Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014's top ten

Here we are on New Year's Eve Eve.  Only one sporting event is left us for the year of 2014, and it's unlikely to produce anything truly epic, so it's a good time to join the rush of year-in-review junk and talk about the best of the year.  With the obvious implication that we hope 2015 can beat it senseless - although it'll be tough.

Honorable mention: Coholan gives UVA a win over Johns Hopkins; Justin Anderson's fingertip block against Pitt; UVA takes advantage of Louisville's dropped punt; every Cavalanche ever

#10 - Women's tennis wins first ACC title

We've been expecting the women's team to start filling the trophy case with hardware to match the men a little bit, and this was the year they broke through, winning the ACC title as the #3 seed.  On April 26 they beat second-seeded Miami in a 4-0 rout - the same team to whom they'd lost 5-2 just six days earlier.  The following day the championship was wrapped up, and women's tennis became the 20th Virginia program to claim an ACC title.

#9 - Malcolm Brogdon beats Pittsburgh with a three-pointer

I could make this entirely about basketball if I wanted.  There were plenty of those moments.  This was definitely one of the better ones.  The team, at the time, was 7-1 in the ACC, the lone blemish being a hard-fought loss at Duke, but we still couldn't be real sure what we had.  The Cavalanche was just becoming a thing, but UVA hadn't yet gone on the road and beaten a legitimate team.  Pitt was a legitimate team that played tough defense, and the game bogged down into trench warfare.  UVA spent most of the game trailing, ever so slightly, tied it with three minutes to go, and made a defensive stop with ten seconds left to keep it that way.  9.6 seconds later, Brogdon silenced the raucous arena, and UVA had a signature win that kept alive what ended up being a 13-game win streak.

#8 - 75-26


#7 - Women's soccer makes first national title game

OK, they didn't win it, but let's not let what didn't happen detract from what did.  The team was a regional 2 seed - one of the top 8 teams in the country - so their presence at the College Cup wasn't a complete surprise.  But they were the only non-#1 seed there, and they beat two #1 seeds to get there.  The win over Texas A&M in the semifinal was nice - well-played and mostly dominated by the Hoos - but it was the quarterfinal win over UCLA that was most impressive.  The Lady Hoos went to Los Angeles and snapped a 44-game unbeaten streak for the Bruins.

#6 - The triple-block

There's a lot of moments to choose from in that rematch against Pitt.  The ACC semifinal was just as hard-fought as the first game back in February.  I'd venture to say that the Panthers were the Hoos' worthiest ACC foe.  Nothing, though, sums up UVA's defense better than what happened when Pitt's Cameron Wright thought he had a layup lane.  He did, for a split second.  By the time he left his feet, it was gone, and Darion Atkins, Akil Mitchell, and Justin Anderson were flying in to reject it with more authority than any shot in basketball history has ever seen.

#5 - 15 innings against TCU

At the College World Series, UVA had had only one small hiccup along the way: a Game 1 loss in the super regionals to Maryland.  The Terps were summarily eliminated two days later, though.  After dispatching Ole Miss in a tough CWS opener, UVA faced TCU to try and stay out of the losers' bracket.  It turned into a 15-inning pitchers' battle, with a full nine scoreless innings in a row.  It was the longest game in CWS history.  UVA went down 1-2-3 in every inning after the 9th - until, of course, the last.  The TCU center fielder made a fantastic diving grab on Mike Papi; Brandon Downes threw out a TCU baserunner (on a hit and run!) at third base.  The game ended when UVA manufactured a run out of a Nate Irving double that broke the ice in the bottom of the 15th.  The win put UVA one more win from the CWS final, which they got against Ole Miss four days later.

#4 - Danielle Collins wins national title

A season of firsts for the women's tennis team?  Yup, and none greater than adding a national title to the list.  Collins was seeded 32nd, but went on a six-match tear, knocking off the 2nd and 7th seeds along the way.  This was the only national championship of the academic year, but not the calendar year....

#3 - Men's soccer adds a seventh star

UVA was only the 16 seed in the tournament.  They were 111th in the country in goals per game.  They didn't have the firepower you'd want out of a dominant team - much less than the women had.  So George Gelnovatch changed up the strategy.  He set up a Maginot Line and sent the team to work.  UVA scored more than a single goal just once during the NCAA tournament, and twice went to penalty kicks.  Championship opponent UCLA (Bruin soccer fans must've gotten pretty tired of UVA by the end there) was the more talented team, but UVA dominated the play by swarming, bunkering down and turning back every attempt at the goal.  The announcers complained, UCLA's coach complained, but it was UVA putting the star on the crest after Riggs Lennon slammed the final penalty kick right down the middle.

#2 - ACC champs in Greensboro

It's never easy when Duke is involved.  But it does make it sweeter.  The Hoos put the cap on a truly magical ACC season by frustrating the Dookies in front of what should've been a partisan Duke crowd and instead was mostly wearing orange.  Akil Mitchell shut down future NBAer Jabari Parker - yes, Parker scored 23 points, but shot 9-for-24.  Coach K managed a technical for throwing a magic marker - perhaps a sign that Duke's special status was wearing off.  Grabbing bragging rights and ownership of the ACC for a season - it'll last forever, immortalized on a JPJA banner.  Later that day, the Hoos would learn they earned a 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.  So why isn't this the best of the best?

#1 - Thomas Rogers hits a three

Because championships are designed to last forever.  But when something so mundane achieves the same immortality, it's more special yet.  The blowout win over Syracuse cemented the regular season ACC title, which is nice, but what it did was give the crowd at the JPJ an excuse to sound like a jet engine.  The game was tied at 42 - then UVA poured it on and poured it in and the crowd, already loud in exhortation, got even louder in celebration.  Dickie V got himself all fired up.  The players had to pry the smiles off their faces in between the whistles.  Tony Bennett was the only stone face in the house (the Cuse faces were droopy), but his glistening eyes betrayed him anyway.  Senior Day at UVA was already the biggest party UVA athletics has seen in decades.

Tony Bennett called time-out to give Joe Harris a moment and to give the bench a little taste of the fun.  Harris hugged everyone on his way off the court and the crowd gave him as much of a cheer as they'd been giving for the last five minutes, which was a lot.  (In the post-game interview, one of the exceedingly rare interesting ones, Tony would frame the moment perfectly as something that Harris, and his senior class, had set out to achieve from day one.)  It looked like the perfect finish.  But the players didn't sit down as play resumed - not one of them.  Maybe they knew.

It was handy, then, not having to leap out of their seats when "the other senior" - the walk-on, the guy you clapped politely for during the pre-game festivities - scored three points.  They were the most meaningless three points of maybe the whole season and still the roof blew off and landed in Crozet and you'd think from watching his teammates that it was the national championship.  As explosively loud as it was in the arena, nobody was yelling louder than the guys in uniform.  Storybook.  UVA might win a national title under Tony Bennett and even that might not match what happened that day - because for all the One Shining Moment maudlinism that the networks put on, it'll be hard to match that three-pointer for What It's Really About.

Your move, 2015.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

the recruit: Olamide Zaccheaus

Name: Olamide Zaccheaus
Position: RB
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
School: St. Joseph's Prep
Height: 5'8"
Weight: 195

24/7: 87, three stars; #54 ATH, PA #14
ESPN: 78, three stars; #70 RB, PA #10, East #83
Rivals: 5.5, three stars; PA #30
Scout: three stars; #93 RB

Other offers: Miami, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Ohio, Temple, Old Dominion

First of all, the tricky part: it's pronounced oh-LAH-ma-day za-KEY-us.  With that covered, let's see what we can do about a scouting report.

The most obvious thing that jumps out of any page on Zacchaeus is his size.  At 5'8", he definitely qualifies as a small running back, and I'm tempted to not believe the 185-195 pound range where he's listed, too.  No big change there for the UVA roster; the Hoos are graduating two other 5'8" backs in Kevin Parks and Khalek Shepherd.  Zaccheaus, however, looks smaller than either, in girth more than anything.  Parks is much more of a bruiser; Shepherd is a much better comparison.

That said, announcers did tend to really like the cliche about getting lost in the pile when talking about Parks, and if they liked it about him, they'll love it about Zaccheaus.  Huge pet peeve of mine: When a runner meets a defender in the open field and stops short, apparently thinking himself an all-world juker, ready to dazzle the world with the Barry Sanders moves he's about to unleash, and gets tackled from behind.  Or tackled by the defender, who's a lot more athletic than the high school mooks the runner is used to.  Bonus points if the ballcarrier stops just short of the first down and leaves his team with 4th and 1.  Zaccheaus doesn't really have that problem.  His style looks to be a lot more straight ahead, preferring to cut rather than juke, and generally always moving forward.  And he's expert at getting through the trash, and going through rather than trying to go around a scrum. Or at least, that's what happened in the successful runs that became the highlight videos.  There's probably a lesson there.

At any rate, I think it's much smarter running than trying to be Mr. Flash.  Our running game this year wouldn't have been nearly as successful if we didn't have backs who took what was there by going straight forward.  Zaccheaus is reasonably quick and has a pretty good ability to maintain his speed while cutting and changing direction.

