even on defense but they have the major statistical advantage on offense.

We have five national titles in soccer. A sixth would look mighty nice in the trophy case. It'd leave us just one shy of Indiana for second most overall. And probably most important of all, it'd give coach Gelnovatch something he very richly deserves. All these wins and yet not one in the title game; tomorrow's a good time to end that.

Bulletized thoughts on yesterday's game against Wake:

- If you watched that game in a vacuum and didn't know anything at all about either team, you'd probably guess that we were the more talented team but had never played together until that day. Wake was the team that looked like they knew each other's tendencies, and where to pass the ball. In between midfield and our own penalty area, they were killing us. Just killing us. Our passing was sloppy and terrible. Hunter Jumper in particular had a really egregious giveaway very late in the game that nearly resulted in the end of the whole thing. Not to single out Jumper, though; the whole team had problems getting the ball past midfield.

- I can't be the only one who watched Jonathan Villaneuva send that ball downfield and thought, "oh goody, let's try that again, it's only failed to work twenty times today."

- Speaking of Villaneuva, he's got to be man of the match, right? I mean, the guy not only set up both goals, he set them up beautifully. Not bad for a guy's first two assists of the whole season.

- OK, it was also Villanueva who let Wake's Corben Bone past him on the goal line for Wake's only goal. But seriously - who scores from there? I can't blame him for figuring that letting Bone run in there without any help, where the ball was likely to end up harmlessly in the keeper's hands, was preferable to a corner kick.

- Surprisingly clean game, wouldn't you say? Not a single yellow card. Big contrast to the first matchup this season when seven were handed out. And I definitely don't think it was because the ref just let 'em play - au contraire, I think it was called a little tighter than it could have been.

- We've now juuust squeaked past Wake three times this season. One has to feel fortunate. Or, if you're a Wake soccer fan, we've ripped out their hearts, stomped on it, and fed it to them. Oh, and we did it to them last season too, in the ACC tournament. So c'mon, what do we have to do to get past Mexico in this guy's estimation? Club the coach's puppy to death? Actually, he appears to be a true red-blooded USA Soccer fan and therefore his sentiments concerning Mexico are proper and correct.

Friday, December 11, 2009

the recruit: Michael Strauss

It's been so long since I've gotten to do one of these, I almost forgot I was supposed to.

Name: Michael Strauss
Position: QB
Hometown: Miami, FL
School: Gulliver Prep
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 200

ESPN: 76, #73 QB
Rivals: 5.6, three stars, #42 pro-style QB
Scout: two stars, #114 QB

When Tyler Brosius walked off the scene in October, it was scramble time. We have only three scholarship quarterbacks returning next year, and it might be more like two and a half because Riko Smalls was practicing with the receivers for a while there. So this is sort of what I meant when I said, once upon a time as our recruiting ground to a screeching halt, that it wasn't going to be about the names we've been following and the commits were going to have to come from guys not yet on the radar screen. Which, if you let it, is a nice way of saying we're cleaning up the scraps.

Now, if you're a star-watcher, Strauss has about as many of them as you can expect at this stage of the game. If you prefer to check out the offers, he's got that one from Alabama which is interesting considering they already have Philip Sims in the fold. You sort of have to wonder just how committable that offer was - Nick Saban can be kind of an offer cannon. But it's better than none at all.

Me, I don't trust that Alabama offer. Not even sure he ever received it in writing. So the real list is more like the assortment of non-BCS mud-dwellers that offered: schools like Akron, Western Michigan, FIU, and the school he decommitted from in order to commit here, Tulane. That's about standard for the guys surrounding him on the ranking list.

Strauss's arm doesn't look like the strongest in the world. He looks like he's giving it all he's got just to get it 40 yards downfield. This might account for why a lot of SEC schools took their looks in the spring and didn't offer. That said: 71% completion percentage, yo. That's as a junior. That's nothing to sneeze at. For a high school quarterback looking to play D-IA football, 60% is kind of a baseline expectation, but 70% is where you really take notice. Even system quarterbacks like at Houston or Texas Tech don't get that high unless they're good system quarterbacks. You remember Andrew Hendrix? Four-star type that we recruited hard and that ended up at Notre Dame? 61% as a junior. Give me a choice between an accurate quarterback and a strong-armed one and I'll take the former all day.

Also, there's this: Strauss is already as big as any scholarship QB we'll have next year. And if he gets his way, he'll enroll early and be right there with everyone else, learning the same offense at the same time as our other quarterbacks. (When fans complain that the UVA administration doesn't properly support the football team, this is exactly what they mean. Strauss shouldn't have to ask. Check to see if he meets the requirements and if the answer is yes, for Welsh's sake let him in. Unfortunately we don't have any requirements outside of "enroll in the fall.")

Personally, I'd rather not have Strauss on the field next year - if a true freshman comes in and beats out a fifth-year senior (that'd be Verica) for the job, a long, long season is in order. And not long as in "we still get to play a game in December or January." I like Strauss's accuracy and I like his brains. (When a kid lists, early on, Duke and Vandy among the favorites and eventually commits to Tulane, brains are involved.) Best-case in my mind is to redshirt Strauss and then put him, Metheny, and Smalls in a steel cage match in 2011 for the starting job. If Strauss is allowed to enroll early, there's no reason being a year behind Metheny should be an obstacle.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

depth chart update

Sorry, no original stuff today. Insert sad face here. I've taken this slow-news-day opportunity to reconstitute the depth chart, the original file for which was lost in the Great Hard Drive Crash of 2009. Fortunately I didn't have to reinvent the wheel - I mean, it's right here on the blog for me to copy, so it looks basically the same.

