Tuesday, August 31, 2010

season preview: the defense

Gotta tell ya, this one's a lot more fun to write than the offense. Anyone who's being honest with themselves knows there's no way in earth's recorded history that an offense with the following....
- major-league offensive-line issues
- a leading returning rusher with 73 yards
- one proven receiver
- a quarterback with an interception boogeyman
- the third new scheme in three years

....is suddenly going to rise from the ashes of the bottom 15 offenses in the country to respectability. Improve it may, but it's still going to be a long, difficult slog of a couple years before you see a real, performance-driven offense at UVA.

So it'll have to be the defense that keeps this team in the hunt. This, it is equipped to do. A scheme change is the story of the year here as well, and many fans are excited about the 4-3, but it's not going to pay instant dividends. It does, however, have the personnel to make the change a lot smoother.


The starters: #56 Cam Johnson, #96 Nick Jenkins, #59 John-Kevin Dolce, #92 Zane Parr
The backups: #58 Jeremiah Mathis, #93 Will Hill, #94 Matt Conrath, #90 Jake Snyder

With a new defense that calls for an extra lineman, you'd expect a little hodge-podge. But Mike London has found a way not to make a mess of the depth chart. The line runs a little thin on playing experience behind the starters, but this is one of those positions where physical talent can make up in a big way for inexperience.

So I'm not worried about the effects of the 4-3 on the line. Nick Jenkins, for example, has always been a defensive tackle. When you boil it down, there aren't many options for a DT post-snap: stunt right, stunt left, or just hit the MFer in front of you really hard. Jenkins was a solid nose tackle in the 3-4. With the line having four big dudes on it all the time instead of some of the time, he'll see marginally fewer double teams, which can't hurt.

The tackle position will basically see a rotation of three players. Conrath is listed as a backup only because you can't list three starters here, and he'll see just as much time as the other two. Dolce is interesting. A physical specimen who outgrew linebacker but has a sort of magnetic attraction between himself and a dropped-back passer, Groh gave him a shot at DT in pass-rush situations to boost the pressure on the quarterback. It must have been a good idea, because London kept it going. But. It doesn't matter if he can push a semi truck on its side, he still gives up 50 pounds to the guys he's going against. If I were an offensive coordinator, one of the first things I'd do is order my linemen to double team Dolce, push him into next week, and run at the ensuing chasm that opens up. And do that until it stops working. Dolce's task will be to make sure it never works, or he'll end up back in the role of a pass-rush specialist.

As for the ends, technically Cam Johnson is a converted linebacker, but he hasn't done any actual linebacker stuff like covering tight ends and reading play-fakes for like a year and a half. Being a defensive end is little more than a change of the nameplate on the office door. Johnson is a natural pass-rusher. And Zane Parr was overshadowed last year by Nate Collins and Conrath, but his role increased as the year went on and his apprenticeship is complete.

All in all, this is largely what a defensive line should look like. It's better than a lot of lines in the ACC. What it's missing is the kind of DE that leaves tank tracks on offensive tackles because they accidentally got between him and the quarterback, but it's also bereft of weak points.


The starters: #9 Laroy Reynolds, #53 Steve Greer, #26 Ausar Walcott
The backups: #57 Darnell Carter, #52 Aaron Taliaferro, #55 Jared Detrick

This is where it gets weird. The 4-3 and graduation combined to shake up the linebacking corps something fierce. The result is two former safeties in the starting lineup here, and a lot of former doghouse guys getting a new place in the two-deep.

Most encouraging is the apparent emergence of Taliaferro. People are concerned, and rightly so, that the team's leading tackler would suddenly be in an even fight for his job with a guy who played for exactly six plays in 2009. Greer is a proven performer, though. Unlike with the quarterback battle, I think this is a positive indicator on Taliaferro rather than a negative one on Greer. There's no good reason for Greer to have regressed, so it's a safe bet he didn't.

The outside, though, that's where things get weird. Really, I have no idea what to expect. For the players themselves - Reynolds and Walcott, specifically, the move is something close to a career-saver. Walcott was one of the bigger pickups of the 2008 class, and at safety, he was stuck behind a bunch of major-leaguers who have two more years left. And in Reynolds case, well: most people have nasty words for Groh for burning a lot of redshirts on last year's class. I push back about that, because some of that was perfectly justifiable and some of it was at least defensible. Reynolds, though, was certainly one of the more questionable decisions; his redshirt should have stayed firmly in place. Like Walcott, the move to linebacker frees up a lot of future playing time.

The backups on the outside, Detrick and Carter, were unable to break into what rotation there was in the past couple years. Detrick actually managed to redshirt last season in what would have been his junior year and I basically just realized I need to update the depth chart for that dammit. He's now a redshirt junior. Anyway, Reynolds and Walcott are totally untried at this position, but they don't have much less experience here than their backups. What comes of the outside linebackers, we'll see: it wouldn't surprise to see either the ex-safety underclassmen or the always-linebacker upperclassmen get a grip on the position. I don't know who'll turn out to be the better linebackers, but either way someone had better separate themselves.


The starters: #19 Ras-I Dowling, #13 Chase Minnifield, #7 Corey Mosley, #4 Rodney McLeod
The backups: #28 Devin Wallace, #43 Mike Parker, #23 Dom Joseph, #1 Trey Womack

Best secondary in the ACC? Earlier I nominated UNC for that honor, but that was before we knew that almost their entire defense is suddenly the world's best scout team. Clemson's still pretty damn good, but anyway. UVA. This is a top secondary.

It starts with Ras-I Dowling, a legit first-round NFL prospect. UVA fans hoping for a wildly productive year out of Dowling will probably be disappointed: teams with either zero good receivers or two will avoid Dowling like the plague and try and pick on Chase Minnifield. Odds are this won't work well. Minnifield is a talented guy in his own right, and all the work he's likely to see this year should be just what he needs to develop into the guy that offenses avoid in 2011.

Corey Mosley is a quality safety, but the leader and playmaker on defense is McLeod. It was impossible to keep him off the field as a freshman, and he's one of those guys that always shows up around the ball. Especially when it's on the ground; McLeod isn't a ball-hawker, his strength is in run support, and his presence will go a long, long way to cover up any mistakes made by the unproven OLBs.

Unlike on the D-line, where there's a rotation, and at linebacker where there aren't set starters yet, the backups in the secondary really are second-stringers. And yet they're some of the guys earning the most praise from the coaching staff. Sophomore Wallace is the only one who hasn't seen much time on the field, but he and Parker will get their share this year as nickel corners. Joseph got on the field a lot last year and acquitted himself very well; I don't worry about a step down in performance should he need to replace a starter. And Womack has been one of the best special-teamers the past couple years. That kind of ability should translate well if he's called on.

But: depth. OMG OMG OMG. Especially at safety, where there are exactly zero scholarship players after those listed on the two-deep. At corner you've got two true freshmen in true freshmen Pablo Alvarez and Rijo Walker, who are true freshmen. That's better, but not by much. In between games, the eight two-deepers in the secondary should be wrapped in three layers of bubble wrap and stored at room temperature so as to ensure no breakages. By their powers combined, the D-line and secondary should make it very, very tough to pass against the UVA defense, but near-perfect health is required in the defensive backfield.

The pressure is on.....

.....Chase Minnifield. Dowling is kind of a given, in that teams aren't likely to bother taking their chances with him. It'll be a good year for the secondary if Minnifield has more picks than Dowling, because he'll have more opportunity to and it'll encourage teams to throw more Dowling's way, which won't work either.

.....John-Kevin Dolce. This will be a much more legit defensive line if Dolce can be a real actual defensive tackle at 255 pounds. Rotating three players through two spots without regard to down and distance would go a long way toward keeping them fresh at one of the field's most demanding positions. This unfortunately smacks of the kind of thing that we'll look backwards at in November and realize in retrospect it obviously wasn't going to work out. August has a way of clouding the mind with visions of gumdrop rainbows.

.....the offense. It keeps coming back to that, doesn't it? The pattern last year was positively maddening. The defense was one of the better groups in the conference and kept the team in the game until they got tired because the offense kept going three and out. Game after game this would happen. There's no reason to think that this won't also be the problem this year, until the offense starts producing points.

Realistic best-case scenario:

Dolce proves capable of not being pushed back 10 yards every time a play is run at him, DEs Parr and Johnson show the expected career progression that goes with a promotion to starter, and the line is - if not quite terrorizing - at least stout. The two young ex-safeties emerge by early October as the answers at outside linebacker, and the Greer/Taliaferro platoon results in two strong Mike 'backers who can stay fresh as the game wears on. Marginal improvement in the offense is enough to keep the defense from tiring in the third quarter and games that would have morphed into blowouts in 2009 remain winnable in 2010.