There's quite a disparity in his guru ratings.  ESPN and 24/7 think he's one of the better players in Pennsylvania and among the top recruits in our class.  Scout and Rivals - far less enthusiastic.  Size probably has something to do with it, and if so, I don't care.  Running back is probably the position where size matters least.  Most important, I think, is instinct, and ability to find the right path downfield.  Competitiveness and attitude help too, more so, I think, than physical attributes.  None of this can be judged too well from the highlights.  As best I can tell, all of those things trend in the right direction for Zaccheaus, but it's hard to tell unless you watch game in and game out and not the handpicked highlight plays.

I'm inclined to lean toward the more positive rankings.  Part of that is a bias toward running backs in general - it's my favorite position on the field and I always want the incoming guys to be the next (insert fun-to-watch RB of choice here.)  But Zaccheaus has a few legit offers, which says to me he'd have more if he weren't short - too many coaches shy away from that kind of thing.  And if he'd hit a few camps; I can't find any evidence of him doing so.  And he's got some football instinct as well - he picked off a pass in the state championship game to seal a second straight title for his St. Joseph's team.

So I think there's a reasonable chance UVA has a bit of a find.  Plus it's about 50/50 as to whether he redshirts, I'd say.  Most of UVA's production at RB is graduating, leaving pretty much just Taquan Mizzell behind.  Daniel Hamm is the most experienced back left, after him; LaChaston Smith has been buried the last two years and Jordan Ellis just redshirted.  Zaccheaus could work his way into that mix, or he could find a role as a kick returner.  We know so little about the options behind Mizzell that it's close to impossible to predict how soon Zaccheaus will see the field - but an optimistic view is the best bet.

Monday, December 22, 2014

crimson fried

Can we all agree that that was bonkers?  I think we can agree that that was bonkers.  London Perrantes sank a pair of free throws, and just over four minutes into the game the score was 11-2, which is officially lopsided.  From then on it was never anything but.  24-4.  39-6.  51-12.  61-19.  The game delved into the realms of the absurd even before then, with Mike Tobey doing all of the scoring without really caring where he had to do it from.

This team - this defense - has turned into a traveling carnival.  Come see the magnificent Antonio Bennettio!  Watch as he performs incredible feats of strength and defensive prowess.  See his amazing illusions.  Watch as he and his assistants hold yet another team under 30 points.  Marvel as they allow just one field goal in a half.  Who will be their next victim?  Step inside the tent and find out!

You can have your Kentucky-UCLA - this is the blowout of the year.  The uneducated rabble will look at the John Wooden pedigree of one team and the Ivy League pedigree of the other and assume otherwise.  But Harvard, before the two blowouts, was the higher-ranked KenPom team.  Wesley Saunders is a more dangerous player than anyone UCLA has.  UCLA was able to fight back some, being outscored by only five in the second half, and not against the Kentucky scrubs, either - the last UK point was scored by Aaron Harrison, the Cats' leading scorer.  Besides, Kentucky allowed three times as many baskets in the first half as UVA did.  So.

Speaking of Harvard being good - check out their D-rating on KenPom.  91.1 - good for #26 in the country.  That's a damn good score that would've been 7th at the end of last season (early-season ratings are always a little more extreme as blowouts are tough to come by in conference play.)  That's the same defense on which UVA just scored nearly 1.3 points per possession.  And that 91.1 is the post-blowout number.

The Hoos have all the fingerprints of an elite, Final Four-contending team, except for a blue-blood name on the jersey front.  They've handled all comers with at worst minor difficulties.  They've gone into any gym they liked and walked out with a big win.  They've bombed really good teams back to the Stone Age.  They have a pair of elite star players - Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill check in at #3 and #4, respectively, on KenPom's POY rankings, behind only Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor and ahead of everyone on the rosters of Kentucky, Louisville, and Arizona.  These Hoos have one game left in the OOC and regardless of the outcome, they've built a top-notch resume already and are almost certain to plow through the ACC with a ruthlessness not seen since.... uh, last year.  Being able to score the way they have is kinda new, and it's letting us recapture some of the wide-eyed wonder from last season, but this team is also, somehow, even better at keeping the ball out of the basket than they were last year.  Fiat Defensio.


-- Cleveland State got off easy, getting beat by a very workmanlike effort from the Hoos.  I took nothing away from that game except this: Anthony Gill wiped away any last vestiges of doubt that he could fully replace Akil Mitchell with a second-half sequence where he hedged hard, about 30 feet from the basket, and recovered all the way under the rim in time contest the eventual shot.  I thought he blocked it at first, but on replay, it was just a two-foot airball.  Still impressive.  Gill is just fine in the learn-the-defense department, I think.

-- Mike Tobey also impressed on defense.  Particularly on one play against Cleveland State in which his man caught the ball very deep in the post and looked ready for a simple layup - and Tobey, somehow, cajoled him into something resembling a monkey rodeo.  Tobey admitted culpability for the one Harvard bucket in the first half, but whatev - that was actually a really well-contested basket.

-- Merry Christmas.  Nothing is happening until next Tuesday, so rather than a regular Monday post, I'll probably work in some smaller other stuff in between, maybe work on those highlights I keep putting off.  Possibly, for giggles, a preview of Davidson.

Monday, December 15, 2014


National champ-peen-ship, y'all.  I'm long since on the record as admitting I don't get around to watching nearly as much UVA soccer as I'd like.  (I've considered remedying this next year by ignoring football, but that'd be all talk and no action on that front.)  In fact this season I've seen exactly two soccer games: the women's semifinal against Texas A&M and the men's national title against UCLA.  I had to miss the men's semis and women's finals for reasons of State.

It didn't take me long to decide I hated the announcers.  I wasn't even paying attention to them in the A&M game so I have no idea, but it was only about 20 minutes into the UCLA game before I decided the announcing was a zero on a scale of Pam Ward to Keith Jackson.  Their contempt for UVA's game plan was plain as day and got plainer as the first half wore on.  Although I did enjoy their description of the UVA strategy as "cynical."

Guess which strategy UVA went with?

You can't totally fault them, if the idea is that games should always be exciting shootouts.  But UVA came into the game 111th in the country in scoring average.  One-hundred and eleventh, it's not an extra-1 typo.  In only one tournament game did the Hoos score more than once.  UCLA came in with only one tournament game of fewer than three goals.  So it should be no surprise that Gelnovatch decided not to run 'n' gun with the Bruins.  "The beautiful game" it was not, but Gelnovatch isn't paid to entertain the pundits.

And frankly, it worked to almost complete perfection.  Actual perfection would've been a 1-0 win with the one goal probably coming off of some kind of set piece.  You don't counterattack to try and score, because that would expose you; you counterattack with the aim of getting a corner kick.  If it doesn't go in, which it usually doesn't but it's more than worth a try, bunker back down and try again.  I laughed when halftime rolled around and the announcers said UCLA had to be very pleased with the first half and then both coaches said the first 45 went completely UVA's way.  I might've considered it a Bruin domination, if UCLA had generated more than the occasional chance, but UVA's keeper Calle Brown was barely tested.  Owning the possession battle 45 yards out is one thing; it's another thing entirely to dictate the game.  UVA did so without having the ball.

The second half - a little more pressure, the Bruins clearly took their coaching to heart and were less patient, more attacking, but also a great deal more frustrated.  UCLA's Edgar Contreras ought to have been red-carded for a head-butt, but I can't completely fault the refs as the camera was right on it in real time and I still missed it until the replay.  But it was a clear sign that UCLA was used to being able to break down a defense, and UVA's brick wall was getting to them.

The game is likely to attract precisely zero new fans to the game of soccer, but just look at all the bothers I give.  You know I love me some pack-line defense, and so, apparently, does George Gelnovatch.  Tony Bennett wins basketball games 45-26, but he wins basketball games.  At the end of the day, here's the stat that matters most: 21.  And the one that matters second-most is 0.


The first major bit of football attrition hit last week when Eli Harold declared for the draft.  That makes two; David Watford also decided to transfer, but the effect of that will be almost nil.  Except to eliminate bizarre message board posts wondering why he's on the field in any capacity at all, as if not being a good quarterback is the same as not being a good receiver.

UVA dodged a bullet when Max Valles announced that he'd be returning next year, quashing rumors to the contrary.  Smart - Valles would've been going almost entirely on physical attributes.  A year of opening some scouts' eyes would help him.  Harold, though he could benefit from another year, is probably in good shape anyway.  He showed this year that he can defend the run and isn't just a one-dimensional pass rusher.  Once he gets in front of scouts at the combine, he should make an appearance on draft boards and could easily be a second or third round pick; his ceiling, if the workouts look good, would be the low first.

As for our defense, it's a fairly major hit, but there's a long-run silver lining: next year, Harold and the Moores (Michael and Kwontie) would once again have dominated the playing time.  Great, because they'll do well, but no experience for the boatload of guys behind them.  Trent Corney should start off as the third DE, but there's a trio of redshirt freshmen who will get a chance to make a wave or two as well.


And the second major bit of football attrition is on the coaching staff, as Scott Wachenheim is off to VMI to play head coach.  Good for him - it's his first head-coaching gig, though he did have the title of OC and assistant HC at Liberty for a few years.  There can't be a tougher place in the world to win at football than VMI, except maybe the Citadel.  From his perspective, this is definitely striking while the iron is hot - the chances that most of this staff is out of a job next year are awfully high, and you might as well grab a promotion while it's there.  Even if London was on rock-solid ground, I think he'd go anyway, but still.