I did take the liberty of making a couple updates; the latest verbals are on the list, for starters. I also moved all the true freshmen that played up above the dashed line in that column, as that's the group they'll now join for eligibility purposes and move up next year into the sophomore column. There's another useful little addition. The orange numbers next to the years at the top of the columns tell you how many scholarship players are in that eligibility class. (They also tell me, so I don't have to keep counting one-by-one every time I want to know.)

As with last year, I left the seniors on for a while, and they'll stay there at least through spring practice, the idea being that way we can see what we have to replace. Also, the "freshman" or "2012" column can be a little bit misleading if you let it - those who redshirted technically are now 2013. But you're smart people and I think you'll get the picture.

You'll note that at this time we have 84 scholarships on the team, graduate 12, and will replace them with 13 next year, putting us precisely at the limit. The depth chart assumes that all candidates for a fifth year will be asked back; you should assume otherwise. My guess is three or four players won't get asked back, but in order to strike a balance between simplicity and information here, the chart isn't going to reflect that.

(Furthermore I think Robert Randolph ought to be a candidate to receive a scholarship, if he's going to be the starting kicker from here on out, which by the way he is. So this number-juggling is always up in the air this time of year.)

Tomorrow I'll get back to posting actual content stuff. There are no more weekly Blogpoll ballots this year, so we now depart from the football season schedule and go back to Fridays being a posting day and Sundays being on an if-I-feel-like-it basis.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

should we readjust expectations?

So here we are: it's finals week, and that means the basketball team is taking a break, and that means it's a good time to sit down and figure out what the hell. We are 4-4, which incidentally is exactly where we were last year after eight games, only that involved a bare-bones win over USF and a loss that shouldn't ever have happened. It would have been really nice to get one of those four losses back, because Auburn was our last chance at a win over a major-league program outside the ACC. But the plus side is that there aren't any losses to Liberty or teams of a similar caliber.

That's going to be kind of a theme here as we try and decide today whether or not the expectations we (okay, I) had for the basketball team were too high. For every minus, there's a plus. I'd say that's probably par for the course for a rebuilding team learning a new system like ours.

First off, obviously, when I said there was an outside chance we might be interested in the results of Selection Day, obviously that's obviously not going to happen, obviously. Neither is the NIT. So that's some readjustment right there.

What's been going on, as best as my non-coaching eyes can tell, is that we're still getting murdered by the nuances of the pack-line defense. It's not automatic yet. I think it's clear the team has bought into the system and is working feverishly on getting it right, because if you've read about the basics of the defense, you can see it very very clearly on the court. Things like, stay inside the imaginary line, don't switch on screens, don't ever give up the baseline, and put your feet in such and such a place when guarding a player inside the line without the ball. When given just a split second to process his responsibilities, each player gets it right probably at least 85-90% of the time. The problem is, this is basketball, you don't always have that split second, and we're only eight games into using the system so it's not even close to automatic. And when another team runs their offense with enough precision to eliminate that split-second, bad things happen; and because of it we're especially susceptible to the three-ball because the guards haven't figured out how to stay true to the principles of the defense and still get out and contest the three.

On the plus side of the defense is the turnovers. We're getting them and winning the turnover battles. We haven't turned the ball over more than the opposition this season, except for the first game. Especially - and I don't know if this is just me or what - I think we're seeing a significant increase in shot-clock violations by the opposition. The turnovers his defense is causing has to put a smile on Tony Bennett's face.

What else is hurting? Well, the freshmen aren't as ready as we'd hoped. Spurlock hasn't even got up off the bench half the time, and Evans has played in every game, but sometimes just a minute or two. I said before the season Evans would be a big X-factor of sorts - the more he plays, the less we have to rely on guys like Baker for point guard stuff. Evans had a big-time breakthrough against Auburn with 18 minutes, 5 assists, 3 steals, and zero turnovers. And it's no coincidence at all that in the same game, Calvin Baker only played 10 minutes and Mustapha Farrakhan 9, and that we were in a position to win at the end. Right now, those two are ice-cold from the floor, and it's not helping.

Speaking of shooting, it's still a weakness. The hoped-for jump shot from Sylven hasn't quite materialized. He's not an outside threat, and neither are the aforementioned Farrakhan and Baker. HOWEVA! Jeff Jones is well on his way. His shooting is vastly improved. Like, big-time. It's not there every game yet, but any maroon can watch five minutes of any one of our games and realize we're a much, much better team when Jones' shot is falling.

So what about those readjusted expectations? Well, we've lopped off the top end. Any kind of tournament that gets any attention is out. But I made one guarantee, and I'm sticking to it: We'll improve over our 11th-place finish in the ACC. And we were 10-18 last year; I see improvement over that in our future too. The upcoming five-game stretch in between finals and the ACC program is the easiest of the year. Three of those teams are just bottom-of-the-barrel horrible. (That was the idea. We need wins.) Then there's UNC-Wilmington and UAB. Both dangerous. But neither overwhelming. At worst, we come out of this stretch and into the ACC schedule sitting at 7-6. I think 8-5 is more likely, and a five-game win streak to get us to 9-4 isn't a pipe dream. And remember - we won four games last year in an ACC that was stronger than this. So I expect to improve on that, even if only by a little.

Which brings us to what I said should be the two baseline expectations for this team: Improve on 11th place in the ACC, and go to the postseason. Hey, the CBI is the postseason. And I will tell you what: nine more wins (say, four out of five in the remaining OOC sked and five more in the ACC - that's 13-14 if you're keeping track, 13-15 or maybe 14-15 counting the ACC tournament) will get us there.