Realistic worst-case scenario:

Injuries decimate the secondary, and by November, when the season is already largely a lost cause, the presence of a walk-on or two in a starting role make big plays by opposing offenses commonplace. Nobody really grabs hold of the OLB spots, and while the middle is still reasonably solid, 2011 sees yet another battle for playing time at Sam and Will. The defensive line wears as the season goes on, made worse by yet another crummy offense that forces the defense to play far more snaps than most in the conference. A three-win season ensues.

Now that you've seen all this, what do I think?

The minimum expectation for the season is 2-10. Why 2-10? VMI and Eastern Michigan are horrible, and a loss to either one (not out of the question once the topic of William & Mary is brought up, but still) would be disastrous. But I still think 4-8 is the most likely record. The pessimism is centered mainly on the offensive line and the offensive talent that's either pretty mediocre or largely unproven.

Besides VMI and EMU, the next most winnable games on the schedule are Richmond, Duke, and Maryland. Maryland and Duke don't impress me at all, and Richmond isn't a I-AA national title contender anymore. Duke's defense has probably regressed, and Maryland still has Friedgen, which means they still have that "we're better than all those teams that beat us so we don't really need to improve" attitude. And their defense is a mess too.

Outside of that, it's hard to find any wins, or it was when UNC's football team was actually eligible to play football games. If we're getting to 6-6, UNC will be the next victim; Chapel Hill is a mess right now, and who knows how that'll affect their season? But 7-5 and bowl eligibility? Well, the following teams will kill us: USC, GT, FSU, Miami, and VT. Five losses in the bucket. That leaves Boston College, against which there's a slim chance. That game's in Boston, so cut that slim chance in half. But it's a chance: BC's passing game was downgraded from miserable to hopeless when Colin Larmond tore up his knee, so they're a very one-dimensional team that unfortunately for us still knows how to play defense.

So 7-5 is the upper limit of realism; any more than that and we can replace one of the light towers with a giant, laser-eyed, marble statue of Mike London. 2-10 is the lower limit, but be assured, it's about as likely as 7-5. The baseline expectation should be 4-8: it represents an improvement over last year while being realistic about the rate of improvement. 5-7 would represent a clear boost above the status of "obviously worst in ACC" that we enjoy right now, and that'd really be nice. Anything more is either taking advantage of UNC's instant descent into a very long stay in purgatory, or putting the ACC on notice, or both.

Monday, August 30, 2010

weekend review: game face

It was 91 degrees outside in my neck of the woods this weekend and not remotely football weather, but that doesn't stop it from being a game week. And that means it's time to get the blog's game face on. So first: recruiting board. Monday thing during the season. Couple of additions this week as Mike London stretches his recruiting arm to Georgia:

- Added LB Troy Gray to blue.

- Added TE Max Mason and WR Demetri Knowles to yellow.

No, still not much going on in the recruiting world. Wait til this weekend when official visits can start.


I don't know how often we'll see the depth chart updated on the official site, but they did so this week, which is kind of exciting. So there's a depth chart update here too. Among the highlights:

- I was a dum-dum and forgot to take the decommitted Matt Bailey off last time. So that's done.

- My hunch was correct: Ross Metheny and Mike Rocco are the backup QBs, but in no real order as yet. Odd man out in the rotation is Michael Strauss.

- The top two RBs are Perry Jones and Raynard Horne.

- Tim Smith is listed as a backup WR, with Dontrelle Inman a starter. These last two positions are probably going to be almighty interchangeable though.

- Jake Snyder breaks through as a backup DE.

- John-Kevin Dolce is officially the starter at DT over Matt Conrath, which is, ah, surprising. Dolce is hopefully as strong as advertised, because he's also going to be giving up 50+ pounds to his opponents. DT is always a platoony kind of position anyway - even Groh rotated people pretty frequently here - so it's not like Conrath is suddenly going to go ghost on us.

- Lot of "ORs" at linebacker, as in "Steve Greer OR Aaron Taliaferro", but I still think Greer, if he doesn't start off taking a majority of the snaps, will be doing so eventually. Some are surprised to see Laroy Reynolds sharing the starting job with anyone, but what do you expect from a converted safety who spent most of last year on special teams?


And college football season means it's also high school football season. It's early yet and not every team started their season this past weekend, but some have. So here's how our recruits have been doing:

- Bayside 21, Green Run 10 in Virginia Beach. David Dean's team lost to Demetrious Nicholson's Bayside, but it was a sluggish affair for the much higher-ranked Bayside. Nicholson, who hasn't committed anywhere but will probably take an official to UVA, played both sides of the ball and caught four passes for 76 yards.

- Cox 30, Kellam 17 in Virginia Beach. Opening season win for Ross Burbank.

- I.C. Norcom 26, Northeastern (NC) 6 in Portsmouth. Kameron Mack's team gets a win over a not-great out-of-state team.

- Petersburg 43, Halifax County 20. Kevin Green will likely be a linebacker or a tight end or something at UVA, but he's Petersburg's quarterback.

- Good Counsel 21, St. Xavier (OH) 6. Big time matchup of two of the nation's power programs. Vincent Croce was in on at least one turnover. The game wasn't as close as it looked; Good Counsel broke it open in the fourth after trailing 6-0 most of the game. Potential recruit Sean Duggan, who has UVA in a smallish list of leaders, is a St. X linebacker.

- Glen Oak 42, H.D. Woodson 2. Darius Redman's team gets squashed.

- Mallard Creek 26, Independence 6. This actually happened two weeks ago. Two of North Carolina's best; Adrian Gamble's team comes out on the wrong end. South Pointe is next week for Independence, home of maybe the top recruit in the country in Jadeveon Clowney.


Lastly, it's not only football season, it's football season! European football, that is. The Virginia Classic is next weekend with games against UAB and St. John's - both are eminently beatable. Virginia Tech is also in town, but UVA's game with them will wait til the ACC season. They're not good either. Picked 9th of 9 in the ACC preseason coaches' poll.

Speaking of which, weird. UVA is #2 in the preseason national poll, but picked 3rd in the ACC by the coaches. You'd have to figure the coaches know a little better, and are asking questions like where's the offense going to come from without guys like Tony Tchani, who went pro after his sophomore season? But most of the main operators of last season's record-setting defense are back, so let's watch and see if goalie extraordinaire Diego Restrepo can duplicate his incredible two-month shutout streak of last year.

Friday, August 27, 2010

season preview: the offense

It's getting to be that time. Just think: there's this weekend, which is pretty cool because it's a weekend, and after that, you will wake up on Monday morning and it'll officially be a game week. Time to see how the offense looks. I hope it's good.


The starter: #6 Marc Verica
The backups: #15 Ross Metheny, #16 Mike Rocco, #10 Michael Strauss

Before spring practice, a general sentiment among many UVA fans was that one of the freshmen should be handed the keys to the offense. After all, this was to be a throwaway year, and the future needed developing. As spring practice wore on, it became increasingly clear Marc Verica had no intention of letting that happen. By the beginning of August, if not long before, it was settled: It's Verica. There will be no quarterback controversy.

The competition to be #2 continues, however. And I don't think that's a good thing. There's a hierarchy when it comes to experience - Metheny is a redshirt freshman and Strauss enrolled in the spring - and the fact that those higher on the experience tree can't separate from those who are lower isn't encouraging. Nobody - and I mean nobody - that isn't actually employed by the program seems to have been able to handicap the race for #2 in any meaningful way. That said, if you held a gun to my head and forced a prediction out of me, I'd line them up like this: Metheny #2, Rocco #3, Strauss #4.

That kind of makes Strauss the odd one out. Whoever comes in last in the derby suffers a big setback, because Miles Gooch is still a quarterback too, only on the scout team, and David Watford comes in next year. A much more solid prediction is this: one of those three players - Metheny, Rocco, or Strauss - will end up transferring rather than be left behind by his classmates and continually passed up by incoming players. It's just the sort of thing that happens.

But, Verica. Two years ago around this time, Verica was a third-stringer. One academic suspension and one court case later, he was the starter, just a couple months removed from backup clipboard stand. His 2008 season wasn't actually all that bad, but it got worse as the season wore on, and he was horribly, horribly prone to interceptions. In 2009, he saw only spot duty, and if he wasn't exactly in the doghouse starting after an awful 2008 performance against Clemson, he was at least sleeping in the yard.

