Team: Virginia Cavaliers
W-L: 8-5 (5-3)
Top Offensive Performer: Kevin Parks, RB
Top Defensive Performer: Steve Greer, LB
Back in August, it’s doubtful that many players in the Cavaliers’ locker room expected the team to be playing in-state rival Virginia Tech for a Coastal Division crown in late November. Yet, there they were, at 8-3, one of the country’s biggest surprises. And while they fell 38-0 in that game, followed by another ugly loss to Auburn in the postseason, there’s a thought that Virginia’s a young team with some experience and a constant desire to get better. It also doesn’t hurt that head coach Mike London knows how to get what he needs on the recruiting front.
On offense, Virginia was less than inspiring, putting up just 23.2 points per game, and forcing its defense to hold serve when it just couldn’t punch the ball in. The Cavaliers scored 20 or less points five separate times, and also struggled against teams with winning records. Unsurprisingly, the team ranked near the middle of the pack in the FBS for both rushing and passing yards per game. What was surprising, however, was the fact that the team still managed to pick up over 20 first downs per game — more than every other ACC school but Virginia Tech and Clemson (the league’s two best teams).
From the defensive end, UVa was far more impressive, allowing just 23.8 points per game. The team’s standout performance of the year? A 14-13 victory over Florida State, only preserved on a late missed field goal try. Virginia managed to wear down talented offenses in 2011, also managing to hold the high-scoring Georgia Tech offense to just 21 points.The Cavaliers were not especially proficient in sacking the quarterback, nor did they force an abundance of turnovers or excel particularly in stopping the pass or run games. What they did do very well, however, was prevent teams from picking up first downs. On 192 attempts, opponents only converted 33.3 percent of the time — a staggeringly high rate.
Even with losing seven starters from a superior defensive unit in 2011, most still project the Cavaliers will be able to plug in new pieces and continue their success — a weighty, yet conceivable notion. The team is building itself up right, creating a pipeline of quality recruits and digging into surrounding regional territory to both uncover hidden gems and coax out highly-regarded prospects. Bringing back players like Kevin Parks and Michael Rocco will do wonders for a young team in search of leaders, as both hope to grow on productive 2011 seasons.