Addendum: There is one other improvement over last season I forgot to mention, and it's a big one. Last season, not a single one of our wins was broadcasted on TV up here where I could get my highlight-clipping hooks into them. This year, I finally got one. It's not, like, a big important game or anything - it's Cleveland State - but, as much for the practice of making a basketball video as anything, I'll eventually be getting this one up into the videos section.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

other stuff that's going on

The obvious problem with a coaching turnover is that it blots out everything else. Pretty much literally everything. I mean, there's a national championship being decided in soccer. So let's see what the hell's going on there.

We find ourselves in Cary, NC for the College Cup; a much less impressive-sounding destination than Foxborough or Omaha, but no less meaningful. To put this in a little perspective for Cavaliers fans drowning in misery over our historically crappy revenue sports, the three "secondary" men's sports (not quite as high-profile as basketball and football but on a tier above the Olympic sports like cross country or wrestling) all ended up in the championship destination of their respective sport in this calendar year. Lacrosse and soccer - Final Fours both, and the baseball team was in the CWS, finishing fifth. UNC has soccer and baseball going for them, but no other school can claim three. Not even if you include hockey, which sadly we don't participate in. This would be an explanation for why we're currently leading the Director's Cup (!) except that that's only fall sports - the baseball and lacrosse were last year. Just wait til it adds the soccer results (women didn't do too badly either) and the reaming we're about to unleash on the rest of the world in the swimming pool.

(Swimming being the Olympic sport I actively care about, you should know that that particular season is well underway, and the men and women both administered beatings to Poly and Kentucky - the latter having finished 17th in the men's nationals last year to our 9th. And we suffered two very close dual meet losses to Florida - 5th and 7th at nationals, if you're wondering. Both the men's and women's teams derived the bulk of their points at the ACCs and nationals last year from non-seniors and are poised for another outstanding season.)

Anyway, soccer. Jeff White and numerous others already mentioned the insane shutout streak that the team is currently riding, so I don't feel jinxy about pointing out that still nobody's scored on us since October 17th. I wish I could find the actual number that is the shutout streak record for a goalie, but all I can remember is that it's likely we'd have to go into next season before Diego Restrepo can beat it. Still, we're currently over 1,000 minutes of goal-free soccer. This is not a place I imagined we'd be at the beginning of the season when it seemed like we were the ones not scoring ever, but who's complaining?

Also, the only reason the Final Four isn't four ACC teams is because 1) the team that isn't ACC is 23-0-0 and 2) they didn't put any ACC teams in that quarter of the bracket anyway. Instead they forced the ACC to beat up on itself, and we obliged, handing a whooping-stick in the form of a 3-0 thrashing to defending national champion (ugh) Maryland. Up next is Wake Forest. Excellent team. No crazy Cinderellas in this Final Four. I'm wary, as we never seem to be able to beat them without some kind of major-league drama. Twice in a row now we've seen them in the ACC tournament and twice in a row we've had to deal with double overtime. They'll be out for blood, what with all the close, close losses they've suffered at our hands lately. But they have to score on us to beat us.

I was going to follow up with some basketball, but I'll save that for later. Plenty of time for that, now that the team is on final exams break. But we do have some football odds and ends.

First, a recruiting board update. Exciting, no? That would be because commitment #13 is on there, and it's a quarterback. Woo. Update is as follows:

- Added QB Michael Strauss to orange.

- On that note, moved QBs David Olson and Hutson Mason to red. We are still a touch thin at quarterback, having only four scholarship ones on the roster next year. Assuming Riko Smalls is, in fact, a quarterback. So we might take another one, or, I think equally likely, wait til next year.

- Moved DT Johnathan Hankins to red; once he got that Michigan offer, it was basically over for us.

So, where we stand in the big picture: we have 12 graduating seniors and 13 verbals, which puts us one over. I think. If I have my scholarship numbers right. No matter though; we still don't know about which fifth-year seniors won't be asked back. I think that number would be no higher than three; if that many, the players we give the watch to would probably be Matt Leemhuis, Isaac Cain, and Staton Jobe. Also take into account the ever-present likelihood of some attrition over the offseason, and I think we will take anywhere from 2-4 more commitments. If we can get as many as four. I think it's likely to be a really slow couple of months before Signing Day. Never fear; the 2011 board will show up just about a month from now.

Now here's something we hope you'll really like. This is fun. The university doesn't usually like to come out with this stuff this far in advance. Normally we have to wait until pretty much everyone else has found out theirs before we get to learn ours, and then we only get to learn the upcoming season. What the hell am I talking about? Out-of-conference opponents! Jeff White lays it all bare until 2015. This would be about as close as you get to official confirmation that that deal which was supposed to give us four free home games from MAC opponents is a dead donkey. Frickin' MAC weasels. With that knowledge in hand, it sort of annoys me that a MAC opponent (that we probably had to pay for) is coming to town, but at least it's as big a patsy as they have to offer.

Anyway, here, I'll spoil the surprise and type it all out. This isn't in any order, so don't go thinking one game comes after the other just cause I (or White) put it down that way:

2010: @USC, vs. Eastern Michigan, vs. Richmond, vs. VMI
2011: @Indiana, vs. Idaho, vs. William & Mary, vs. Southern Miss
2012: @TCU, vs. Penn State, vs. Richmond
2013: @Penn State
2014: vs. Richmond, vs. UCLA
2015: @UCLA, vs. William & Mary

Thoughts in bullet form:

- Next year's schedule is the least enticing I've ever seen. Two I-AA teams means we have to win seven to go to a bowl. But a poster on CavsCorner had a sentiment I'm stealing: better 6-6 and no bowl than 5-7 and no bowl. What, you really had "bowl game" on your 2010 to-do list after this fiasco? It would take a massive, massive improvement.