New coach, new times, and no doghouse anymore: Verica is a senior, it's his team, and he knows it. This team lacks many things, but you can be sure it won't lack for leadership at a position that demands it. And when he's on, Verica has the capability to put just a beautiful touch on a deep ball and get it right to the hands of his receiver. I don't think the interception bugaboo is going to go away, and I think much like the '08 Clemson game, there will be a game this year that Verica will lose for us. But if he can keep that TD/INT ratio somewhere in the vicinity of 1-to-1, he'll also win us one, and I don't mean VMI.


The starters: #44 Raynard Horne, #21 Dominique Wallace
The backups: #22 Keith Payne, #33 Perry Jones

Pure speculation here. Nobody really knows who'll be the RB starters any more than we know about the backup quarterback. But Horne and Wallace seem to be, from the reports that have come out, the front-runners. Maybe.

Anyway, let's pretend this is how it'll be. Khalek Shepherd's name has been mentioned maybe once, ever, in any sort of camp report, and the most buzz Kevin Parks generated was when reporters learned his flea-sized self was rooming with the human boulder, Morgan Moses. Unless they really, really made a name for themselves, and the time for that has come and gone, they might as well redshirt.

As for the other option not mentioned above, Torrey Mack, he's been equally quiet. He had Al Groh just gushing about his running ability, but when the games started it turned out he couldn't pass-block. Like, at all. Mack won't be completely invisible all season, but it seems he still has a way to go.

Keith Payne has been in London's doghouse, but all evidence points to him working his way slowly out of it. And if he has, football teams can usually find something for you to do if you're a 255-pound running back. It's almost too obvious to say, but Payne will probably see his carries come in short-yardage situations.

Perry Jones, on the other hand, is way too small to ever be a feature back. He's listed at 5'8", 185, measurements which were achieved with the help of a footstool and a sack of concrete. That said, he's also impossible to keep off the field. He'd be a good change of pace kind of back, the kind I'd love to see on the receiving end of screen passes.

The bulk of the carries look like they're ticketed for Dominique Wallace and Raynard Horne - though "bulk" is kind of a generous term. Early on I think the workload will be split much more evenly than in the second half of the season as the better players start to separate. And I think one of the players separating from the pack will be Wallace. Horne strikes me as the kind of player that coaches like in practice because they do things right, but he doesn't make your eyes go pop on the field either. Wallace is clearly the more physically gifted back, and barring injury I think he emerges from the 2010 season with the most carries.


The starter: #36 Max Milien
The backup: #34 Terrence Fells-Danzer

It seems funny to call a 255-pound guy a tailback when you have a 215-pound fullback around, but that's Milien. Both these guys are converted from other positions - Milien from tailback and Fells-Danzer from linebacker - because 2009's offense made the fullback disappear entirely after a slow decline into nothingness.

But Jason Snelling wasn't a huge guy either. Milien's tailback skills should be utilized plenty. It may run the risk of telegraphing plays, but the split we're likely to see here is that Milien will be used mostly when the play calls for the fullback to touch the ball, and TFD goes in when the idea is to smash into someone.


The starters: #20 Tim Smith, #18 Kris Burd
The backups: #81 Dontrelle Inman, #2 Jared Green, #14 Matt Snyder

Want to know who the most important player on the offensive side of the ball is? Your answer might be here. Burd is a highly dependable player. Great route runner, good hands. We pretty much know what we're getting from him, which is really nice to see for once because he's one of the few. But he's not a #1 kind of guy. You can send Burd on a fly pattern, but it's not gonna work. For that, we need Tim Smith. Smith occasionally flashed that ability last year, but not consistently. He has the tools. In order for the passing game to flourish and operate successfully, he must put them to work.

Green and Inman are kind of doppelganger versions of the top two guys. Green also has the ability to stretch the field some, although his main talents are in the 12-20 yard range. Inman is a little bit more of a possession guy, like Burd. Here in the preseason it's not hard to envision this being a productive group. They all have the talent. But this was also one of the most underperforming groups in 2009, and only the dazed and confused offensive line kept them from being the most. Things being simpler this year, I think these guys stand the best chance of any unit on the team of stepping up their play.


The starter: #83 Joe Torchia
The backups: #89 Colter Phillips, #88 Paul Freedman

Tight end is making a comeback. The whole idea nearly disappeared, of course, in 2009, and Torchia, who once looked like the next guy up on the Great Tight End Conveyor Belt that produced Luzar and Miller and Santi and Stupar and everyone else, suddenly became the Last of the Tight End-hicans. Not anymore. In his senior year, Torchia will try and reestablish the tradition.

Torchia has the receiving skills and the prototypical tight end size, but so far in his career he hasn't displayed the necessary blocking acumen. It's simple, therefore. Block, graduate with your name on the above list, and get drafted. Otherwise it'll be time for one of the sophomores. Torchia has the ability to hit 30 catches, but he won't get there if he blocks like he did last year. In fairness, he had a nagging shoulder issue last year, which doesn't make blocking any easier. With that gone, I do think Torchia will make sure that tight end returns to being the most dependable spot on the offensive roster.


The starters: #67 Landon Bradley (LT), #63 Austin Pasztor (LG), #68 Anthony Mihota (C), #65 B.J. Cabbell (RG), #72 Oday Aboushi (RT)
The backups: #79 Sean Cascarano (LT), #75 Isaac Cain (LG), #60 Mike Price (C), #70 Luke Bowanko (RG), #78 Morgan Moses (RT)

Aw hell, here we go. In 2008, I lamented, long and loud, the total inability of the offensive line to run-block, though it improved once Pasztor was inserted into the lineup. In 2009, they didn't really get any better at run-blocking, and the new, hugely wide line splits and new scheme caused the pass-blocking to take a crap on the grass. This did not improve.

So we go into 2010, amending every positive word ever uttered about the offense with, "if the offensive line...." Frankly, there's enough talent at the skill positions to give us every reason to think this team could overachieve, and enough questions here on the line to just sadly nod your head when UVA is a unanimous pick for dead-ass-last in the whole conference.

What do we have to work with? Let's start with the bright spots: at guard. Pasztor is going into his third season as a starter, and Cabbell is too. Pasztor made a very obvious positive difference in the moribund 2008 running game, and both are good pulling guards, giving the running game the ability to go to either side with equal effectiveness.

But at tackle, Landon Bradley was one of the biggest culprits of the criminal pass protection the line afforded our quarterbacks. He must improve. Aboushi is intriguing. He has plenty of potential to eventually outperform his predecessor, Will Barker, but that's not likely to happen right away. And at center, Mihota wasn't supposed to be the starter just yet, but the silver lining of Jack Shields' abrupt departure is that it happened early enough to give Mihota a chance to prepare for the job just as if Shields had graduated.

Depth - I don't even want to talk about this. London speaks highly of Sean Cascarano, and of course being the size of a tsunami is a natural aid to Morgan Moses' performance. He will be a mauler, and it will be a joy to watch. Eventually. But just take a look at the backups. Among them they have roughly 170 combined snaps of experience and every single one of them belongs to Isaac Cain. Besides Cain and the starters, take a guess how many offensive snaps the entire rest of the offensive line crew has seen in live game experience? Ten: five each for Aaron Van Kuiken and Matt Mihalik during junk time in last year's pasting of Indiana. This isn't the kind of thing that ends well.

The pressure is on.....

.....Tim Smith. He must get open and draw some double teams so that the other receivers can do their thing. Offenses can't function without a #1 receiver and he's just about the only option.

.....Landon Bradley. Pass protection starts at left tackle and this unit was in the bottom ten nationwide in that respect last year. Sacks must be cut by at a bare minimum one per game or nothing the receivers do will be of any use. And Verica, unlike Sewell, isn't a very mobile quarterback. He can move very well in the pocket, but there needs to be a pocket.

.....Anthony Mihota. Center is the quarterback of the line, and it's always nerve-racking to break in a new one. If pass protection starts at the tackles, run-blocking starts at center. And if that weren't enough, center is also the position of least depth on the line, by a long shot.

If I had to pick three players that I could guarantee would have good, healthy, productive seasons, these'd be it. Everything else will fall in line after that.

Realistic best-case:

Smith is all he's cracked up to be and the line is at least adequate. A running back, possibly Wallace, emerges from the pack and proves capable of being a future workhorse. During blowouts of VMI and Eastern Michigan, a #2 quarterback also emerges and prepares to be groomed to take over the job in 2011. We don't have a 1,000-yard rusher, but only by virtue of splitting the carries a bit too much, and 2011 looks like it could produce one. Verica's touchdown throws keep pace with his interceptions, and though he throws his share of those too it's mostly during games we were going to lose anyway, like USC.