Wachenheim leaves with one of the most mixed legacies I've ever seen for an assistant coach.  He was vilified at times for the play of the O-line, and I think at least partially deservedly so.  But he leaves on a positive note, having gained a lot of credit for making the O-line not be a total black hole of suck despite being held together with Scotch tape and having to use 260-pound converted DE (or TE or whatever) Jack English as a left tackle.  And I think also deservedly so.

It leaves UVA with two openings to fill, including the impending (or already-occurred) retirement of Tom O'Brien, whose UVA career was basically a dud.  There's an inexplicable level of support for Ron Mattes, who was here like, a year, and performed no miracles.  He'll be here as soon as Bill Musgrave comes back, I'm sure.  A much more likely name, and these tea leaves sure read awfully clearly, thanks to Streaking the Lawn's Tweety account, is current Edmonton Eskimos O-line coach Jonathan Himebauch.


For lack of anything to do in this basketball wilderness, I put together another season sim, since it had been a couple weeks and stuff happened.  You can find it below and on the original season sim post, for easier comparison to the previous version.

NC State and Notre Dame are on the rise; both won an early-season ACC game against Wake and FSU, respectively, and ND has been handling a lot of business as well.  NC State, not so much, but then, Wofford is actually awfully highly-ranked for a SoCon team.

Being as UVA has also been handling business, the Hoos leapfrogged Louisville, which itself didn't exactly fare badly, just not as well as UVA.  Maryland and VCU are both higher-ranked than all but five ACC teams, and UVA crushed both on the road.  It's becoming clear that there's a top three in this league, and as such, the race for the top seed has obvious huge implications.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

the recruit: C.J. Stalker

Name: C.J. Stalker
Position: LB
Hometown: West Chester, OH
School: Lakota West
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 225

24/7: 88, three stars; #17 ILB, OH #21
ESPN: 76, three stars; #78 OLB, OH #37, Midwest #87
Rivals: 5.8, four stars; #12 ILB, OH #14
Scout: three stars; #40 ILB

Other offers: West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Massachusetts

To be brutally honest, the spring and summer parade of commitments that almost nobody else had recruited was getting a little worrisome.  It's not much of a way to build a team, and besides, it takes a lot of the fun out of following recruiting.  C.J. Stalker got all that nice and fixed.  From the Cincinnati area, and pursued by most teams in the region, Stalker ended up picking basically the furthest-away (serious) candidate for his services.  And UVA finally gets a linebacker out of Cincinnati after striking out a time or two in the past.

There's a lot of disagreement as to what Stalker's strengths and weaknesses are, which is a bit odd for someone who's been recruited fairly widely.  ESPN says he needs to add strength and bulk.  Rivals called him "big and musclebound."  Most of the services have him as an MLB; ESPN says he's a strong-side guy.  24/7's Jamie Oakes adds extremely admiring words for his football smarts.

This last is believable given Stalker's chosen major: pre-med.  "I want to be an orthopedic surgeon" is something not heard out of many footballr recruits.  To that end, Stalker is enrolling early, joining Grant Polk in that regard.  Early enrollment doesn't guarantee anything in terms of playing time, but in Stalker's case, one wonders.  Thing is, Rivals's assessment of Stalker's stature makes a lot more sense; he looks almost ready to burst out of those already absurdly tight football camp t-shirts.  He probably could add muscle, but he already looks close to college-ready, and that's from this past summer.

Similarly, I think he could play Sam, but then, a smart, high-IQ MLB is priceless for a defense, and since most sources seem to think he's a Mike, I'm forced to agree.  Especially since ESPN's report is kind of contradictory at times.  Your heir apparent at MLB is Micah Kiser, who hasn't seen a lot of field time; this is mainly the fault of Henry Coley, who was more or less indispensible.  But while the LB depth chart looks pretty well filled out, it's mostly full of outside backers.  The three we picked up last year aren't middle guys by any stretch, or at least, they didn't look like it when they came in.  Unless one of them has picked up some new skills, there's not much (other than possibly Jahvoni Simmons, who seems like he could play anywhere) standing between Kiser and Stalker.  Stalker appears close to the field already, physically, and his early enrollment will jump-start his career.  I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see him pushing very hard for playing time right away; he's one of the least likely redshirts in the class.

Monday, December 8, 2014

yearly ordeal

Final Exam Wilderness Journal: Day 2, 8:23 PM - Rations high but spirits already running low.  The prospect of another ten days in this bleak and uninviting terrain has the entire party depressed.  It was thought a brief soccer interlude might raise spirits enough to last the entire journey, but this proved futile.  Scouts report another potential soccer interlude approximately a week's march away, but much of the party is apprehensive, as nobody knows how long it might last or whether it will even provide any relief.  For the next week, however, we have no choice but to trudge on.


Yes, it's that time of year, and it's a little meaner this year than usual.  UVA just finished two very entertaining basketball games in hostile environments, the kind of games that leave you wishing the next one was tomorrow, and instead we gotta wait while the players fill in blue books and scantrons.  The perils of rooting for a school that behaves as a school.

As it turns out, I could easily have waited til after the VCU game to write anything about basketball, because it wasn't too far off a carbon copy of the Maryland one.  UVA held the Havoc-ing Rams to 61 possessions, nine fewer than their usual average of 70.  That actually means the game was 18 possessions shorter than the usual VCU contest.  It's unsurprising that UVA would have more turnovers than usual against VCU, but the clash of styles is a UVA win when the possessions are a lot closer to UVA's average.

If, as I've said, each year's team takes on a new identity of its own, perhaps this year's is the newfound confidence this team exudes.  Twice now the Hoos have gone into enemy gyms, neither of them easy environments, and played as if the place was empty.  Even when Cavalanching hapless opponents last year, they didn't look quite as sure of themselves - it was as if the reason they were excitedly piling on the points was that they weren't sure when they'd get a chance to again.  This year, they play like they know what they can do.  Under a lesser coach this kind of confidence could get out of hand.  Some teams, once they get to this point, look as if they don't mind losing because they assume it'll get fixed in the end, and look surprised when the clock runs out before that happens.

Tony Bennett, on the other hand, pushes a button and that's the end of whatever little run the opponent is making.  UVA saw a double-digit lead erode to four, Tony called time-out, and in just over three minutes it was back up to fourteen again and the game was for all intents and purposes over.  But of course it's more than that - Tony's mantra this offseason ("always thankful, never satisfied") is coming through loud and clear on the court.  This team has no flashy five-star guys, no burger boyz, nobody who got a world of attention for not going to the NBA.**  They're just a bunch of dudes playing ball.  They're still KenPom's #3 team in his rankings, the best team in the country not named Duke or Kentucky.  At this point in the season, I'll take it.

**This could certainly change once Justin Anderson starts getting credit commensurate with his play.  KenPom has him as the 8th best player in the country right now.  It's hard to imagine he can keep shooting .588 from three, but still - he's all over the court, he maintains a very low turnover rate, he makes nice passes, and he's clearly embracing the role of upperclassman and scorer.

-- It's awfully interesting watching the various free throw routines that these guys have developed, mostly over this past summer.  Anthony Gill is the only guy I've ever seen who points his feet sideways.  I keep waiting for the spin to go wrong on Mike Tobey's flip, and the ball go rolling at the ref.  And Anderson's dispensed with the dribble entirely.  But mostly I'm enjoying watching the ball actually go in.

-- The rotation twists and turns took an interesting direction against VCU; Marial Shayok saw just five minutes, Isaiah Wilkins none at all, and Devon Hall, who'd played 1, 2, and 5 minutes the previous three games, got in for 15.  Looked pretty good, too.

-- A few of next year's OOC matchups are already coming out; UVA will play in the 2015 Charleston Classic, a perfectly solid tournament in a great location (not least because UVA is the closest school to the event.)  Oklahoma State seems to be the other marquee team in the event, but actually it's Seton Hall that might deserve the most attention.  The Pirates have several former UVA recruiting targets (Sterling Gibbs, Jaren Sina, Angel Delgado) and an up-and-coming team.  UVA will also head to Madison Square Garden to play West Virginia.  There's also the other end of the home-and-home with George Washington, plus of course a guaranteed Big Ten game (probably Maryland again, knowing our luck.)  I highly approve so far.  It might be nice at some point to take on a Kentucky or a Kansas, but I don't find the OOC schedule lacking without them.

-- Tremendous shame that Morgan Brian's career at UVA ends without a national title.  It would've been more than fitting.

-- The men, though, get their crack in the College Cup next weekend.  UMBC is the surprising opponent, having personally dispatched three of the four seeded teams in their bracket.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

turtle stomping day

I felt like yesterday's game deserved not to wait til Monday for a reaction, then I wondered why.  Trash thrown on the floor, cheers and obscenities hurled at injured players, and whiny Duke-like bitching about the referees that put the home team in the bonus less than three minutes into the second half - in short, there was nothing out of the ordinary for a basketball game night in College Park.

ESPN, the ACC, and the Big Ten conspired to slap UVA in the face with a trip to the most poisonous atmosphere in hoops (although, since my contention is that that decision was made right about the time Maryland announced their departure, they probably did so before UVA was a conference champ) and the Hoos responded like you want a top-ten team to do.  In a game that wasn't as close as the double-digit margin of victory indicated, the Hoos kept their composure perfectly and walked out of the Terrible Customer Service Center with a very big win.