- Idaho? Huh. That might be the most random opponent I've ever seen.

- Hey, cool, UCLA! That's the kind of opponent I want to see plenty of on the schedule. USC is interesting and all but would be a lot more so if we weren't chopped dog meat to them. But a BCS opponent is always enticing, and more so when they're a team sort of on our historical level. I liked having teams like Wisconsin and South Carolina on the schedule a few years back.

- Would be nice to not play so many I-AA teams.

Closing thought for the day: Mike London has established a pace of one verbal commitment per day on the job. This is a fun trend and I want to see it continued. Forever.

Monday, December 7, 2009

begin the London era

So I didn't really expect to have writer's block on the day a new head coach was announced, but now that I think about it, it makes sense. We spent the whole time after Leitao was fired assuming Tubby Smith or maybe Jeff Capel would be our next basketball coach. That was three weeks. We've probably spent three years assuming Mike London would be our next football coach, and voila. It seems very odd that nine days ago, Al Groh was preparing to coach a football game the same way he always has - that is to say, as if he's coached a million of these things before and will coach a million more before it's over. Then boom, he's fired, and barely a week later his replacement is hired, and in between we're basically deprived of most of the fun times and lunacy that typically accompanies a head coach search in the 21st century.

Now, the fact is that if you'd told me before the season in a vacuum that this is how it would have gone down, I'd have been mightily disappointed. I was never entirely against the idea of hiring London, but I wasn't sold on it either - you'll never convince me that the best way to conduct a coaching search is to limit it to within a 70-mile radius outside your school. And London is probably not the best coach on the list of ostensible candidates - or if he is, he hasn't yet proven it. So to fire Groh and then forgo a nationwide search to make the easy call just down the road to a guy you already know, dangle the big bucks, and call it a day - that was my nightmare scenario. And if this goes badly, that's probably how we'll all end up remembering how it played out.

But calling it that is to ignore that the search probably began two months ago. When Littlepage said, "we'll evaluate Groh's status at the end of the season," that is AD-speak for "bye-bye." So basically, one of two things happened here:

- Either Littlepage made the decision to fire Groh except in case of a miracle, and then spent the next couple months evaluating potential replacements, having his people send out feelers to agent-types, weighing ideas against one another, finding out the availability of various coaches on his list (and their appeal to the higher-up administration and the boosters), and having settled on the man who best fit his criteria, was likely to be available, and appealed to the money folks, made his move as soon as he professionally could, or -

- he threw up his hands, said, screw it, I just dealt with this shit like eight months ago, I'm too old for this, and decided not to bother with anything that would be too difficult like prying Jim Grobe out of Winston-Salem and took the path of least resistance to the guy that he knew would keep fans and boosters off his back for a while.

The athletic department having demonstrated a relatively high degree of competence in most of their other recent coaching hires, I choose to believe option 1.

So we might not have ended up with the actual best coach on the list, but we do have the best fit. Often, "a good fit" is something you say when you don't really feel like going into detail on your choice, or something recruits say when they mean "this school has the hottest cheerleaders." In coaching, though, it means something - you wouldn't hire, say, good ol' boy Steve Spurrier to coach at a buttoned-down place like BYU. And at UVA, you can't hire a Bobby Bowden clone - that is, I Neither Know Nor Care What My Players Are Up To In The Classroom. There is no magical know-how-to-win-at-UVA handbook that Mike London happens to have, but he does have the qualities you need - understanding of the academic expectations, connections in the state, and it helps also that he's already coached and even recruited a bunch of the current roster anyway. Hell, he coached here so recently that all the pictures handily show him already in UVA garb, coaching UVA.

What I already know about London is this stuff: He's an apple right off the Groh coaching tree - but not a Groh apostle - and both are good news. We won't have to go down the list of top in-state recruits and mark off two-thirds of them as Hokies right off the bat. We'll see a switch to the 4-3 defense - about the only concrete actual on-field detail London mentioned in his press conference. He'll have the stadium full and the checks to the VAF flowing again. The alumni all love him.

All good stuff. All you can ask for from a head coach the day he's hired. The downside: we don't really know if he can be a head coach. Two years at Richmond doesn't tell us enough. I don't even think you have to be a cynic to point out that his national championship came on the extant foundation laid by Dave Clawson. Just a realist. He didn't screw it up, though, which is definitely a start. But I think we're like the crappy NFL team that drafts a quarterback in the first round. We've found out everything we can find out and we know the guy has all the tools he needs. Now we need to see if it plays out on the field like it should. Got the talent, but does he have the ability? There's absolutely no reason not to be optimistic here. But there's a lot of wait-and-see, too.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

that took less time than i thought

Probably the worst-kept secret on the whole coaching carousel was that we'd eventually be making a run at Mike London; if you didn't already know it, you basically assumed it. I sort of thought we'd wait til Monday to get ahold of his bosses and such, just to let him take care of business at Richmond after a heartbreaker of a loss last night, but that is why I'm not an athletic director. Apparently it took less than 12 hours. Which means that we didn't even wait til 10:30 or so this morning before ringing up the Richmond folks.

So what do you got for a date and time for the announcement on this thing? Wednesday at about, oh, 1 PM sounds about right to me.

Edit: Or, y'know, Monday maybe. Craig Littlepage is eating my lunch.

Just for posterity, here is the post I put up on London, way back in September when it was evident the thin ice Al Groh was walking on had cracked all the way through. I retract only three words from the post: "I'd rather pass." I wouldn't anymore. Once it became apparent that Tommy Tuberville and Brian Kelly were future UVA coaches only in Gumdrop Rainbow Land, London moved to (or very near) the top of the list, and further I'm so damn pleased by the speed of this thing that I'm not bothering to nitpick.