Leading passer: Verica - 64% completion percentage, 2,400 yards, 15 TDs, 12 INTs
Leading receiver: Smith - 55 catches, 800 yards, 6 touchdowns
Leading rusher: Wallace - 150 carries, 770 yards, 5 touchdowns

Realistic worst-case:

The line is absolute garbage, helped along by injuries to Mihota and/or Pasztor. The best running backs turn out to be Horne and Payne, which isn't ideal because they're seniors; nobody else can make a name for themselves, and it isn't like there's much room to run anyway. Verica's interception bug returns, and it's one thing against USC but he also plays poorly in the subsequent ACC games, and a four-pick effort in a horrid loss to UNC is the final straw: he's yanked halfway through the season. A parade of inconsistent freshmen ensues, each playing only just well enough to ensure that the battle will last til next August. We never know if Smith is playing up to his potential or not, because the QB situation is so ugly, though we suspect not.

Leading passer: Verica - 53% completion percentage, 900 yards, 3 TDs, 10 INTs
Leading receiver: Burd - 30 catches, 450 yards, 2 TDs
Leading rusher: Horne - 95 carries, 400 yards, 2 TDs

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

season previews: USC and EMU

Wrapping up the season previews with the two I-A OOC opponents. You could hardly find two more polar opposite programs.

USC Trojans

Projected starters:

QB: Matt Barkley (So.)
RB: Marc Tyler (rJr.)
FB: Stanley Havili (5Sr.)
WR: Ronald Johnson (5Sr.)
WR: Brice Butler (rSo.)
TE: Rhett Ellison (rJr.)
LT: Matt Kalil (rSo.)
LG: Butch Lewis (5Sr.)
C: Kristofer O'Dowd (Sr.)
RG: Zack Heberer (5Sr.)
RT: Tyron Smith (Jr.)

DE: Armond Armstead (Jr.)
NT: DaJohn Harris (rJr.)
DT: Jurrell Casey (Jr.)
DE: Nick Perry (rSo.)
SLB: Michael Morgan (5Sr.)
MLB: Chris Galippo (rJr.)
WLB: Malcolm Smith (Sr.)
CB: Shareece Wright (5Sr.)
CB: T.J. Bryant (Jr.)
FS: T.J. McDonald (So.)
SS: Jawanza Starling (So.)

K: Joe Houston (5Sr.)
P: Jacob Harfman (Sr.)

Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Lane Kiffin (1st season)

Media prediction: 2nd, Pac-10


2009 1st team: WR/PR Damian Williams, OL Jeff Byers, OL Charles Brown, DB Taylor Mays
2009 2nd team: DL Everson Griffen, DB Josh Pinkard, DB Evan Thomas, ST Garrett Green
2009 HM: RB Allen Bradford, DT Jurrell Casey, LB Chris Galippo, S Will Harris, G Butch Lewis, TE Anthony McCoy, RB Joe McKnight, OT Tyron Smith, DT Christian Tupou

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Sure, you know the story. Bowl bans, scholarships, the works. It remains to be seen whether that'll have an effect on USC's season other than not seeing them in the postseason, but keep in mind this: any time you see someone, present company included, say that USC's kind of thin at a position or a little shaky somewhere, always add the words "for USC" to the end of the sentence.


The one exception to that last directive is at quarterback. While Matt Barkley is healthy and ready to continue his ascent on the path of hype, injuries and suspensions have decimated the QB corps behind him to the point where it's likely USC would have to use a walk-on at Hawaii should he get hurt between now and the end of that game.

UVA fans hoping to see the suspension of Dillon Baxter last beyond the Hawaii game will probably be disappointed; Lane Kiffin isn't noted for his iron fist. Allen Bradford looked like he'd get first crack at the tailback spot, but fall camp saw him get beaten out by junior Marc Tyler. But he's a big, bruising back who will always have a role, especially in short yardage. Baxter will likely see his carries increase as the year goes on. Stanley Havili is another big bruiser and one of the best all-around fullbacks in the country.

Wide receiver is another area where you should expect to see some super-hyped freshmen worm their way into the lineup sooner or later. Ronald Johnson's time on the field isn't going anywhere, but Markeith Ambles and Kyle Prater were two of the biggest 2010 recruits in all the country, and one of them could start edging Brice Butler out of the way at some point.

If Kristofer O'Dowd stays healthy, he'll anchor the offensive line and open some big holes at center, but his injury history is long and colorful. Butch Lewis starts next to him at left guard, but Lewis is USC's most versatile lineman and can play inside or outside, an important quality if brand-new starter Matt Kalil falters at left tackle.


On defense it's two rebuilding projects and one foundation for USC. The foundation is the linebacking corps, where experience abounds. On one side, Malcolm Smith is the leading returning tackler despite missing three games in 2009 with assorted injuries. Opposite him is Michael Morgan, who had 13 TFLs in 2009. The middle is manned by junior Chris Galippo, who was a Butkus semifinalist last season as just a sophomore in his first starting season.

The line is trickier, but answers are probably on the way. Wes Horton started 2009, his redshirt freshman season, as the starter at DE, but was largely unproductive and was eventually nudged out of the job. Getting it back will be tough this season with supertalented sophomore Nick Perry breathing down his neck; Perry didn't start at all in 2009 but still led the team in sacks with eight. Armond Armstead's 2009 season was injury-riddled, dragging down his production, but he'll get first crack at starting on the other end. It's not all inexperience among the starters, though: Jurrell Casey is a huge, playmaking tackle with a knack for getting turnovers.

All four starters in the secondary must be replaced. Shareece Wright returns to the lineup after being academically ineligible in 2009, and he'll bring experience to a unit that needs it. The opposite corner, T.J. Bryant, gets a promotion to the starting lineup from nickel cornerback, so the safeties should be the only major question mark here.


Joe Houston is a walk-on kicker who earned a scholarship (USC's got plenty to give these days after losing several players to the NCAA's get-out-of-jail-free policy) after winning the placekicking job this fall against punter Jacob Harfman. Harfman keeps the punting job, but isn't anything special.


Lane Kiffin brought a decade's worth of drama to Knoxville, Tennessee in just one year; imagine what he might be able to do in Hollywood. Kiffin's clownish behavior makes it easy to peg him as incompetent, but he's got a hell of a lot more talent to work with in LA. USC is still USC, and their backups could play at three-fourths of the schools in the country. They might not be eligible for a bowl game, but they're going to make life miserable for a lot of teams trying to get there themselves.

Eastern Michigan Eagles

Projected starters:

QB: Alex Gillett (So.)
RB: Dwayne Priest (Sr.)
RB: Dominique Sherrer (Jr.)
WR: Tyrone Burke (5Sr.)
WR: Kinsman Thomas (So.)
TE: Ben Thayer (5Sr.)
LT: Bridger Buche (rJr.)
LG: Andrew Sorgatz (So.)
C: Eric Davis (5Sr.)
RG: Dan DeMaster (5Sr.)
RT: Korey Neal (rSo.)

DE: Javon Reese (Jr.)
DT: Brandon Slater (rJr.)
DT: Ryan Leonard (Sr.)
DE: Brad Ohrman (rJr.)
SLB: Tim Fort (5Sr.)
MLB: Marcus English (rJr.)
WLB: Nate Paopao (Sr.)
CB: Arrington Hicks (Sr.)
CB: Marcell Rose (So.)
FS: Latarrius Thomas (Sr.)
SS: Ryan Downard (Sr.)

K: Kody Fulkerson (Fr.)
P: Jay Karutz (Fr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Ron English (2nd season)

Media prediction: 6th place, MAC West


2009 1st team: none
2009 2nd team: P Zach Johnson
2009 3rd team: LB Andre Hatchett

(Italics indicate departed player.)

It's not easy to put together a winning program when you share a county with the winningest program of all time. Eastern Michigan has had its ups and downs, the latter far, far outnumbering the former, and the last decade was an especially painful one - Eastern hasn't seen the bright side of .500 since 1995, and hit rock bottom last year as new coach Ron English purged the older, more malcontent elements of the program en route to a winless season.


It wouldn't be a bad team without a quarterback controversy, and EMU has their share of that. Alex Gillett won the starting job midseason, although how is something of a mystery as he threw just three touchdowns against seven picks and completed less than 50% of his passes. The job isn't his in stone yet.

Gillett did prove to be a capable runner, averaging 5.1 yards a carry. Actual starting RB Dwayne Priest isn't going to scare anyone with his 3.6 average, and he'll probably have to split the carries more evenly than he did last year when he had 175. If there is a big-play threat on the Eagles' offense, it's probably sophomore receiver Kinsman Thomas, whose 18.3 yards/catch and three touchdowns led the team during his freshman season.