"Composure" truly is the word of the day.  It's a testament either to Justin Anderson's class or good sense that he doesn't stare down the Maryland student section (which is known for never cheering for football or basketball players who decommit from elsewhere in favor of Maryland, because that sort of thing is uncouth) and crotch-grab every time he scores.  It's a testament to Tony Bennett's Zen-like calmness that he didn't pile up eight technicals after watching the Big Ten refs compete to see who could call the ticky-tackest foul.  And it's a testament to Tony's style and the whole team's buy-in that the game might as well have been played in a church for all the team seemed to outwardly care about the environment.

I am, by the way, not interested in hearing about Dez Wells or Evan Smotrycz, the Terps' walking wounded who missed the game.  Neither is at all indispensible on the defensive end - particularly Smotrycz - and UVA turned in their second-best offensive performance of the season, after only the Tennessee State game.  The Hoos dominated the interior scoring game; in fact, other than Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins, who took a shot each and missed it (as well as those who never attempted one) every single UVA player shot .500 or better from two.

There's every reason to believe this team will go places.  (Not that there wasn't before, but it's still nice to have confirmation.)  While I don't really believe in the "defense travels" meme, there's still likely to be something to the idea that good defensive teams are also good at consistency - or maybe more specifically, Tony Bennett's team are really good at consistency, because it's a necessary condition of being this damn good at a defensive system.  The ACC is shaping up to have three main contenders.  Being one of them right now is all you can ask for.


-- A butterfly flaps its wings in New York and in College Park, a foul is called.  Possibly the best coaching job of the night was Tony Bennett orchestrating the rotation so that nobody fouled out - even while missing Darion Atkins most of the game and Justin Anderson for a big chunk of it.

-- Not only did Justin Anderson not travel after that rebound (he did in fact dribble a couple times), he was fouled on the play.  The refs just decided that one time to let Jake Layman go over the back without a whistle.  This by the way was after Layman managed to make it from the top of the key to the low block without a single dribble, this in the first half.

-- Which is a better conference - one with three probably-elite teams at the top, an assortment of good to very good ones, and a horrible bottom half?  Or one with one possibly-elite team and a whole huge pack of very good ones?  The results say the latter, I guess - but the way things tend to be defined in the end, which all comes down to tournament performance, the ACC is likely to nose out the Big Ten.  It's worth noting that the B1G has six ranked teams and all but one lost in the Challenge.

Running offense against Kentucky or Louisville is like driving through a tornado — it’s complete chaos, things are flying at you from all angles, and you’re probably crapping your pants as it’s happening. But if you keep your cool and get a little lucky, you can survive. Meanwhile, running offense against Virginia is like driving into a brick wall — you can stay where you are and be perfectly safe, but there’s only one way to get where you want, and that wall isn’t going anywhere.
And the whole rest of it also happens to be exactly the kind of positive press that attracts attention of the best kind.

-- Don't forget that there's soccer this weekend.  The kind of football UVA is good at.  The women are on ESPNU, Friday at 5, and the men on Saturday at 1, on the Georgetown free video site.

Monday, December 1, 2014

how to lose every fan in 10 days

I was prepared for a loss.  I mean, with a Mike London-coached team, that's a given.  You live in Oklahoma, you have a tornado shelter.  You root for a team coached by Mike London, you take nothing for granted in the win column.  I wasn't at all prepared to be slapped upside the face by our own administration.

The idea behind that somewhat controversial countdown clock was simple: X days until we know whether we had a successful season, in which case, good, or we had a bad season but could look forward to a better day ahead with a better coach, in which case, good.  Either way, things were going to look up.

So much for theories.  Leave it to this administration to screw up a good thing.  I suppose they had their reasons and the chances are good that they go beyond the public blather they put out last week.  Maybe it's money, in which case they're being cheap.  Or maybe Craig Littlepage just doesn't have the guts to fire someone he personally likes, until circumstances force him over the edge.**  Regardless of the reason, it makes all this talk about competing for ACC championships just that - empty talk.

A few people theorized that the reason I was asked to take down the old site banner for "copyright reasons" (despite the fact that the picture of Tony Bennett was from his time at Washington State and could not possibly have been owned by the University of Virginia) last year was because of the countdown clock.  I'm not sure that's true, but I'm not sure it's false, either.  Well, there's no clock anymore, and there's not going to be one, and in case the administration really is paying that close of attention to the goings-on at a tiny little 200-readers-a-day blog, here is the exact reason for that: I have less than zero faith anymore in their rational decision-making or the standards they claim to set for the football program.  From where we sit now it's no stretch to imagine they'll let London bumble along and win four to six games for the next ten years.

We've all heard since we were four that actions speak louder than words, and the actions here say that:

-- it's OK to never beat Virginia Tech
-- it's OK to never beat North Carolina
-- it's OK to go 11-29 in conference play
-- it's OK to go bowling once every five years or so, and when you do,
-- it's OK to get your ass kicked
-- it's OK to win one road game in three years

Uncompromised Excellence my ass.  The only thing uncompromised is the rotting stink of a losing atmosphere emanating from the McCue Center.  That's coming through loud and clear.  So is the message that a losing program is acceptable.  Standards have sunk that low.  Teams all around the country fire coaches every year when they don't perform; UVA is happy to keep the one they've got because he's a nice guy.  So we're stuck, for at least one more year, with our offensive-line-neglecting, no-accountability-having, clock-management-fumblefucking, nice guy for a head coach.

Amazingly, there are still apologists for this performance.  A lot of them suit up in uniform on Saturdays, which is understandable considering London's charisma.  You'd think if they wanted to play for and win for their head coach, they'd stop doing incredibly stupid shit like roughing the passer on the Hokies' last-chance drive, or watching the senior captain of the offensive line haul ass downfield on a pass play as if he were an eligible receiver.  But then, the coach doesn't hold them accountable for that kind of thing, and in the game they stay, so why should they ever change?

As for the people in the stands making excuses, you have to admire their creativity.  First it was that the coordinators were all wrong, so they changed them.  Then it was that the team was just too young.  Then it was the fact that we just didn't have an experienced quarterback.  And through it all, the schedule is too hard.  So I guess if we have a senior quarterback leading a team full of seniors, coached by really awesome coordinators, and playing Tulane, Troy, and VMI, we'll win football games.  And in every other year, when adversity reality occurs, well, the head coach can't be blamed for that stuff.  Never mind that the head coach created his own damn adversity by recruiting no offensive linemen and screwing up the quarterback situation beyond recognition.  Never mind that every head coach has some version of these problems.  Most successful head coaches can spell WINNING without being spotted W-I-N-N-I-N.

Now that we've made this very stupid decision, we're basically stuck with it.  I know nobody's all that happy with Steve Fairchild.  Lord knows I was furious at the decision to keep running smack into the middle of the line against VT when it was obvious our offensive line was piteously overmatched.  Hell, I'm sure most people within hearing distance could tell.  But if you fire him now, who do you get?  The rest of the country assumed London would be fired this year, and you can bet they assume he'll be fired next year.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to sign on for what they figure is a one-year gig with a dead-man-walking for a head coach, unless that person is thoroughly unqualified, destitute and begging, or both.  And it's certainly not a good idea to put our quarterbacks through the old three-OCs-in-three-years trick, which is quite likely should Fairchild be shown the door.  The administration has made the decision to ride or die with London - they need to realize that extends to the staff too.

So, next year.  We'll probably go through this whole thing again.  This team is talented enough to win a few games.  There are eight Hoos on the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd-team all-ACC groupings.  That's more than all but two ACC teams.  (And we go 3-5.)  They're likely going to beat Cuse and W&M, and there are about seven games on the schedule where the opponent is at least beatable enough that the team ought to be able to pull a few wins out of that bunch.  6-6 is an awfully likely outcome.  Bowl game in sunny Shreveport.  And with the shit-for-standards set by this administration, can you say with absolute certainty that that won't earn London an extension?  For the sake of the future, this team needs to either win 10 games or lose 10 games, and nothing in between.  And if you think London is capable of winning 10, look up - I can see the word "gullible" written on your ceiling from here.

**I will offer one possibility that - sort of - exonerates the administration.  Rumors abound that Craig Littlepage will be retiring soon, possibly as soon as this summer.  It's somewhat plausible that Littlepage is thinking in the very long term, and allowing his successor (who had damn well better not be Jon Oliver) to hire a head coach.  If Littlepage hires a coach this winter and then does retire this summer, that coach will have the specter of working for a boss who didn't hire him - which is usually a difficult situation that doesn't work for more than a couple years.  And of course, Littlepage can't just come out and say all this.  If you held a gun to my head, I'd grudgingly admit that I prefer to have a new coach and new AD all at once for the long haul, than to have a new AD come in and be more or less held hostage for a few years with a coach he may or may not want to keep.  But this situation basically depends on Littlepage retiring this summer.  If he doesn't, the whole program is going to be one big ball of dysfunction for years to come.


With the football season over, it's about time to transition this thing to Monday postings.  But I'm probably not going to be 100% strict about it.  What I will do is make sure there's a nice, long column to go up on Monday mornings.  But the possibility exists that things will happen midweek, too.  For example, I fully intend to at least finish writing about the recruiting class of 2015, and I want to write some basketball game previews too, this week especially since there are two pretty big games.  The "new era" of FOV isn't defined in stone yet, but it's going to start happening more or less this week.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

game preview: Virginia Tech

Date/Time: Friday, November 28; 8:00


Record against the Hokies: 37-53-5

Last meeting: VT 16, UVA 6; 11/30/13, Charlottesville

Last weekend: UVA 30, Miami 13; WF 6, VT 3

Line: UVA by 1

(No injury report, at least not from me; it's too soon to know.)