We now have head coaches in football and basketball both under the age of 50; the clear message from Littlepage is that we're going to take off like a rocket or die trying. I can't complain about that kind of attitude.

Blogpoll ballot Week 14

3TCU 1
4Cincinnati 1
5Boise State 1
6Oregon 1
7Florida 4
8Georgia Tech 1
9Ohio State 1
11Penn State
12Virginia Tech
13Miami (Florida) 1
14Pittsburgh 1
16Oregon State 1
17Wisconsin 1
18Nebraska 1
19Oklahoma State 1
20LSU 1
21West Virginia
22Central Michigan
23Brigham Young 1
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Houston (#13), Southern Cal (#16), California (#23).

- Florida takes a larger hit than I was expecting, but the fact is they didn't show up to play yesterday, and the other fact is, they haven't beaten much of anyone. LSU, OK. Anyone else? Arkansas by 3? Tennessee and Mississippi State by 10? The SEC was a flop this year, and Florida flopped their way through it, getting juiced up for their rivalry game against Georgia and that's about it.

- Ohio State takes a small hit because suddenly losing to USC doesn't look too impressive any more.

- Arizona rockets to #15 on the realization that they've now beaten all of the Pac-10 competition for those lower spots. Speaking of the Pac-10, when Cal loses, they don't screw around, do they? Go big or go home. Or in this case, both.

- No need to penalize Clemson, Pitt, or Nebraska for their performances in championship games. In fact, the former two float upwards a notch thanks to teams above them washing out.

- I still think BYU is a fraud. Hence, CMU makes an appearance above them. Hey, at least when Central lost, they didn't get blown the hell up out of their own stadium by a 6-6 team.

- This was otherwise pretty easy to put together. Most teams didn't play, so it's basically fair to take last week's ballot and adjust based on this week's results, rather than starting mostly from scratch like I do most weeks.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

requiem for an era: The Players That Made It Happen, part 2

Last of the series. At some point we'll actually have to stop reminiscing and act like there's present-day stuff going on. Today's lists continue the five-player format. First, we have five that, for whatever reason, never lived up to their potential or their hype. Again, these count down from five to one. There's a darker theme to this list. The last four involve some veiled criticism of some aspect of our program - there are things, some of which are the head coach himself and some of which have nothing to do with him, that hold this program back. For the most part, these players failed to live up because of it.

#33 - Wali Lundy

Here's the one that doesn't involve any sideswipes at anything. You might even be surprised to see him on the list. Lundy had by any account an excellent career. If I'd done a top ten list the other day instead of five, Lundy would be a shoo-in. In his four years here, he played a starring role.

And yet, it felt like it could have been so much more than just a "role." Lundy's star shone brightest early on. It dimmed as time passed, and Alvin Pearman gradually moved into the lead part. As a freshman in 2002, Lundy was the primary running back and kick returner and second-leading receiver, too, and made national headlines with his four-touchdown effort in the bowl game. At that point, the sky was the limit. 1900 all-purpose yards as a freshman is the sort of thing that launches Heisman campaigns two or three years later.

But the next season, though Lundy was still the primary running back and thisdamnclose to a 1,000-yard campaign, Pearman and not Lundy was the first receiving option out of the backfield; in Lundy's junior year, Pearman overshadowed him entirely and crossed the 1,000 yard mark that Lundy couldn't. By 2005, Pearman had graduated and Lundy returned to his role as primary running back, but couldn't even top 600 yards, even with a line populated by future NFLers. (By comparison, the O-line of 2008, infamous for its lack of runblocking skills especially early in the season, helped Cedric Peerman to 200 more rushing yards than Lundy had in '05.)

It's tough to include Wali Lundy on a list like this, but it's also a bit disappointing to think of the difference between the reality and what we had in our imaginations as the clock ticked away on a 24-point win over West Virginia in 2002.

#4 - Anthony Martinez

The blow is cushioned here, because Marques Hagans turned out to be a pretty damn good player, and a decent answer to the argument that Groh couldn't develop quarterbacks. But Martinez is why that argument exists. Martinez was the it guy when he committed. The future. Especially since, at the time he committed, Matt Schaub and Bryson Spinner were busy playing hot potato with the quarterback job, and a few days later, Florida State would paste the Hoos in Charlottesville.

Martinez sat on the bench for most of two years, coming in for a little backup duty in 2003. No biggie; Schaub was busy rewriting record books. But when 2004 rolled around and he found himself fourth on the depth chart, he vamoosed. Normally the transfer of your fourth-string quarterback doesn't make many waves, but the potential alone that he had when he came in would have landed him even higher on this list. That is, if not for the probability that had he played, he would have basically been Marques Hagans anyway.

#95 - Jeffrey Fitzgerald

ARGH. Fitzgerald was a freshman All-American in 2006. A beast. That year, he outshone junior Chris Long - Fitzgerald led the team in sacks, TFL, and fumbles recovered, and actually even managed to be second in interceptions too. He was similarly spectacular in 2007 as a sophomore. This season, he was a beast for Kansas State instead. Fitzgerald left the team for academic reasons - not because the NCAA said he was ineligible, but because UVA did.

We have a pretty good defensive line right now, but we're thin at DE and surely Fitzgerald would look pretty good there this year. He picked up at K-State right where he left off and led the team in sacks, TFL, fumbles forced - you know, all the stuff. Even returned an INT for a touchdown, just as he once did here. UVA fans will not soon forget what might have been here - though Fitzgerald did indeed pick up where he left off, missing a season couldn't have helped his development. What if he didn't have to leave off?