There's experience on the line, if a shortage of talent. Dan DeMaster is a longtime starter who moves back to right guard from left tackle. This opens up the tackle spot to give back to Bridger Buche, who was a full-time starter in 2008 but missed all of '09 with an injury. Sophomore LG Andrew Sorgatz was a full-time starter as a freshman and is part of an improving group of younger linemen that Eastern needs for the future.


The defensive line is woefully underproductive; the four projected starters combined for a total of 2.5 sacks in 2009, and end Brad Ohrman chipped in zero. Eastern relied on now-departed Brandon Downs for quarterback pressure, and someone is going to have to step up.

EMU also lost their one non-punter all-conference selection in linebacker Andre Hatchett. Mike backer Marcus English (no relation to the coach) could be a capable replacement in the playmaking role, racking up 41 tackles in just six games. But overall, this front seven has a ton of work to do in order to claw their way up to sub-mediocrity: Eastern gave up 6.3 yards per carry and 277 yards per game to opposing running games.

They were also worst in yards per attempt when defending the pass, at 8.0. The only reason they appeared to have the MAC's best pass defense was because the media usually (foolishly) bases that on yards per game, and nobody ever bothered passing when they could run the ball so easily. But there should be an upgrade in the secondary this year; the simple presence of Latarrius Thomas should be enough. Thomas is a one-time starter for Louisville in the Big East and transferred to EMU to follow Ron English; having a legitimate, tested I-A talent in the secondary will be a plus.


Total revamp here, and little depth. Both starters are true freshmen, and Aussie Jay Karutz is the only punter on the roster.


Richmond would beat this team. Eastern Michigan tends to rank outside the top 100 in just about every conceivable category, and though it's not easy to go 0-12, Eastern is the likely underdog in every one of their games. English is a decent coach and should have them on the upswing in time, but he was handed a huge, huge mess. It's a very long road to respectability. Their presence on UVA's schedule, along with VMI, means that 2-10 should be considered the worst-case scenario and dropping below that level would be cause for pitchforks and torches.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

the recruit: Malcolm Brogdon

Name: Malcolm Brogdon
Position: SG
Hometown: Norcross, GA
School: Greater Atlanta Christian
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 200

ESPN: 90; #47 SG
Rivals: four stars; #26 SG; #102 nationally
Scout: four stars; #22 SG; #87 nationally

Other offers: Clemson, Notre Dame, Minnesota, Butler, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Georgia, Providence, various mid-majors

Tony Bennett's plan of attack on the recruiting warpath is starting to settle into a pattern. We're still not able to snag the Marshall Plumlees of the world. If a guy has a great junior year, or has been a prospect for even longer than that, and other schools (the likes of which we're aiming to compete with, like Duke or even just Maryland) are onto him, UVA might get a long look but in the end someone else closes the deal.

So you take a look at the camp circuit, because there are always players blowing up there. Players like K.T. Harrell and Paul Jesperson. Enter Malcolm Brogdon, whose story you've heard before. He's a superstar fish in a smallish pond, leading his team to a state championship at the AA level in Georgia (GA has levels A through 5A, the latter being the highest) and gets major-league pub for the state's Mr. Basketball in 2011. (And 2010, though he didn't win it.) He had a smattering of offers after his junior year and was choosing between Clemson, Georgia, and Minnesota until he played in the Peach Jam, one of the top AAU tournaments nationwide. Suddenly his offers tripled. He must have done okay.

So Bennett swoops in, and did something he's done a terrific job of in his recruiting work: kept things on the DL until it's too late for these other schools. Brogdon's name only surfaced in connection with UVA a couple weeks ago. This probably came as a big disappointment to UGA, which had spent a lot of time cultivating this particular relationship.

And with the boost in offers came a corresponding jump in his ratings. Scout and Rivals added a fourth star, and they're both in pretty close agreement about where he stands in relation to the other prospects in the country. ESPN is the outlier, but their last evaluation of him was in May, two months before the Peach Jam. If they re-evaluate, he'll go up.

Brogdon gets referred to as a wing a lot, which would lead you to think he and Paul Jesperson are redundant - Jesperson is also a "wing." But there's a huge difference. I called Jesperson a two-and-a-half rather than a standard three; Brogdon is more of a one-and-a-half. He's got the potential to be a ball-handler, but his big thing is shooting. The difference between he and Jesperson is that Brogdon can create his own shot. I was tempted to compare him to J.R. Reynolds, but actually he and Reynolds seem like opposites in a way: Reynolds could drive and finish at the hoop like few others, but his jump shot held him back at times. Brogdon can create and finish a jump shot, but his ballhandling garners the kind of lukewarm reviews that suggest he certainly has the ability and potential to be good at it, but needs some work to get there.

Still, his jump shot is said to be silky-smooth. And what's really intriguing is his size: 6'5" is big for a guard. And whether on purpose or unconsciously, Bennett is really upgrading the size of his backcourt. That's where Brogdon's comparison finally comes in: role-wise, he's a bigger Mustapha Farrakhan. By the time Bennett's done making his mark on the roster, the backcourt will be a lot bigger than it used to be. It won't show as much on offense, but it'll make a big difference on defense.

Of course, I've kind of beaten this point into the ground, but there's no way of knowing how, where, and when any 2011 recruit will fit into the roster until we see how this season goes. But if things go about as planned, Farrakhan's exit after this season opens up a space for Brogdon, and he can battle K.T. Harrell for minutes. One thing we won't have to worry about is grades: Stanford was in touch, Vandy and Notre Dame offered, and so did Tulane and Harvard. If that doesn't convince you he's a top-notch fit for UVA, maybe this will:

As good as his stats are (and they are), Brogdon does all the “little things” as well as anyone. He is a natural leader, encourages his teammates, works hard to get them involved in the game, sets picks and dives for balls out of bounds, appears to have outstanding character, and strives for excellence in the classroom.

Say what you will, but Tony Bennett knows how to find easy players to root for.

Monday, August 23, 2010

best and worst

This year's run-up to the season will include - in this very post, amazingly enough - a synopsis of the best and worst of the ACC, as well as a few lists of my own devising. Mainly because they're fun to do. Let me also give you a quick look at what lies ahead before we kick into season mode. This qualifies as Monday's post even though there's no way it's getting done before Monday technically ends. Tuesday I'll profile the newest addition to the hoops team: Malcolm Brogdon. Wednesday, season previews for USC and EMU. Thursday is Darius Redman's turn in the hopper for a profile, and Friday I actually bother previewing my own team. Friday will be the offense, and Tuesday will be the defense - Monday will be a catch-up day on the weekend. Wednesday, well, whatever strikes my fancy, I guess, and next Thursday - as will be the case all season - is game preview day. Then I go sailing in Connecticut, so all the usual stuff will have to wait til the Monday after the game. Anyway. Not to get you all excited like the season starts tomorrow when in fact there are days and days and days to go arrgghh. On with the ACC's best. And worst.

Best starting quarterback: Russell Wilson, NC State
Worst starting quarterback: Whoever ends up with the Wake Forest job

There are a lot of really solid QB choices in the ACC this year, so it's a tough choice. Lot of seniors, like FSU's Christian Ponder and GT's Joshua Nesbitt. Ponder looks ready to take another big step and really be a top signal-caller, and Nesbitt runs that offense like clockwork. I actually picked Clemson's Kyle Parker as the ACC OPOY in Gobbler Country's poll, because he's that damn good and the media always picks someone on a good team. But Wilson is the guy who best combines freakish athleticism with passing skills.

As for Wake.....ewww. Skylar Jones was a little-used receiver until this year, and he looks like the starting quarterback now. Unless he's somehow worse than the stiffs behind him on the chart. (Edit: one of those stiffs is Ted Stachitas, who stiffed his way to the starting nod. This changes nothing.)

Best receivers: NC State
Worst receivers: Georgia Tech

This is even tougher. Just about every ACC team has a really deep receiving corps, especially on Tobacco Road. Duke and Wake both have really dangerous groups. Miami and Maryland are damn good too. NC State gets the slight edge over UNC, which would have gotten the nod if Greg Little wasn't in hot water. The stats are a little inflated because Wilson is such an efficient passer, but you can't argue with Owen Spencer's 25.5 yards per catch. And NC State gets a tiebreaker over most of the rest of the conference for having a top tight end in George Bryan.