Back in 2003, there was legitimate palpable excitement for this game.  Actually, there was legitimate palpable excitement for the program in general, the result of having a coach that came in and actually had more or less immediate success.  But the VT game had a very distinctive this-is-our-time feeling to it, which persisted even though VT was 8-3 and ranked, and UVA was 6-5, and not.  Yours truly was in the habit of staying home all of Thanksgiving weekend and driving back to school on Sunday, but instead I hightailed it back to Charlottesville that Friday and regretted it not in the slightest; rushing the field is a fine way to watch your last game as a student.  I don't know if we'd have been more or less excited about the win if we'd known it'd be the last one until ????; it's probably best we didn't know.

This year has that feeling again, albeit without the very strong future-is-bright feelings about the program.  It's more about the feelings surrounding the other program, which has managed to make Steve Fairchild not the least popular OC in the state.  The Hoos are even favored in Vegas, on the road no less, with the line moving quickly from one side of the ledger to the other.  It sets UVA football up for a real feel-good story if we win, and for a lot of angry fans and bad vibes if we lose - and even the latter situation could be channeled into something productive.  Neither program is even close to relevant on the national stage, but a lot more is going into this one than in turkey-games past.

-- UVA run offense vs. VT run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 168 carries, 675 yards, 4.0 ypc, 4 TDs
Khalek Shepherd: 81 carries, 348 yards, 4.3 ypc, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
146.8 yards/game, 3.88 yards/attempt
91st of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

VT defense:
154.6 yards/game, 4.09 yards/attempt
56th of 128 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)

Right up front, here's what you need to know about VT's defense: their safeties stink.  Many's the VT broadcast that's been interspersed with replays pointing out horrible decisions by their last line of defense, and you can bet that for every instance the announcers catch, they miss five or eight more.  This has been evident in both the run and passing game.

VT is normally pretty good against the run.  Those stats for this season aren't stellar, but they're certainly not bad.  Fact is, even if they don't have quite the linebacking talent they're used to, they do have a pair of defensive ends that wreck a lot of off-tackle attempts and sweeps and such.  Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem are legit.  Corey Marshall and Nigel Williams - the Hokie starting DTs, who rarely rotate out - aren't bad themselves, but when Tech gets gashed, and it happens a lot, it's usually right up the middle.  VT is in the top half of the country against the run overall, but has also given up 28 runs of 20+ yards - only four teams have allowed more.

You wonder if UVA can take advantage.  The Hoos found a lot of success on the edges against Miami.  Darius Jennings had a great day on the jet sweeps and end-arounds, and Taquan Mizzell ran well to the outside too.  Whenever UVA has a good day running the ball (which is relative, but hey) it's usually to the outside.  The inside hasn't borne much fruit all season.

The main hope is that Kevin Parks is cleared to play; if he is, he'll be one motivated dude.  Rather surprisingly, UVA didn't take to the air hardly at all in the second half last weekend, indicating perhaps a renewed interest in seeing what can happen on the ground.  Parks, if he's allowed to, ought to be able to snag one or two of those 20-yarders for himself, even if he's bottled up otherwise.

-- UVA pass offense vs. VT pass defense

Greyson Lambert: 139/229, 60.7%; 9 TDs, 10 INTs, 1,421 yards; 6.21 ypa

Top receivers:
Canaan Severin: 38 rec., 496 yards, 5 TDs
Taquan Mizzell: 35 rec, 197 yards, 0 TDs
Kevin Parks: 28 rec., 166 yards, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
232.8 yards/game, 6.50 yards/attempt
95th of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

VT defense:
178.7 yards/game, 6.36 yards/attempt
29th of 128 (national), 6th of 14 (ACC)

This isn't a promising area of the game.  The run game is probably more likely to be productive; those decent-looking run-game numbers are puffed up by sacks, of which VT has a ton.  42, in fact, third in the country with almost four per game.  Nicolas and Ekanem each have 7.5, but Bud Foster is pretty well-known for being a mad scientist with the pressure he brings.  It's not Tenuta-style BLITZ EVERYTHING as much as mixing up which players are coming and which drop back.

That'll make things awfully damn tough on Greyson Lambert, who, yes, is finally the quarterback.  He's got to hope his O-line of rice paper can figure out the pressures and keep him protecting, while at the same time not accidentally throwing right at a linebacker who disappeared from sight and reappeared in front of the slot receiver just in time to meet the ball.  If that weren't enough, cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Chuck Clark have combined to defend 24 passes.

The bright spot: those safeties.  Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett make a lot of bad decisions.  If Lambert can be kept on his feet for a few extra seconds, it wouldn't hurt to try and chuck it once or twice or ten times.  The main thing is to limit short-range INTs and either move the ball very, very methodically or else 40 yards at a time.  I don't mind an arm punt here and there, but turnovers otherwise have to be limited because this isn't going to be a high-scoring game.

-- VT run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
J.C. Coleman: 64 carries, 258 yards, 4.0 ypc, 2 TDs
Joel Caleb: 22 carries, 96 yards, 4.4 ypc, 0 TDs

VT offense:
137.7 yards/game, 3.58 yards/attempt
104th of 128 (national), 12th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
113.6 yards/game, 3.20 yards/attempt
16th of 128 (national), 4th of 14 (ACC)

Now's where things get fun.  To start with, Tech is thinner than thin at running back, having lost three of them to injury this year.  Among the regulars, only J.C. Coleman remains standing.  Marshawn Williams tore his ACL against Duke, Shai McKenzie did the same in September, and Trey Edmunds has a broken collarbone.  Edmunds was questionable for Wake Forest; he might return this week.

Plus, Tech's already unimpressive O-line took a hit when RT Jonathan McLaughlin was lost for the season a couple weeks ago.  Tech's running game is just this side of a shambles this year; it has actually managed to be worse than UVA's.  And while the barely-effective UVA run game is going up against a decent Tech defense, this side features an ineffective Tech run game against a top-notch defense.  VT has faced an equivalent defense in the recent past - and leaving out sacks and a 30-yard fake punt, the Hokies scratched out 43 yards on 25 carries.  You want to know why there's optimism for this game - this is it.

There's one potential wrinkle, and it's something VT fans are almost to the point of seeing if they can just run it the whole game: the read-option.  Michael Brewer has not endeared himself to the Hokie faithful, and they'd like to see Brenden Motley and the read-option, which they've run a few times with occasional success.  I'm not worried.  VT is not going to turn into the other Tech with a couple weeks worth of reps in the read-option.  Motley can do it, but it really has to be second nature and instinctive to work consistently, and VT isn't a read-option team.  And Wake Forest has nobody like Max Valles, who has been known to successfully defend both choices at once of a GT-style option play.

-- VT pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Michael Brewer: 233/384, 60.7%; 15 TDs, 13 INTs, 2,363 yards; 6.15 ypa

Top receivers:
Isaiah Ford: 50 rec., 607 yards, 6 TDs
Willie Byrn: 41 rec., 347 yards, 0 TDs
Bucky Hodges: 39 rec., 456 yards, 6 TDs

VT offense:
224.3 yards/game, 6.23 yards/attempt
103rd of 128 (national), 11th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
232.2 yards/game, 7.12 yards/attempt
75th of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

If there's one thing that worries me about VT's offense (and there really is only one) it's the Hokie receivers, who are pretty legit.  Isaiah Ford has looked very good this year, and Bucky Hodges is what people thought Logan Thomas would be as a tight end.

The problem is that Michael Brewer can't find them.  He's had his moments; the BC game would've been a disaster instead of just a basic loss if Brewer hadn't played awfully well.  But that was a blip in the most recent four-game stretch; his 345 yards were one more than he had in the other three combined.  He's not mobile, the O-line isn't great at protecting him, and he tends to be both inaccurate and late with his throws.  Oh, and outside of Ohio State, he hasn't faced a team with more sacks than UVA all year - and few teams with more picks, too.

I'd like to have Brandon Phelps back, it'd set my mind at ease a bit going up against Tech's receivers.  But I have to admit, the secondary played much better against Miami than I'd expected, especially as the game went on.  Ford is good, Hodges is good, but neither are they Sammy Watkins, and it may be a function of the quarterback, but Tech doesn't have that infuriating possession receiver a la Danny Coale on their roster this year.  Long story short here: VT fans are fed up with their offense, and for good reason - and the UVA defense is just the kind to take advantage.

-- Favorability ratings

Run offense: 4
Pass offense: 3
Run defense: 8
Pass defense: 8

Average: 5.75

-- Outlook

What happens when completely resistible force meets immovable object?  Friday's game.  Neither offense has impressed anyone this season, ever.  Both defenses are legitimately damn good.  This game will either be loaded with turnovers, punts, or both.  That'd be about par for the course; neither team has reached 20 points the last two years and it wouldn't surprise at all if that were the case again.  Remember that 2003 game?  UVA won it 35-21.  UVA has scored more than 14 points in this game once since then.  That's another trend that might not be broken - and the Hoos could still win.

In the realm of intangibles, we'd all feel a lot more comfortable, I'm sure, if the game were at home, but Tech hasn't successfully defended Lane Stadium this year against an ACC opponent.  Call me an incorrigible optimist at the end of it all, call me Charlie Brown kicking a football, but with a vulnerable opponent, a little bit of momentum, and a team likely motivated to keep their coach employed, the outlook finally looks good here.