#32 - Keith Payne

"No Payne, no gain." That was the clever refrain occasionally heard when UVA fans would discuss Payne and what he'd bring to the program in the future. It seems like ages and ages ago, but once upon a time, Payne had UVA fans acting like schoolgirls who just made eye contact with a Jonas Brother. It reached a fever pitch after Payne's high school team won a state championship, in large part because of his four touchdowns, against Percy Harvin's high school team. Big things were expected, despite Payne's lack of offers outside the state and mediocre guru ratings. Big, big, big things. This was the guy who was going to put the team on his shoulders and carry it back to prominence.

Unfortunately, we tend to overrate our talent, sometimes egregiously. Payne turned out to be slow, and not particularly bruising. He fell further and further down the depth chart as time went on, and finally called it quits earlier this fall. It's not his fault, really, that he didn't live up to the hype; it just turned out that the hype didn't match the actuality.

#7 - Peter Lalich

The number says it all. Lalich was another big-time quarterback recruit. Highly rated by everyone, and UVA fans were positively thrilled when Lalich made an early commitment to Virginia. Though the offers kept rolling in all summer, he didn't budge. We had our quarterback of the future, and that is really one of the most comforting thoughts a fan can have.

But we didn't account for stupidity. Despite being on probation for underage drinking and having some pretty easy probation terms (DON'T DRINK), this proved too difficult. Lalich admitted to the judge he had continued to drink, while also expressing that he was under the impression he was only supposed to not get arrested. This was such a serious crime that the judge came down and.....extended his probation. Whoop-de-doo.

Grownups can be pretty stupid too, though. Sometimes more. Al Groh was perfectly happy to keep his starting quarterback on the team, given that Lalich's crime was nothing more than the same shit that happens in five hundred places every Friday and Saturday night in Charlottesville.....and then telling the judge the truth about it. Craig Littlepage saw things differently, and stepped in to remove Lalich from the team. And he wonders why the football team is 3-9.

OK, so enough reminiscing. Not all of Al Groh's players are no longer on the team. Many of them even have talent. Next year, some new coach will be trying to take Al Groh's players and do something better than 3-9 with them. The next list will look at next year's building blocks. This isn't necessarily a list of the best players. You won't find Matt Conrath or Ras-I Dowling. This is: who has the talent and needs to make use of it?

#18 - Kris Burd

The receiving corps was - let's see, how can I put this delicately? - horrendous this year. Damn it when Heather Dinich is right. Burd will be a junior next year, and given that he was the only receiver to show consistent competence for a full 12 games, he'll be looked at to continue his improvement and step up to catch a few more balls next season. Burd is not the fastest or the flashiest, but he is the best route-runner and the only receiver this year who showed the ability to get open both inside and outside.

#63 - Austin Pasztor

Last year, Pasztor stepped in as a true freshman and you could see the difference right away. The impact on the run-blocking was measurable, even to the layman's eye. He had his share of struggles this year along with the rest of the line, but when the pass rush reached Sewell, Pasztor generally wasn't the guy looking backward apologetically at his quarterback with his hands on his hips after the whistle. There will be more senior players than Pasztor on the line next year, but Big Canada should bring the combination of experience and talent that will desperately be needed to help anchor a faltering unit.

#56 - Cam Johnson

Johnson has been a little bit of a tweener so far. Too small to play DE in the 3-4 and not really quick enough to take on all the responsibilities of the OLB. But a new coach might mean a new defense. If we switch to a 4-3, Johnson would make a terrific defensive end. If not, Johnson still has some terrifying pass-rush skills that can be made use of. He may or may not become a three-down player - more power to us if he does - but at the very least his ability to rush off the edge is a big asset.

#28 - Rodney McLeod and #40 - Corey Mosley

I'm cheating here and stuffing two players into one category. Mosley lost his starting job midway through the season to Brandon Woods, who was a fine player other than his annoying tendency to bite on play-fakes. Woods won't be around next year, so the safety position belongs to these two, and if I never see either one ever again try to tackle someone with their shoulder it'll be a blessing. They're rightfully highly regarded and I expect them to have the middle of the field on lockdown next year. Just - please tackle with your arms.

#53 - Steve Greer

Greer is good. Very good. He even (for the most part) held his own and didn't get blasted into the secondary by fullbacks with thirty pounds on him. He has a chance to be special, and next year would be a great time to start.

That list was written with next year in mind; this one, with the two or three after that. Here are the players who will hopefully be the long-term difference-makers: Al Groh's final legacy. This is a lot more speculative and highly based on my own opinion rather than anything concrete.

#39 - Tucker Windle

Windle, as a true freshman, played his way from the bench all the way to the starting lineup this year. He wasn't by any stretch an every-down player, nor did he rack up the tackles, but there he was, leapfrogging older players and starting the Virginia Tech game in place of an injured Darren Childs. Having spent this season proving his talent as compared to the competition, Windle could be penciled in as a starter as soon as next year if the 3-4 sticks around, and though Greer has a head start, Windle might very well catch up when all's said and done.

#?? - Kevin Parks

Ladies and gentlemen, the best high school running back in North Carolina history. Parks puts up eye-popping stats on a powerhouse team. His running style has been described as similar to a bowling ball, and he's about that tall, too. While it's perfectly fair and legitimate to warn against falling into the Keith Payne trap, Parks nevertheless is a determined runner who appears to compare favorably in style to Mike Hart - only the leading rusher in Michigan's history.