It's not precisely fair to give GT the worst receivers nod, because they use them so infrequently. Tyler Melton is almost strictly a blocker, a skinny tight end who doesn't play with his hand down. But I'd have kept them off the list for the sake of Demaryius Thomas, so with him gone it's only fair. Stephen Hill, who'll actually be the target of passes, is almost totally unproven. At least Boston College, runner-up in this category, has the dependable Colin Larmond.

Best running backs: Virginia Tech
Worst running backs: Duke

This is the opposite of the receivers: there aren't a lot of big-time backs in the ACC. So Ryan Williams ends the "best" conversation before it begins. As for worst, UVA came close to landing here for having a large stable of totally unproven running backs that can't separate from the pack in practice. But that's one better than Duke, which has a large stable of proven horrible running backs. The longest run by any Duke player in 2009 was 26 yards.

Best offensive line: Florida State
Worst offensive line: Virginia

Boston College has a really excellent line, and Clemson's is pretty good too, but you can't top two full years, going on three, as a coherent unit. That's what Florida State's got. NFL talent up and down the line and a lot of unbroken start streaks. It's probably the best line in the country.

As for the worst, maybe this is bred by familiarity - a left tackle I don't much trust and a brand new center to boot - but I can't overlook the truly horrible pass protection from last year, the general inability to generate a consistent rushing game. Sure, a lot of it was scheme-driven, especially the constant changes. But changes are happening again this year, too, and the two most important positions also have the biggest question marks. NC State and Wake have some big messes here, but objectively there's no getting around this.

Best defensive line: Miami
Worst defensive line: Duke

Clemson gives the Hurricanes a real run for their money here, and UNC would too if Marvin Austin weren't a little too eager to start his pro career while still in school. Both Miami and Clemson have the depth and talent up and down the line, but Miami has Allen Bailey, the preseason DPOY as far as I'm concerned.

There's fierce competition for worst line, too. NC State's guys have gotten too familiar with the local police, but they should be out of those particular woods for now. Maryland's line is short on both experience and potential. But only Duke has such a bad front four that only three starters are listed - along with four linebackers - in what is ostensibly a 4-3 defense.

Best linebackers: Boston College
Worst linebackers: Clemson

North Carolina and Maryland have strong cases for the top listing here, but that's on the strength of having two studs and not a great deal else. If Mark Herzlich is truly healthy and on form, the silver lining of his absence will have been the opportunity to create a lot of good depth at his position(s) last year and then add his presence to that depth for 2010. Luke Kuechly made a nationwide name for himself in his freshman season, and fifth-year senior Mike Morrissey rounds out the conference's top trio.

On the other end of the spectrum, Clemson is in the same situation as Duke: another unit is cannibalizing this one's snaps. Clemson spends a lot of time in a nickel package to cover up their appalling lack of depth at linebacker. Brandon Maye is decent, but outside of that, anyone emerging as a player here will be coming out of nowhere as Kuechly did, except that they're not freshmen.

Best secondary: North Carolina
Worst secondary: NC State

This was UVA's best chance at making a mark, but sadly they're a solid third behind the depth at Clemson and the playmakers at UNC. The playmakers win out; not only do they have a habit of getting on the scoreboard and giving their offense field position, but they don't exactly make it easy to pass the ball even when they're not grabbing it for themselves. Both cornerback and safety have ballhawkers in Kendric Burney and Deunta Williams.

NC State had a brutally bad secondary in 2009. They barely ever intercepted a pass and teams moved the ball at will. Those guys are mostly gone; these are their backups. That has a way of going very, very badly.



....the coaches by the heat of their seat:

1. Ralph Friedgen, Maryland
2. Tom O'Brien, NC State
3. Butch Davis, UNC
4. Jim Grobe, Wake Forest
5. Randy Shannon, Miami
6. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

The rest would have to drive a tank through a nunnery in order to get fired, and even then maybe that wouldn't do it. The BC admin is tired of drama and Frank Spaziani is not going to create any. Mike London is brand-new and popular. Frank Beamer isn't going anywhere until he wants to. David Cutcliffe's flirtations with Tennessee might have created friction at Duke, but it's Duke so nobody noticed and anyway they're just happy to have a coach that isn't going to be a graduate assistant tight end coach at Utah State afterwards. Dabo Swinney has Clemson on the right track, and Paul Johnson is just plain Getting It Done.

As for Fisher, he found his way into a seat that will always have a latent warmth to it. Especially while he's in it, being the poor bastard that has to follow a legend. Randy Shannon would be closer to being fired if it didn't really look like his team was finally ready to get back to the Orange Bowl. Jim Grobe is muddling along and would be starting to wear on Wake Forest alums if they had any. Butch Davis would be a lot safer if it weren't for the inconvenient allegations that his players are too chummy with agents. Tom O'Brien has yet to have a winning season in Raleigh and is failing miserably at living up to expectations. Ralph Friedgen would have been gone yesterday if he didn't have an obnoxiously huge buyout; as it is anymore he's basically just babysitting the job for James Franklin, the named successor.

.....teams by their OOC cojones:

1. Florida State
2. Miami
3. Duke
4. North Carolina
5. Clemson
6. Georgia Tech
7. Virginia Tech
8. Boston College
9. NC State
10. Wake Forest
11. Maryland
12. Virginia

Far removed from the gutless maneuver of scheduling two I-AA dungbags to start the season so as to cushion the impact of the suspensions that resulted from cheating on exams, Florida State gave itself an admirable murderer's row of OOC opponents. They're forgiven for scheduling Samford, on account of their trip the following week to Oklahoma and then hosting BYU. And of course, they always play Florida. Miami's clashes at Ohio State and Pittsburgh are likewise worthy of applause.

And no, I'm not happy about playing two I-AA teams. This had better be a one-time thing due to the need to rebuild and put a few numbers in the win column. Sure, there's USC, but that's well canceled out for the purposes of this list by VMI and perenially awful MAC bottom-feeder Eastern Michigan. Because of the VMI game, we need seven wins to be bowl-eligible: I rationalize this by saying that you might as well be 6-6 and not going to a bowl rather than 5-7 and not going to a bowl, but surely someone from I-A could have been persuaded to visit beautiful Charlottesville?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

season previews: Richmond and VMI

No need for the full treatment for the teams UVA isn't in direct, season-long competition with, so we'll take care of the synopses on the OOC opponents two at a time, and not really go all-out either to be honest. But it's something, and here's betting nobody else is doing this. You're still the most educated UVA fans when it comes to the opposition. First up, the I-AA schools.

Richmond Spiders

Projected starters:

QB: Aaron Corp (rJr.)
RB: Garrett Wilkins (Jr.)
FB: Kendall Gaskins (So.)
WR: Kevin Grayson (5Sr.)
WR: Tre Gray (rJr.)
TE: Kevin Finney (rSo.)
LT: Kevin Westervelt (rJr.)
LG: Ryan Goss (rJr.)
C: Drew Lachenmeyer (5Sr.)
RG: Jason Sakoian (rJr.)
RT: Mark Speir (rFr.)

DE: Casey Cooley (5Sr.)
DT: Corey Jackson (rJr.)
DT: Martin Parker (5Sr.)
DE: Kerry Wynn (rFr.)
SLB: Patrick Weldon (5Sr.)
MLB: Darrius McMillan (rSo.)
WLB: Eric McBride (5Sr.)
CB: Tremayne Graham (rJr.)
CB: Justin Rogers (5Sr.)
S: Colin Pehanick (rJr.)
S: Darryl Hamilton (rSo.)

K: Wil Kamin (So.)
P: Casey Dobyns (Jr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Latrell Scott (1st season)

Media prediction: 6th place, CAA


2009 1st team: OL Matt McCracken, OL Michael Silva, PR Derek Hatcher, LB Eric McBride, LB Colin McConaghy
2009 2nd team: WR Kevin Grayson, DL Martin Parker
2009 3rd team: QB Eric Ward, RB Justin Forte, FB Kendall Gaskins, WR Tre Gray, OL Drew Lachenmeyer, DL Parker Miles, LB Patrick Weldon, S Michael Ireland
2010 preseason: FB Kendall Gaskins, WR Kevin Grayson, WR Tre Gray, OL Drew Lachenmeyer, DL Martin Parker, LB Eric McBride, CB Justin Rogers

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Not unlike North Carolina, the voters stuffed the conference preseason team with Spiders and then smacked them down to middling status when it came time for the standings. That may be an indictment of first-year coach Latrell Scott, who has never been a coordinator let alone a head coach, but it's more likely indicative of the fact that just about every Richmond starter not named to the preseason team is a fresh face with little field experience.