-- Predictions

-- Whoever wins the turnover battle, wins the game.

-- Kevin Parks - or Khalek Shepherd, if Parks doesn't play - breaks out at least one 25-yard run.

-- The teams combine for eight sacks.

-- The teams combine for twelve punts.

-- UVA outgains Tech, both air and ground.

 Final score: UVA 16, VT 10

-- Other ACC games

-- Georgia Tech @ Georgia - 12:00 - The only game in ACC rivalry week where both teams are ranked.

-- Louisville vs. Kentucky - 12:00 - Frankly, we're halfway to an ACC-SEC football challenge by now.

-- Clemson vs. South Carolina - 12:00 - And the ACC would be favored, too.

-- Syracuse @ Boston College - 12:30 - Will have the makings of a decent rivalry as soon as Cuse gets their shit together.

-- NC State @ North Carolina - 12:30 - UNC got carried away in the traditional spray-painting of the trophy after beating Duke last week, and left quite a lot of Carolina blue all over the Duke visitors' locker room.  In defiance of the SACS-COC inquisition, all players received three credits toward an art degree.

-- Florida State vs. Florida - 3:30 - On paper this looks like a Seminole rout, but the Noles haven't been playing real strong football lately.

-- Wake Forest @ Duke - 7:00 - I'm still wondering how a kicker misses all those field goals and then drills a 49-yarder.

-- Pittsburgh @ Miami - 7:00 - On the one hand it'd be nice to see as many bowl-eligible ACC teams as possible, but a Pittsburgh win severely crimps my chances of seeing UVA play in my hometown, so, go Canes.  Interesting, by the way, for the battle between James Conner and Duke Johnson.

Monday, November 24, 2014

acc season sim

I'm going out of town for Thanksgiving, which means a pretty long holiday hiatus, which means if I'm gonna finish a preview of the VT game it's gotta be done tonight, which means if any other content is getting posted tonight it's gotta be short and sweet.  So I figured I'd whip up an old favorite a little early: the ACC season predictor.

This is one of my better spreadsheets, if I do say so myself: I can punch in the KenPom-given probabilities for each game and simulate 10,000 ACC seasons in seconds flat.  The only thing it can't do is the proper tiebreakers; instead, I just tiebreak using the KenPom rankings.  But otherwise it's pretty neato, it spits out each team's chance of landing in a particular seed in the ACC tournament.  Presented without a hell of a lot of comment is this season's first go-round:

I think the main conclusions for now are that there are three main contenders (Duke, Louisville, UVA) and three outside contenders, of which surprisingly Miami is one and Pitt is not.  And that the race for 9th could get very interesting.  9th is a good place to be because you get a bye straight to the 8th team; 10th is not bad either because playing VT is sort of like a bye too.  Drop to 11th, though, and not only does the quality of your opening-round opponent go way up, so does the quality of your next-round opponent.  Naturally, the end result in March won't look much like this, but it's fun to know where things stand anyway.

So, just as a programming note, don't expect anything between now and next week, except for one thing: the VT game preview, which I'll automate to run on Wednesday morning.  Have a very excellent Thanksgiving, and hopefully, an even better Friday night.  If things go well I get to come back and excitedly overanalyze the shit out of East Carolina or Illinois.  If things go even better I'll even get to watch from a Ford Field seat.

Here's the third iteration of the sim:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

a billion dollars and a pony

Thank you to all the thoughtful people who emailed or commented to inquire whether I did, in fact, wake one billion dollars richer this morning.  No.  And no adorable little Shetland adorns my doorstep, either.  But I have my THUNDERDOME game, and I'll happily settle for that.

The London era has been sadly lacking in decisive ass-beatings of ACC opponents.  I'd call this the third, following a 31-13 drubbing of 2-7 Maryland in 2011 and a 33-6 pasting of NC State in 2012.  What it hasn't seemed to lack is wins over Miami.  If not being able to beat Duke, UNC, and VT is a major irritant for UVA fans in the London era, not beating UVA must be getting tiresome for Miami fans in the Al Golden days.

Having become more than used to second half collapses in both wins and losses this year, probably the best part of yesterday was the realization that another one wasn't on the way.  Couldn't even pinpoint when that was, but the Hoos kept scoring and Miami kept not scoring, and I'm guessing the Miami fans watching the game gave up on a Miami comeback long before the UVA fans did.  If UVA's red-zone offense was halfway decent - they scored more field goals than TDs once inside the 20, and Ian Frye's longest kick was from a line of scrimmage at the 5 - this would've looked more like the woodshedding that it was.

So the world turns again.  Only college football has the ability to do that in one short game.  48 hours ago it crossed nobody's mind at all to ask which bowl game we might go to, because how silly.  Now I've found myself considering the possibility in all seriousness.  All of which is to say nothing of who will be the coach next year.  Could one simple game change the fortunes of a career?  Or at least, extend its life support another year?  We'll see, I guess.

But, first, Tech.  Thunderdome looms.  Two teams enter, one team leaves bowl eligible.  With the combination of beating hell out of Miami and Tech's spectacularly pathetic display of offense in Winston-Salem, this looks like the most winnable VT game since basically the last time we won it.  What's surprising is how many VT fans have already conceded it.  Their offense has been godawful this year and the idea of Max Valles and Eli Harold getting their cracks at Michael Brewer makes me giggle like a schoolgirl.  Brewer's stats aren't bad, but he sure doesn't pass the eye test, either.  Let the least bad team win a trip to Shreveport.

Bullety things:

-- Canaan Severin's catch: not bad.  And a 14-point swing in the game, too.  You could see the DB get saucer eyes from 700 miles away, and he had his arms all cradled and ready for that football; had it gotten there, he'd have been five yards downfield with a full head of steam before anyone else could put on the brakes to go that way.  I'm convinced it was ten seconds from being 14-3.  Instead it was a 10-7 lead that was 30-7 before Miami found the scoreboard again.

-- Alright, the goose thing was funny, but for my money the real humor was the announcers' inability to speak for laughing so hard.  Flat-out lost it is what they did.

-- I think there were more Miami fans in Scott Stadium than there would've been for a Miami home game.

-- No, I'm not giving out a free pass for 12 men on the field for the punt just because we won.  This is the sort of thing that explains why I don't support keeping London even if we finish this season 7-6.  That shit happens all the damn time.  London could fix that if he wanted to.  He just has to properly incentivize Larry Lewis to do it.  But it's clearly not a priority.  Attention to detail still escapes this coaching staff.

-- Admit it: when you watched the first half clock tick down with no timeout being called, "here we go again" was in your brain in neon flashing lights.  But I suspect that one was more on the refs.  London was visibly livid.  And while you really damn well ought to score a touchdown when you're that close to the end zone, I'll say this: Passing on third down was the right call.  Out of timeouts, a failed run play would've meant going to the locker room empty handed.

-- I've been critical, we've all been critical, of Taquan Mizzell, so credit belongs where credit is due for this one: Mizzell ran really well yesterday.  And Khalek Shepherd did a nice job as the workhorse when Parks went out of the game.  He doesn't have the beef to be a piledriver, but he ran awfully damn hard.

-- Bowl talk in all seriousness: The ACC splits up its bowls into four groups.  The first group is three or four bowls, depending, believe it or not, on whether the Big Ten puts a team into the Orange Bowl.  (If they do, an ACC team goes to the Citrus Bowl.)  We don't have to worry about this.  The second group is called Tier 1, a group of four bowls (ex-Tire, Sun, Pinstripe, and either Music City or ex-Gator) that don't have a pecking order and just have to figure it out amongst themselves who they'll invite.  If UVA wins this Friday, there's a very, very slim chance we could slide into one of those, but it'd be unlikely.

The next group is Tier II: the Military, Independence, and ex-Motor City, in that order.  A 6-6 UVA team would be 97% likely to land in one of these.  East Carolina is the clear fourth team in the AAC, which slots them right to the Military; a very safe bet in the event of a UVA win over Tech is a trip to DC to face ECU.  Next most likely, I think, is actually Detroit; this would probably happen if there's no Citrus (50/50 chance of that), and the top 7 slots get filled with FSU, Clemson, GT, Louisville, ND, Duke, and UNC.  And Pitt loses to Miami and doesn't go bowling.  BC might then be the choice of the Military; their fans are still in close enough proximity and they've had a better season.  Miami would be a natural choice for the Independence.  Detroit would be left with the Hoos.  As you can imagine, I'd be all over this.  I even have tickets already.  Won them at a Lions game.

-- Watching Frank Beamer exult over a missed short field goal that meant he didn't just lose 3-0 to the worst team in the ACC - well, the sadness of that display was immediately evident, so I wasn't surprised to see that picture more or less all over Twitterdom.  You want an image of the sorry state of VT football, that's your thousand words right there.  But in absolute fairness to the Hokies, their fanbase is livid over their 5-6 season and at least 80% of them want Beamer out the door right now - and our fanbase is looking at the same 5-6 record (except with a way worse last four years) and the majority is either supportive or at least accepting of the idea of keeping London around as a reward.  That too is a statement.

Prediction summary:

-- UVA allows at least three sacks.

-- And throws at least two picks.

-- Duke Johnson is held reasonably in check, averaging no more than 5.5 yards a carry.