#21 - Dominique Wallace

To be honest, I hardly even know why. Wallace's season was cut short due to injury, and he should be eligible for a medical redshirt. And he was only averaging three and a half yards per carry. But Wallace has always struck me as a guy with shoulders wide enough to carry a program and knock linebackers over in the process. Running back is my favorite position and Wallace is my favorite kind of running back. I think if he's healthy next year and ready to go and the offense is right, Wallace has a great shot at a feature role.

#99 - Brent Urban

To my mind, the defensive end of the future. Urban took a redshirt year this year but Groh thought highly enough of him to bring him on all the road trips. There are a couple pretty talented players ahead of him on the depth chart, but he should be able to work his way into the picture and be a major impact player when his turn comes.

#?? - Morgan Moses

Maybe? As likely as not, Moses is a candidate for the next coach's version of the first list. What might have been. But if he qualifies, and if he maintains his commitment despite all his favorite coaches getting fired, and if he stays eligible at UVA, the mammoth offensive tackle is just what the doctor ordered to fix the offensive line.

With that, we wrap up the series. There's soccer and basketball to get up into, not to mention a coaching search and all the nuttiness that surrounds it. And before you know it, it'll be lacrosse and baseball season. Time does fly.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

the replacements: Troy Calhoun

No better time than the present to keep on checking out potential suitors for this plum job of ours, now that it's officially open. Just for reference, below is who I've already profiled. Not all are really legitimate candidates any more, but anyway.

Mike London
Tommy Tuberville
Brian Kelly
Derek Dooley
Charlie Strong
Kevin Sumlin
Jim Grobe

Today is Troy Calhoun: current Air Force coach and outside candidate. Also, if you're in need of a rumor to feed the fire of your interest, you can now make up your own thanks to this Mad Lib provided by the folks of Lambeth Field, a brand new and highly promising blog on the scene.

I have also, by the way, updated my Official Playoff Proposal. It was required after the discovery of a really important issue that nobody seems to know about (including me until recently) and that you absolutely cannot have a playoff without taking into account.

Ok, now for Troy Calhoun.

Troy Calhoun

Main qualification: Making a service academy not suck at football.


1995-2000: Ohio ('95-'96 QB; '97-'00 OC/QB)
2001-02: Wake Forest (OC/QB)
2003-05: Denver Broncos (various ass't positions)
2006: Houston Texans (OC/QB)
2007-present: Air Force (HC)

If indeed the bosses want a coach with ACC experience, Calhoun squeaks in under the wire with those two years at Wake Forest. This is, however, one of the skinniest college resumes on the entire list of possible candidates. Calhoun has 11 years in I-A football, more than half of which don't count for much because they were in a non-head-coach position in the MAC. Nevertheless, Calhoun took over an Air Force program going stale in the waning years of the Fisher DeBerry regime, and immediately flipped it back to contender status.

How has he done this? For starters, Air Force runs a nutty offense much the same way Navy does, only even more so. Its productivity is middle-of-the-road, but keep in mind Air Force operates under the usual service academy handicaps. Calhoun is an offensive guy - just the sort that most fans are looking for right now - and has coached quarterbacks all his life, which is a bonus in my book. Would much rather have my head coach have a quarterback background than, say, running backs.

Calhoun has also popped up on radars before. Clemson was said to be looking at him, as were Washington and Tennessee. Those are some schools with Expectations. He might be a Mountain West guy and beating up on the likes of New Mexico and Colorado State, but unless he decides to be the next Fisher DeBerry, odds are he'll be at a BCS school sometime in the next three years. Might as well be ours.

Besides that, coming from the AFA and graduating from there too automatically puts a check in the box next to a couple important criteria for a UVA head coach. Character: check. Can deal with stiff academic requirements: check. If he can hack it with players who literally get confined to their rooms for skipping class, he can hack it at UVA. About the only question I'd have - and it's sort of a biggie - is recruiting. It's something he's had precious little experience with. At the AFA, zero percent of your players have NFL ambitions due to that pesky service requirement, so you can't recruit that type. At UVA you better be able to recruit that type. Calhoun's previous college experience is at Ohio and Wake Forest - he has pretty much never gone toe-to-toe with programs like Penn State for recruits.

I'd say the odds of us landing Calhoun are pretty slim. We seem less interested in him than in a couple other, more local candidates, and I'm not convinced Calhoun is 100% ready to leave. Earlier I said I thought he'd be pretty poachable, but he's now just come off the kind of season that could have been really special but for a couple wrong bounces - his losses to TCU, Navy, and Utah (three of the best teams on his schedule) were very close. Besides, he is coaching at his alma mater. Still, Calhoun ranks pretty up there on the Want List, especially now that the Want List is deprived of its top two candidates.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

requiem for an era: The Players Who Made It Happen

As Al Groh himself will tell you, a lot, whether or not you asked about them, it's all about the players. This is a two-parter. The look-back lists of the decade:

- Five best offensive players - today
- Five best defensive players - today
- Five players who I wish had lived up to the hype and/or potential - Thursday
- Five short-term building blocks - Thursday
- Five potential long-term building blocks - Thursday

First, the offense. This is slanted heavily toward the beginning of the decade. Offensive production trended downward, culminating in the total disaster of 2009. This is due, I think, to a combination of less talent and worse coaching - Al was never an offensive guy and left that to his OC, and none of the OCs we hired was an improvement over the last. This, and all lists, are in order from 5 to 1.