Richmond has to replace tremendously successful quarterback Eric Ward, and they thought they were getting their guy for 2010 and 2011 when Aaron Corp transferred from USC after failing to hold onto the job there. That kind of talent doesn't show up in I-AA ball every day, but he hasn't made the Richmond job his yet either, as last year's backup John Laub is giving him a serious run.

Whoever's at quarterback on September 4 will have some serious talent helping him out at receiver, the brightest spot on the offense. Kevin Grayson and Tre Gray return as starters, and third option Donte Boston will also be available. But the running game is as much to be determined as the quarterbacks. Garrett Wilkins is the top returning rusher, but Ward and departed workhorse Justin Forte carried the load for Richmond. Nothing is settled here and carries will likely be split as the season begins. All-conference fullback Kendall Gaskins was strictly a blocker last year, but the uncertainty could boost his carries, as well as shedding his freshman status.

The offensive line is probably going to be a trouble spot. Drew Lachenmeyer is solid in the middle, but the rest of the line sees all-new starters, and the right side in particular is woefully lacking in game experience.


The defensive line has the same issues as the offensive line, with just one returning starter in Martin Parker. Parker is a real playmaker who probably has I-A talent, but the rest of the line saw precious little playing time in 2009.

Richmond is in much better shape at linebacker, where outside 'backers Patrick Weldon and Eric McBride return for their fifth seasons. Each topped 90 tackles last season and Weldon chipped in a pair of interceptions.

CB Justin Rogers will be depended on to cover opponents' top receivers, and his counterpart on the other side, Tremayne Graham, wasn't a 2009 starter but was a big contributor and should be able to play at a level close to Rogers. But Richmond has to break in two new starters at safety.


Both kicking specialists are new to the starting job, though punter Casey Dobyns started for Georgetown in 2008 before transferring. His stats are emblematic of the talent difference between I-A and I-AA: Dobyns averaged a mere 35 yards per punt. Wil Kamin handled kickoffs last year and moves on up to placekicking this year.


UVA fans are sweating the opener, as Richmond tends to be a playoff team in I-AA ball and isn't far removed from a national championship. With a revamped offense and a reasonably strong defense, a repeat of the last two matchups against Richmond seems in the cards; both were low-scoring, grindingly boring affairs and the 2001 game was won only on the margin of a missed Richmond PAT.

VMI Keydets

Projected starters:

QB: Cameron Jones (rJr.)
RB: Julian Bowers (rJr.)
FB: Hardy Temoney (So.)
WR: Stefawn Ross (So.)
WR: Mario Scott (Sr.)
TE: Josh Favaro (rJr.)
LT: Rob Bailey (Jr.)
LG: Bo Wren (Sr.)
C: D'Angelo Smith (Jr.)
RG: James Boatright (rJr.)
RT: Aaron Blue (rJr.)

DE: Ben Brandt (5Sr.)
NT: Josh Wine (Sr.)
DE: Damiso Alexander (5Sr.)
OLB: Emilio Calvin (rJr.)
ILB: Eric Church (rJr.)
ILB: A.J. Gross (rJr.)
OLB: Kris Ware (5Sr.)
CB: Greg Walker (Jr.)
CB: Michael Rainey-Wiles (Sr.)
FS: Trae Watkins (Jr.)
SS: Byron Allen (rJr.)

K: Jeff Sexton (So.)
P: Marc Ray (Sr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Sparky Woods (3rd season)

Media prediction: 6th place, Big South Conference

All-Big South:

2009 1st team: OL George Handler, P Marc Ray, PR Tim Maypray
2009 2nd team: RB Howard Abegesah, DL Josh Wine, LB Emilio Calvin, DB Byron Allen
2010 preseason: DL Josh Wine, LB Emilio Calvin, P Marc Ray

(Italics indicate departed player.)

VMI is one of those schools that can be definitively said not to exist for the sake of the football team, and it shows on the field. The last winning record there: 1981, though they did scrape a couple .500 seasons this decade.


There's quite an upheaval happening on this side of the ball. New starters abound, some of them brought over from the defense - notably, running back Julian Bowers, an RB-turned-LB-turned-RB, and Stefawn Ross, who made the curious switch from linebacker to wide receiver. VMI is also switching from a run-heavy spread with play selection reminiscent of Georgia Tech's to something more conventional. Leading receiver Mario Scott returns, having caught just 11 balls for 237 yards; VMI attempted only nine passes a game in 2009.

The line has experience, though, especially on the left side. And right guard James Boatright was a starter early in his career, even as a true freshman, but missed most of 2009 with a shoulder injury. Left guard Bo Wren has been an every-game starter since his freshman year as well, and can move up and down the line as needed.


Whatever hope VMI has in pulling off a good season and/or a stunning upset of UVA rests here. This is an extremely experienced squad, and it placed several players on the preseason all-conference team. VMI runs a 3-4, but nose tackle Josh Wine is much more than just a line anchor; he ranked fourth on the team in tackles in 2009. But big linebacker Emilio Calvin fits the Al Groh mold of the rush OLB, leading the team in TFL with nine, including three sacks.

There's an old saw in football that says if your secondary is leading the team in tackles, you're in trouble - the opposition shouldn't be back there that often. What if your safety leads the conference in tackles? Is that bad? Byron Allen nearly did just that, ranking second in the Big South in tackles per game and racking up 93 total, 17 more than the next player on the team. Allen is a heck of a run-stopper, but the secondary overall will need to step it up in pass defense. None of the projected starters had an interception in 2009, though in fairness to Michael Rainey-Wiles, he was a wide receiver last year. That probably speaks to the depth of the secondary, which only managed four INTs last year, half as many as the opposition despite VMI's propensity to never pass the ball on offense.


When you're terrible, you better have a good punter, and Marc Ray is that, earning first-team all-conference honors despite having just walked on the season before. Jeff Sexton only had six opportunities to kick a field goal last year, converted three, and also missed three extra points.


VMI is terrible. That said, please let's just win this one by a lot so I don't look really dumb for saying that.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

circle these dates

Football season is less than a week away! Two weeks, in college, but the high schoolers get an early start. And with practically the whole recruiting class coming from a 150-mile radius of Charlottesville, you might gather that some of our guys might be playing against each other during their senior years. You'd be right. Practically every weekend, in fact. Below are the dates on which you might want to pay a little extra attention to the high school scores and see how UVA's 2011 recruits fare against one another. Also included are a few prospects UVA is hot on the trail of, and VT's and Maryland's local recruits as well. (I don't care when VT's recruits play each other - it's when they play UVA's that I've listed.)

August 27
Virginia Beach - Green Run (DT David Dean) vs. Bayside (prospect CB Demetrious Nicholson)

September 3
DC - H.D. Woodson (TE Darius Redman) vs. Friendship Collegiate (Maryland OL Larry Maczyk) Virginia Beach - Cox (OL Ross Burbank) vs. Green Run (Dean)

September 4
Maryland - Good Counsel (DT Vincent Croce, prospect CB Blake Countess) vs. Gilman (prospect ATH Darius Jennings)

September 10
Maryland - DeMatha (CB Jordan Lomax, OL Kelby Johnson) vs. Friendship Collegiate (Maczyk)
Virginia Beach - Cox (Burbank) vs. Bayside (Nicholson)

September 11
NoVa - St. Stephen's/St. Agnes (LB Darius Lee) vs. St. Christopher's (DE Thompson Brown)

September 18
Maryland - DeMatha (Lomax, Johnson) vs. Gilman (Jennings)

October 8
Maryland - DeMatha (Lomax, Johnson) vs. Good Counsel (Croce, Countess)

October 15
Peninsula - Phoebus (LB Caleb Taylor) vs. Menchville (RB Clifton Richardson)
October 22
Richmond - Petersburg (ATH Kevin Green) vs. Dinwiddie (VT DE Corey Marshall, VT QB Chris Hall)
Hampton - Hampton (QB David Watford) vs. Phoebus (Taylor)

October 29
NoVa - T.C. Williams (prospect OL Jay Whitmire) vs. South County (VT DB Ronny Vandyke)

November 5
Richmond - L.C. Bird (ATH Anthony Harris) vs. Manchester (VT OL Jake Goins)
Peninsula - Hampton (Watford) vs. Menchville (Richardson)

And what would a post like this be without a recruiting board update? Pretty sweet, actually, but you still get the board. Nothing but subtractions this time, I'm afraid:

- Removed TE Ryan Malleck (to Maryland) from the blue section.
- Removed CB Kyshoen Jarrett (to Pitt) from yellow.
- Removed LB Travis Hughes from red. No commitment yet, but that one's gone from "so you're sayin' there's a chance!" to "no."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

season preview: Wake Forest

Today is the last of the ACC season previews, and if I do say so myself we're in a lot better shape than we were last year. I didn't get around to Wake Forest until about eight days before the season began. This year I'm right on schedule, and it means I can let things get really interesting in the last couple of weeks before the season begins.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons


9/2: Presbyterian (Thu.)
9/11: Duke
9/18: @ Stanford
9/25: @ Florida State
10/2: Georgia Tech
10/9: Navy
10/16: @ Virginia Tech
10/23: BYE
10/30: @ Maryland
11/6: Boston College
11/13: @ NC State
11/20: Clemson
11/27: @ Vanderbilt

Skip: Miami, North Carolina, Virginia

Projected starters:

QB: Skylar Jones (rJr.)
RB: Josh Adams (5Sr.)
FB: Tommy Bohanon (So.)
WR: Marshall Williams (5Sr.)
WR: Devon Brown (rJr.)
TE: Cameron Ford (rJr.)
LT: Doug Weaver (rJr.)
LG: Joe Looney (Jr.)
C: Russell Nenon (5Sr.)
RG: Gabe Irby (rSo.)
RT: Steven Chase (rFr.)