-- Kaaya throws at least three passes of 30 yards or more.  Precisely zilch of these came true.  Also I picked the game's outcome as badly as possible.

Stats on the season:

20-for-54 on specifics (37%)
6-4 straight up (L)
4-4-1 ATS (L)

Friday, November 21, 2014

game preview: Miami

Date/Time: Saturday, November 22; 7:00


Record against the Canes: 5-6

Last meeting: Miami 45, UVA 26; 11/23/13, Miami

Last weekend: UVA bye; FSU 30, Miami 26

Line: Miami by 5.5

Injury report:


OUT: OG Ryan Doull, C Jackson Matteo, CB Demetrious Nicholson, OT Sadiq Olanrewaju, CB Brandon Phelps, OT Jay Whitmire
DOUBTFUL: S Kelvin Rainey, CB Divante Walker
PROBABLE: DE Trent Corney, LB Mark Hall


OUT: OL Taylor Gadbois, OL Alex Gall, PK Matt Goudis, S Rayshawn Jenkins, OL K.C. McDermott, FB Ronnie Regula, WR Rashawn Scott

It feels like ages since I even thought about football.  With the way things are going, I sort of liked it that way.  With only two games left, the season is right up on the brink.  There are some who think Mike London can save his job by winning the next two and going bowling; I'm not convinced of that, but I am convinced it shouldn't be that way.  My view: let's just win the next two and send London off in halfway decent style, and start over next year.  And if we lose this one, then for God's sake at least beat VT.  But, Miami first.

-- UVA run offense vs. Miami run defense

Top backs:
Kevin Parks: 165 carries, 669 yards, 4.1 ypc, 4 TDs
Khalek Shepherd: 59 carries, 253 yards, 4.3 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
142.0 yards/game, 3.81 yards/attempt
94th of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

Miami defense:
130.1 yards/game, 3.44 yards/attempt
20th of 128 (national), 6th of 14 (ACC)

Miami's run defense is sort of averagely good; it's not spectacular, but it gets the job done.  The unit is led by linebacker Denzel Perryman in the middle, an excellent player who's headed for an all-ACC nod of some kind.  Miami rotates three linebackers in the other two spots, which limits the numbers for those guys, but they're all quality players; in fact, second on the team in tackles (after Perryman) is Jermaine Grace, the non-starter of the group.

The D-line doesn't have any big stars on it - Anthony Chickillo tends to get more praise from announcers than a guy with three tackles per game deserves - but it's big, particularly Chickillo.  With UVA's offensive line once again looking thin as rice paper, these guys could be in for big days.  I'd worry about Chickillo as a 280-pound senior DE, but I'd also expect our line to get stacked up more often than not.  (Then again, the last time we saw Steve Fairchild he was abandoning the run game with incredible gusto, so we might not even notice.)

-- UVA pass offense vs. Miami pass defense

Greyson Lambert: 122/204, 59.8%; 8 TDs, 9 INTs, 1,275 yards; 6.25 ypa

Top receivers:
Canaan Severin: 34 rec., 441 yards, 4 TDs
Taquan Mizzell: 33 rec., 190 yards, 0 TDs
Kevin Parks: 28 rec., 166 yards, 2 TDs

UVA offense:
241.5 yards/game, 6.54 yards/attempt
91st of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

Miami defense:
192.9 yards/game, 5.92 yards/attempt
14th of 128 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

Matt Johns hasn't thrown a pass in two of the last three games and wasn't all that good in the third; is it safe to say we've finally settled on a quarterback?  I think so.  Maybe.  Probably.  I think.

At any rate, the story's the same: Lambert has got to stop throwing interceptions.  Hard to do against Miami.  They're very average in terms of actual INTs, but the whole defense, from front to back, gets involved in batting passes down.  Very active hands, everywhere.  And QBs have been avoiding cornerback Ladarius Gunter like the plague.

Miami also brings a very good pass rush from all corners.  The sack leader is linebacker Thurston Armbrister with five, but most of the Canes' 25 sacks are spread out among the whole defense.  It's a bad sign, seeing an inexperienced offensive line trying to protect a quarterback when they can't be entirely sure where the rush is coming from.

All this adds up to an excellent pass defense, one of the best in the country.  By doing nothing spectacularly but everything well, Miami is a top-15 defense against air assaults.  Opposing teams have at times piled up the yards, but it takes a lot of passes to get there.  UVA's short passing game ought to work out OK, but I don't expect a lot of deeper stuff to be real successful.

-- Miami run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Duke Johnson: 185 carries, 1,343 yards, 7.3 ypc, 10 TDs
Joseph Yearby: 75 carries, 455 yards, 6.1 ypc, 1 TD

Miami offense:
197.0 yards/game, 5.55 yards/attempt
14th of 128 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
118.6 yards/game, 3.22 yards/attempt
13th of 128 (national), 4th of 14 (ACC)

Duke Johnson.  He's really good.  And lest you think we'll be out of the woods if Johnson hobbles off the field, the Canes have been using Joseph Yearby to good effect as well.  He's one of those hard-to-find short guys with some built-in power, not unlike Kevin Parks but with more speed.  The Miami O-line has been opening holes all season, and Johnson blows through them pretty hard.

So nothing fancy here.  Miami just wants to line up and let Johnson beat you down, and sends Yearby in to give Johnson a break.  Johnson is one of the toughest guys to tackle in the whole league.  This area of the game, of course, is UVA's one big bright spot, so Miami will find tougher sledding than they're used to; of the three ACC defenses better against the run than UVA, the Canes have only played one, and lost badly.

-- Miami pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Brad Kaaya: 160/267, 59.9%; 22 TDs, 10 INTs, 2,403 yards; 9.00 ypa

Top receivers:
Clive Walford: 33 rec., 522 yards, 7 TDs
Duke Johnson: 25 rec., 310 yards, 2 TDs
Phillip Dorsett: 23 rec., 662 yards, 7 TDs

Miami offense:
245.4 yards/game, 8.76 yards/attempt
9th of 128 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
229.2 yards/game, 7.03 yards/attempt
67th of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)

Miami looked like they might be set to let transfer Jake Heaps run the offense, but they couldn't resist going with the true freshman Kaaya in the end, and it's paid off.  Kaaya has looked like a veteran this year - it helps to have such a good ground game opening things up for him, but nevertheless Miami has been able to strike deep and be very efficient overall.

Kaaya relies heavily on Clive Walford, one of the Canes' best receivers and their receptions leader, but the real star of the receiving corps is Phillip Dorsett.  With just 23 catches, Dorsett has piled up 662 yards, giving him an average of almost 29 yards a catch.  I mean holy crap.  Not the kind of player you want to be against when you have two starting cornerbacks sidelined.  Tim Harris got torched a few times earlier this year and Miami will be looking to go after him again.

For UVA, this is an area that's gotten progressively worse throughout the year, and this is not the opponent to fix that.  Johnson is also a pretty big part of the passing game (wouldn't you try and get him the ball in space, with momentum?) and I think UVA can slow that down pretty well, but the deep game is going to burn us several times.

-- Favorability ratings

Run offense: 2.5
Pass offense: 2
Run defense: 5.5
Pass defense: 2.5

Average: 3.125

-- Outlook

I can't think of any good reason to be optimistic here.  UVA is simply overmatched, and badly.  Miami's a better team than its 6-4 record; they'll probably finish 8-4 and look a lot closer to where they should be.  They had a little bit of bad luck on the schedule, having to play two very tough crossovers and losing both.  The Canes are a team with no real weaknesses.  UVA has many.  I was hoping that Miami would win last week and set themselves up for a letdown after taking down huge rival FSU, but now they'll just be pissed off after the way they lost.

-- Predictions

-- UVA allows at least three sacks.

-- And throws at least two picks.

-- Duke Johnson is held reasonably in check, averaging no more than 5.5 yards a carry.

-- Kaaya throws at least three passes of 30 yards or more.

Final score: Miami 31, UVA 10

-- Rest of the ACC

Byes: Georgia Tech, NC State

UNC 45, Duke 20 - Thursday - With that game, the ACC CG is set: FSU vs. GT.  I think I had GT last in the Coastal.  Go me.

Virginia Tech @ Wake Forest - 12:30 - I'd like for us to beat Miami and VT to lose to Wake to set up the Bowl Eligibility Bowl in Blacksburg.  I'd also like a billion dollars and a pony.

Syracuse @ Pittsburgh - 3:30 - Pitt is also seeing their bowl eligibility hanging by a thread - and has to play Miami next week.

Louisville @ Notre Dame - 3:30 - Fight for Western Division superiority in the ACC.

Boston College @ Florida State - 3:30 - Potential letdown for FSU here, but the talent gap is too big.

Clemson vs. Georgia State - 3:30 - If sanity ruled the world this kind of game would be in September and FSU would be playing Clemson this weekend.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

the recruit: Richard Burney

Name: Richard Burney
Position: TE
Hometown: Chesapeake
School: Hickory
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 230

24/7: 83, three stars; #51 TE, VA #42
ESPN: 72, three stars; #31 TE-Y, VA #48, East #215
Rivals: 5.5, three stars; VA #37
Scout: two stars

Other offers: Cincinnati, Buffalo

Time to get back into the business of recruit profiles after a very basketball-related hiatus.  Richard Burney is a tight end prospect out of the 757, significant because he represents a commitment (perhaps a belated one, but a commitment all the same) to recruit the TE position.  "We need tight ends" is more or less exactly the pitch he was given, too.  He could be yoinked over to the defensive side, as he also pulls double duty as a DE, but if this coaching staff holds on, then I doubt it.