#75 - Eugene Monroe

Monroe was the last really tremendous, super-national-level recruit Groh landed. Declared the best offensive tackle in the nation by many services and a consensus top-five recruit overall, Monroe took a little bit of time to get up to speed, but when he did, he lived up to the billing. He was a very good run blocker but his true strength was as a pass-blocker, protecting what would have been the blind side of UVA quarterbacks if Jameel Sewell wasn't left-handed. During his junior year (2007), he didn't allow a single regular-season sack, and eventually was drafted 8th overall in the NFL Draft.

#11 - Billy McMullen

Penalized somewhat because only his last two years were in the Groh era, McMullen is nevertheless the decade's best wide receiver. The sign seen at Scott Stadium one fine day said it all: "Oh Thank Heaven For 7 to 11." McMullen led the team in receiving four years running, and was the only player in the decade to post a 1,000-yard receiving season: his junior year of 2001, when he caught 83 passes for 1,060 yards and 12 touchdowns.

#66 - D'Brickashaw Ferguson

Maybe we've gotten spoiled. When Monroe stepped into the left tackle job, this is whose shoes he was filling. That's a long time to be this good at left tackle. D'Brick, despite his relatively small stature for an offensive lineman, was actually a better run-blocker than pass protector. Not that he was any slouch there, either, but he was an absolute bulldozer when we ran the ball. Ferguson's skills were good enough to get him taken fourth overall in the draft.

#89 - Heath Miller

Set pretty much every school and conference tight end record and ended up way up near the top of all the UVA receiving lists, position be damned. Miller was as reliable a target as you'll ever see, with quickness and speed rivaling a wide receiver's, and a great blocker to boot. Third and nine? Chances were the ball was headed Miller's way. Miller earned the John Mackey Award for the nation's top tight end in 2004, and it's no stretch at all to claim he's the best tight end the conference has ever seen.

#7 - Matt Schaub

Another record-setter. Schaub remains the ACC's career leader in completion percentage at 66.978%. (Why the extreme decimal? Because Wake's Riley Skinner finished his season - and thus, his career - at 66.938%.) Besides that, Schaub is far and away the best quarterback the school has ever had. He sits atop every list: passing yards, touchdowns, completion percentage, completions, 300-yard games, you name it, Schaub owns the record. As with other names on the list here, his best year was his junior campaign, when he fell just shy of 3,000 yards and threw 28 touchdowns against just 7 picks. Not bad for a guy who was third-string his redshirt freshman season and spent his sophomore year platooning with Bryson Spinner.

Next, Groh's hallmark: the defense. And as you'd expect from Groh, the list is loaded with linebackers. It's almost worth having a separate list for them.

#55 - Angelo Crowell

It's kind of easy to forget that Crowell was really that good, because he wasn't all Groh-era and was overshadowed eventually by bigger, more exciting names. But he was an absolute tackle machine from the inside in Groh's 3-4, posting 144 tackles in his junior year and following it up with 155 the next. Much well-deserved praise is heaped on Jon Copper for his own tackling numbers, but Crowell was the original beast ILB.

#3 - Marcus Hamilton

We need a member of the secondary on here. Hamilton shines the brightest, with 15 interceptions over three years as a starter. From 2004-2006 he had 4, 6, and 5, respectively - numbers that have only been matched once each by three separate players in the Groh era. Hamilton was also third on the team in tackles in 2005.

#44 - Kai Parham

Parham formed one-half of a duo with Ahmad Brooks that got UVA fans positively salivating when they both announced their commitments to Virginia. Brooks was the more heralded of the two and probably would sit in this spot if he hadn't flamed out due to injury and eventually being booted from the team, but the duo lived up to its reputation in '03 and '04. Parham's production was slightly less than Brooks' during the two full years they were starters together, but only slightly. Parham stuck around for all of 2005 and registered 103 tackles, 14.5 TFL, and 8.5 sacks, all team-leading numbers.

#91 - Chris Long

Story time. A player I knew, who graduated in 2004, told me this. Sometime early in the '03 season, a visitor showed up to visit the facilities. The visitor was built. Just ripped. He was so big and strong-looking, with such a mature build, that most of the players assumed he was an alum. No, the coaches told them. That's a recruit. Recruit? Yes, recruit. That's Howie Long's boy, he committed to us not too long ago.

If this was about single-season performances, Long would be #1 without any doubt. It took a little bit of time for the brilliance to shine through, but when it did, holy shit. Long registered a whopping 14 sacks and 19 TFL in 2007, and for good measure threw in an interception and 79 tackles - unheard-of numbers for a lineman in a 3-4. Without Long, I think that 9-4 season in 2007 becomes 5-7. Seriously. Long became the highest-picked Virginia player in the draft at 2nd overall since Bill Dudley in 1942.

#56 - Darryl Blackstock

This sort of surprised even me - I expected I'd be naming Long to the #1 spot. But the stats don't lie, and neither do the memories. The man we called "Sackstock" blasted onto the scene in 2002 and immediately made himself at home in opposing backfields. He would rack up a whopping 27 sacks in three seasons - double digits in two of them - and in each of those seasons, 14 TFL. Clint Sintim was a helluva player, but basically Blackstock Lite. Blackstock was, simply put, a terror, and perfectly suited for Groh's 3-4 defense. Brooks and Parham excited people based on potential alone, and did a pretty respectable job of living up to it on the field. But only two players this decade - and this isn't a slam on the decade because it's extremely hard for a defensive player to accomplish this - truly electrified a crowd. Long was one, but he only managed it for one season. Blackstock captured our attention for three full years.

So: programming note. Tomorrow (which is basically "today" at this point - that is, Wednesday) I'll interrupt the look-backs for the same look-forwards I've been doing: another look into the bio of a potential replacement coach. That will be Troy Calhoun this week. On Thursday I'll pick up again with the other three lists I promised. After that.....I'll think of something. I always do.