DE: Tristan Dorty (rJr.)
DT: Trip Russell (5Sr.)
DT: Ramon Booi (rSo.)
DE: Kyle Wilber (rJr.)
SLB: Joey Ehrmann (rSo.)
MLB: Matt Woodlief (5Sr.)
WLB: Hunter Haynes (5Sr.)
CB: Kenny Okoro (rSo.)
CB: Michael Williams (rJr.)
FS: Josh Bush (rJr.)
SS: Cyhl Quarles (rJr.)

K: Jimmy Newman (So.)
P: Shane Popham (rJr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Jim Grobe (10th season)

Media prediction: 5th place, Atlantic Division


2009 1st team: none
2009 2nd team: DT John Russell
2009 HM: QB Riley Skinner, WR Marshall Williams, OT Chris DeGeare, G Jeff Griffin, CB Kenny Okoro
2010 preseason: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Few coaches in the land are better at putting a team together with duct tape, baling wire, and the wishes of gumdrop fairies than Jim Grobe. The 2006 ACC champion team was like those duct tape wedding dresses - and in his 10th season, it's starting to look like Grobe might have used most of it up on that one season.


Relax, Hoo fans: Riley Skinner's last chance at breaking Matt Schaub's career completion percentage record was last season. Skinner played so long it felt like the two were opponents on the same field, but Wake is on the hunt for a new quarterback this year. The answer is probably Skylar Jones; unfortunately, this has all the makings of the kind of "answer" that fans are terrific at deluding themselves will turn out OK. Jones is the most experienced of the candidates, and his entire playing career appears in these two tiny blurbs on his bio: " ... Did not catch a pass ... Saw action against Elon ... " Yes, he was a receiver last year. One who saw action against Elon and.... well, this probably won't go well.

It's unfortunate for Wake's deep receiving corps, who'll probably see their production drop. Marshall Williams and Devon Brown caught 60 and 61 passes in 2009, respectively, and third receiver Chris Givens is a no less respectable target; each of them led Wake in a different receiving category in 2009, and they'll help soften the blow of losing Skinner. The tight ends don't play much of a role in the receiving game, though.

The running game doesn't look like it'll be of much help. Josh Adams and fellow backfield denizen Brandon Pendergrass have some ability, but they're not gamebreakers, and the line they'll run behind is undergoing renovations. Russ Nenon returns at center to anchor the line and provide veteran leadership, but he's the only senior there. On the other end of the spectrum, right tackle will probably feature a freshman who spent his redshirt season on defense. Left guard Joe Looney is another incumbent starter on the line, but callow, untried youth vastly outweighs experience on this line.


The defensive line is just as much a study in opposites. Ends Tristan Dorty and Kyle Wilber are developing into fine players, though Wilber missed a lot of 2009 with an injury. Both should be contributors to what looks like a solid defense. They'll be spelled by Gelo Orange, who got a ton of snaps in Wilber's absence. But the tackles are even more inexperienced than the offensive line and it's anyone's guess who really will step up during the season. That probably won't be settled until October, but the Deacs don't have that long before the games start getting meaningful.

Things are looking better further back. At linebacker, Matt Woodlief is a versatile player, starting in the middle in 2009 and moving to the weak side when Hunter Haynes sprained a knee; in fact, Woodlief stayed planted in that starting role when Haynes returned. But Joey Ehrmann was second on the team in sacks and third in TFL despite not starting a single game, and he could be the most promising of the bunch.

Cornerback Kenny Okoro is the star of the secondary, having garnered a slew of national honors for his play as a freshman in 2009. With Brandon Ghee off to the NFL, Okoro is set for a breakout year. Cyhl Quarles (which is pronounced, against all intuition, Kyle) is the secondary's other impact player, a big run-stopping safety. The defense as a whole is by far the team's stronger unit, but it's a solid, not spectacular group with some big question marks.


On the whole, maybe the ACC's most anonymous team. Outside of Okoro and maybe Marshall Williams, you'll watch a Wake Forest game this year and then totally forget who you just saw. The offense isn't going to be very productive, and the defense should be decent, but it'll force 4th-and-2's, not 3rd-and-18's. Wake will have the less-talented team on the field more often than not, but what you usually don't see is them getting outcoached. Butch Davis would coach this team to a 2-10 season; as it is, Grobe will have his work cut out for him scratching his way to six wins and bowl eligibility. If you squint, you can find those six wins on the schedule, but then again I've never been able to see those Magic Eye pictures. So it says here that Wake stays home this postseason.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

preseason Blogpoll ballot

Maybe you know the drill, maybe you don't. Let's pretend for a minute you don't. The Blogpoll is what it sounds like: basically the AP and coaches' poll for bloggers. That makes it better. Other things that make it better, as taken (mostly) from the Blogpoll's official front page:

1. By virtue of their tendency to sit around and watch 12 hours of college football every weekend, BlogPoll voters are often better informed than mainstream media members, most of whom spend their Saturday obsessively covering one particular game, or coaches, who all obsessively cover one game.

2. All votes are totally transparent. Better yet, not only do you get to see who voted for what, you get to influence the vote.

3. It has a flexibility that mainstream polls do not. In 2009, for instance, ownership of #1 passed to and from Florida and Alabama. Before the SEC championship game voters settled on Alabama, whereupon they were proven correct by events on the field. Conventional polls seem to adhere to the idea that if you're #1 you stay #1; the bloggers are more responsive.

4. I have a vote in this one and not in the other ones.

It works like this: Every Sunday during the season, I'll post my ballot, as I've done below. Between then and around Tuesday-ish, you'll have your chance to weigh in and tell me what I'm screwing up and how to fix it, and if your reasoning is sound I'll even listen. Sometime Wednesday, the owner and proprietor (Brian of MGoBlog) writes up the statistical analysis, which is actually way more interesting than it sounds, and hands out awards for "winners" of certain categories, which is way less shiny-trophy involved than it sounds.

Astute readers who are more familiar with the subject matter will notice the poll has a new home at SB Nation, having been moved from CBS.

Below is my official preliminary preseason ballot. You have until, I guess Sunday or thereabouts, to poke holes in it. Reasoning, or a pretense thereat, follows the ballot.

If I could do an in-depth analysis of every team in the country like I have been for the ACC, I'd be educated enough to fill out my own ballot. I have not. Seeing who the media and coaches have already ranked in their polls seems like cheating, even if I then shuffle it around a bit.

So the methodology is like this: I looked at the watch lists for the individual awards - you know, like the Biletnikoff for receivers and the Outland for linemen. I used most of the applicable ones that are in the National College Football Awards Association, except for the Groza (kickers) and Walker (RBs) because they don't have watch lists out yet, and the Nagurski because it's the same as the Bednarik. And the Heisman doesn't have a watch list, but the Maxwell does and it's basically the same thing. I added up the number of times each team had a player appear on the watch list, and that's the top 25. Alabama did, in fact, come out on top. Afterwards I shuffled things a bit based on the two-second eye test, because, among other things, there's no way UNC is the #3 team in the nation. But a lot of teams, Wisconsin and Georgia for example, I just kinda shrugged and left 'em. Hey, they got players. Good ones. Lots of em. There's no reason to assume Wisconsin isn't the fourth-best team in the country just because a bunch of reporters in Mobile and Salt Lake City and San Diego think otherwise.

Granted, there's overlap because for example a linebacker can be (and often is) nominated for two, even three awards. I call that a plus, since most of the overlap is on defense and that's more important anyway. I compensated a bit by giving two points for an O'Brien (QB) nomination.

So leave your comments below.