Burney has good prototypical size for a tight end; he's 6'4" or 6'5" depending on where you look, and 6'5" is probably the safer bet because he doesn't seem to have stopped growing yet.  He put on 20 pounds this year; Recruit757 was calling him 210 back in the spring.  Not that he's got NFL-level athleticism right now, but the way he looks in terms of size and usage reminds me of Brandon Pettigrew.

Because of this, he appears to complement nicely with our other TE recruit, Tanner Cowley.  He's actually bigger than Cowley, but looks like the better athlete; Cowley's blocking is better than his pass-catching.  Burney's the other way around.  Though not elite at all, he's got potential.  (On the other hand, ESPN's evaluation says "looks to give some effort as a blocker" which just set a new record for damnation with faintest praise.)

It's unfortunately difficult to get excited over Burney's credentials, though.  His ratings slightly outpace his offers, but not much; ESPN and Scout are really bearish, Rivals is lukewarm, and 24/7 is a notch above that.  There's no injury history or lack of camping to explain away his short offer list; he went to Wisconsin (he's a Badger legacy, actually, his dad played in Madison) and VT and came away empty.  Cincinnati offered, but neither party seemed too excited about the other.

Regardless, he's going to be needed.  We've already gone over that I don't think Mario Nixon is going to see the field, Rob Burns is a ghost, and Zach Swanson is graduating.  There's no reason to think Evan Butts isn't a legitimate option, but he's redshirting, so his skills remain a mystery.  And Cowley is well behind Burney in terms of field-ready size, though there's still nearly a year to go.  I think Burney comes in with a slight lead over Cowley for playing time, and could easily see him on the field next season.  Depends on how many TEs the coaches decide to use.  We're basically looking at four scholarship TEs next year, none of whom have any incumbency in the job.  If there were any four-star prospects coming in they'd probably be thought of as the likely starter, so there's no reason Burney can't at least compete, if not just surprise everyone and win the job.

Monday, November 17, 2014

first impressions

If the Hoos are gonna do anything this year that even remotely resembles last year, it'll take important contributions from freshmen.  We knew that going in; the exciting thing was finding out who could do what, and who would step up the highest.  Tony Bennett likes to keep things under heavy wraps during the fall, so this weekend was our first really good look at how he planned on using these guys and what they could do.

Obvious and screaming caveat about quality of competition remains.  Neither JMU nor NSU provide anything resembling a real test.  We might be able to make better predictions a week from now, with the GW game in the books.  But this post is going to be largely about comparing the freshmen to each other, so this is still plenty useful.

The rotation is the most important thing, and it has very little to do with the competition.  Tony gave us a lot of info after the Norfolk State game.  Still figuring things out, yes, of course - Tony has always used the early part of the season to figure things out, and doing so is a feature, not a bug.  Basketball teams are chemistry experiments, especially with so many new ingredients.  He always manages to have things right by the time an ACC opponent rolls into town.

Second, he mentioned a 10-man rotation, at least for now.  Jack Salt didn't play a minute, even when the bench was emptied, so it don't take a rocket surgeon to riddle that one out.  B.J. Stith got a few minutes, but some of them came with the walk-ons, and the rest of them in that mid-first-half area where the back-end guys go in sometimes.  With a 10-man rotation, and 10 scholarship players getting double-digit minutes and the other one getting a handful, it shouldn't be hard to figure that out either.  Stith is the odd man out of the rotation, at least for now.  He'll almost certainly pick up a bagload of DNP-CDs this year.

(Tangent: I don't mind this, by the way.  Most everyone's instinct is to say that if he's not going to give us meaningful minutes, he should redshirt, end of discussion.  Yes, it makes sense to want that fifth year out of him, but keep in mind this, too: basketball players transfer at the drop of a hat, and always think they should be playing.  Most programs try to keep everyone happy by juggling 13 players, and sometimes that works and usually it doesn't, and players leave.  Coaches tend to over-promise when they're recruiting.  Tony's never anything but up front with these guys, and doesn't redshirt anyone who's not OK with it.  If someone tells him they don't want to redshirt and they'll take their chances with whatever minutes Tony dishes out, and Tony redshirts them anyway, well.... five years is better than four, but four is better than two.)

So that leaves three newcomers to the rotation: Hall, Shayok, and Wilkins.  Hall appears to be following the lead of London Perrantes a bit, by which I mean he looks for his own shot about as often and at similar times.  But I think there are signs he'll be considered the superior defender by season's end.  One of those signs is probably the "5" in the JMU game steals column.  He's more aggressive than Perrantes, who's one of the team's more conservative defenders.  Getting five steals while only fouling once, that's outstanding.

Shayok, now.  Main thing I thought he showed off was an ability to score a lot of different ways.  He wasn't afraid to launch a three, and he looked comfortable going to the rim too.  "Versatile" was the word on him, and he looked it.  Everyone from Tony on down warned against falling in love with the three-ball after the NSU game, but the fact is, it's nice to know they might actually be able to shoot it.

Shayok looked pretty good on defense, too, but so far my favorite of the three main newcomers is Wilkins.  And defense, of course, is the reason.  Wilkins shot down two NSU attempts in one possession, but that wasn't my favorite play - an NSU player attempting to drive met with a Wilkins shot-block without Wilkins even having to move his feet.  Yes, it was my imagination, but I swear I saw Wilkins give the guy a "really?" look before tossing the shot back where it came from.  This is to say nothing of his JMU stat line, one which made the Swiss Army knife characterization look awfully prescient.  Wilkins could be a big piece of the replacement puzzle for Akil Mitchell.

The missing link in all this analysis is that nothing the Dukes or Spartans did was able to expose any real weaknesses on these guys.  It's easy and unfair to get swept away in expectations.  But the truth is, Tony was able to use his freshmen and not see a scary-looking drop in quality of play.  That's reassuring.  Shayok and Wilkins looked the best of the bunch, but they all looked like they belonged.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

2014 hoops preview: ACC overview

The final post before basketball season opens for really reals.  First I refer you to two other posts: one from a couple weeks ago detailing the players of the ACC, and then, last year's post of this very kind so that I don't have to repeat my methodology.

To start, here's the average ranking given by each of the three ratings systems - TeamRankings, Dan Hanner, and KenPom.  This isn't poll-style, these are the averages of the national rankings, ordered top to bottom.

1) Duke -- 3.0
2) Louisville -- 3.7
3) Virginia -- 8.7
4) North Carolina -- 18.7
4) Syracuse -- 18.7
6) Pittsburgh -- 23.7
7) Florida State -- 42.7
8) Notre Dame -- 57.7
9) Miami -- 58.0
10) NC State -- 61.0
11) Clemson -- 71.3
12) Georgia Tech -- 111.0
13) Wake Forest -- 114.0
14) Boston College -- 123.7
15) Virginia Tech -- 148.7

-- It seems pretty clear who the raters think are the league's top three contenders, followed by a second tier who have at least an outside shot.  It's also pretty cool that UNC is one of the latter and not the former.

-- Both Duke and Louisville are picked by one system as the nation's top team.

-- There's an obvious and huge drop-off after #6, and again after #11 - as with last year, the league sorts out into some pretty clear levels.  These averages weren't perfect as far as predicting the exact finish order, but who would expect that?  They did succeed pretty well at getting the tiers right, with only a couple errors - ND being the largest, in no small part because of Jerian Grant's suspension.

-- It's still a pretty imprecise science.  Hanner has ND and Miami at 34 and 39, respectively; TeamRankings, 69 and 78.

-- In case you're curious, VT isn't quite the total disaster they were last year; Hanner has them 13th in the ACC.  (Frankly, I think Buzz Williams will win them a few games.)

So, who has the easiest schedule?  Well, we'll use the same methodology as last year, and....

1) Virginia -- 65.38
2) Clemson -- 63.72
3) Florida State -- 63.67
4) Miami -- 63.25
5) Syracuse -- 62.31
6) Notre Dame -- 61.79
7) Duke -- 61.17
8) Pittsburgh -- 56.93
9) Georgia Tech -- 56.50
10) North Carolina -- 55.32
11) NC State -- 55.23
12) Louisville -- 52.92
13) Wake Forest -- 51.04
14) Virginia Tech -- 47.57
15) Boston College -- 47.56

Yup.  I suppose we should prepare ourselves for another year of "unbalanced schedule" whining.  If Maryland were still here it'd be even easier - the number for UVA would be up over 68.

You expect this to line up sort of from best to worst teams, based on not getting to play oneself, so Louisville's placement so far down is notable.  They have UVA, Pitt, and UNC twice (plus Miami, so none of the really junky teams) and Syracuse on the road.  Florida State could also be sneaky good.  Meanwhile, calling UNC a top-ten team, as the polls do, probably means they're overrated - a tough schedule and a bit off the ratings pace.

At any rate, it's easy to see why we should be optimistic.  The schedule works in our favor again, if piling up wins is your thing.  Wake and VT twice, as well as NC State - three teams in the bottom half of the league and two of the three worst.  Duke at home, as well as Pitt and FSU.  Add in all the returning talent, brilliant coaching, and the numbers all tell you what you already know: