#58 Virginia 2018 Football Preview

Virginia Cavaliers
Overall Rank: #58
#11 ACC
 Virginia Logo
Year two of the Bronco Mendenhall regime was a bit of a roller coaster ride as Virginia got off to a 5-1 start. That start was highlighted by a 42-23 win on the blue turf at Boise State. However, the second half of the season was a different story as the Cavaliers finished 1-6 but did get to a bowl game for the first time since 2011. Fast forward to this fall and it will be a challenge as there are some depth issues at key spots so securing bowl eligibility in 2018 will be a solid result for Coach Mendenhall in year three.
2017 Record: 6-7, 3-5
2017 Bowl: Military Bowl vs. Troy (30-50 L)
Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (8-17 at Virginia, 107-60 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Robert Anae
Defensive Coordinator: Nick Howell and Kelly Poppinga
Returning Leaders:
Rushing:  Jordan Ellis, RB, 836 yards
Passing: Lindell Stone, QB, 26 yards
Receiving: Olamide Zaccheaus, WR, 895 yards
Tackles: Jordan Mack, ILB, 114
Sacks: Chris Peace, OLB, 7.5
Interceptions: Two players with 4 each
Other Key Returnees: WR Joe Reed, C Dillon Reinkensmeyer, RG Jake Fieler, TE Evan Butts, NT Eli Hanback, ILB Jordan Mack, CB Bryce Hall, SS Brenton Nelson, FS Juan Thornhill, P Lester Coleman, K A.J. Mejia, ILB Malcolm Cook
Key Losses: QB Kurt Benkert, LB Micah Kiser, S Quin Blanding, DE Andrew Brown, WR Andre Levrone, LT Jack English, RT Brandon Pertile, WR Doni Dowling
Bryce Perkins is a dual-threat quarterback that is the frontrunner to win the starting quarterback job this fall. Perkins should be able to help ease some of the burden on the offensive line by his ability to get out on the perimeter. The Cavaliers struggled running the ball last season, averaging 93.5 yards per game which ranked 128th in the nation. Jordan Ellis is back as the starting running back and he had a solid season with 836 yards on the ground. However, one thing that lacked in the ground game was explosive runs of ten yards or longer. Virginia only averaged 2.5 rushes per game of ten yards or longer. Olamide Zaccheaus and Joe Reed are nice playmakers out at wide receiver and will need to continue to develop in 2018 to take pressure off Perkins at quarterback. The offensive line is a definite unknown heading into fall camp as it needs to be reconstructed quickly. If the Cavaliers are to truly get back to the George Welsh era level of consistency they must get to the running game right using Stanford as a model to follow.
There are some key pieces to replace as Micah Kiser, Andrew Brown, and Quin Blanding have graduated. Brenton Nelson, Juan Thornhill, and Bryce Hall anchor a secondary that will be the strength of the defense after ranking seventh in the nation last season in pass defense. Chris Peace, Malcolm Cook, and Jordan Cook are a quality linebacker corps that should be able to hold their own just fine all season long. The defensive line needs some work as Eli Hanback and Mandy Alonso are the most experienced returning players. This unit should keep Virginia in most games, but if the offense struggles they could wear down late in games.
The Bottom Line:
The Cavaliers road to six wins and bowl eligibility comes down to two key parts of the schedule. In September the season opens against Richmond, followed by a trip to Indiana and a home game against Ohio. It will be important to win a minimum of two of those games and steal one against Louisville or NC State. There is also a three-game home stand starting on October 27th against North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Liberty. The game on November 2nd against the Panthers is a swing game for the Virginia season as they lost at Pittsburgh 31-14 last October. The Cavaliers will hover around the bowl eligibility bubble at about five wins with a chance for six. Virginia fans are going to have to stay patient as this rebuilding, if done correctly, will take until 2019 or 2020. Finally, the athletic department administration needs to go all in on a football operations building like Northwestern did to give Coach Mendenhall and staff a chance to compete with the rest of the ACC.
Projected Bowl: None
2017 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 93.5 (128th in nation, 14th in Conference)
Passing Offense: 248.7 (51, 5)
Total Offense: 342.2 (107, 14)
Scoring Offense: 22.5 (107, 14)
Rushing Defense: 199.3 (102, 13)
Pass Defense: 165.8 (7, 2)
Total Defense: 365.1 (40, 7)
Scoring Defense: 28.4 (78, 12)
Turnover Margin: -0.08 (72, 10)
Sacks: 2.15 (55, 7)
Sacks Allowed: 2.38 (86, 9)