#86 Virginia Football 2017 Preview

Virginia Cavaliers
Overall Rank: #86
#14 ACC
Following an opening day loss to Richmond, it became clear that Virginia was in for a long 2016 campaign. Coach Bronco Mendenhall had some good moments in his first year with the Cavaliers, but there were not many. UVA managed to beat Central Michigan and Duke in back to back weeks in September and October. The team lost their last seven games and only a couple were actually close. This group should improve, but that may not lead to more wins.
2016 Record: 2-10, 1-7
2016 Bowl: None
Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (2-10 at Virginia, 101-53 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Robert Anae
Defensive Coordinator: Nick Howell
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Jordan Ellis, RB, 61 yards
Passing: Kurt Benkert, QB, 2,552 yards
Receiving: Doni Dowling, WR, 626 yards
Tackles: Micah Kiser, LB, 134
Sacks: Micah Kiser, LB, 6.5
Interceptions: Juan Thornhill, S, 3
Other Key Returnees: HB Olamide Zaccheaus, S Quin Blanding, DE Andrew Brown, LB Chris Peace
Key Losses: RB Taquan Mizzell, RB Albert Reid, WR Keeon Johnson, S Kelvin Rainey, LB Zach Bradshaw
When healthy, quarterback Kurt Benkert had a decent junior campaign. He threw for 2,552 yards and 21 touchdowns with 11 interceptions in ten starts. Doni Dowling is by far the most experienced receiver, but if Benkert can be more consistent, other receivers will step up. And that is important since there are huge questions at running back and on the offensive line. Taquan Mizzell is gone after rushing for 940 yards and catching a team high 52 passes last year. Senior Daniel Hamm and freshman Jamari Peacock will likely be asked to carry the load. Hamm only had three carries last season, but he has been utilized as a returner. The Virginia offensive line allowed three sacks per game and now three starters need to be replaced. If the line does not improve, it will not matter how much better Benkert and the passing game might be, UVA is still going to have a ton of trouble on offense.
The defense was not much better last year, but Coach Mendenhall is a defensive coach and you can be certain that the unit will improve under year two of his tutelage. Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding are a couple of solid pieces to build around. Kiser, a senior linebacker, led the ACC with 134 tackles. Blanding, a senior safety, added 120 tackles and intercepted two passes. They join seven other returning starters, but the unit ranked 12th in the ACC in rush defense, pass defense, total defense and scoring defense so there is a long, long way to go.
The Bottom Line:
It will be crucial that Virginia gets off to a fast start in 2017. They open with three home games against William & Mary, Indiana and Connecticut. On paper, those are all winnable games. In October there are home games against Duke and Boston College so it is plausible that UVA could get off to a 5-2 start. Even if the Cavaliers manage to find a way to win those five games, which is quite unlikely, finding a sixth win will not be easy. Still a five win season would be a great step in the right direction for the program.
Projected Bowl: None
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 113.6 (121st in nation, 14th in conference)
Passing Offense: 239.3 (61, 10)
Total Offense: 352.9 (112, 12)
Scoring Offense: 22.5 (115, 12)
Rushing Defense: 190.0 (78, 12)
Pass Defense: 256.6 (103, 12)
Total Defense: 446.6 (93, 12)
Scoring Defense: 33.8 (99, 12)
Turnover Margin: -0.75 (117, 14)
Sacks: 2.08 (61, 11)
Sacks Allowed: 3.00 (113, 11)
Madness 2018 NFL Draft Rankings:
#29 Quin Blanding
#75 Micah Kiser