2011 ACC Season Recap: Virginia Cavaliers

Virginia Head Coach Mike London Has a Rising Program On His Hands for 2012

Team: Virginia Cavaliers

W-L: 8-5 (5-3)

Postseason: 43-24 Chick-Fil-A Bowl loss to Auburn

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). Continue reading

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Chick-fil-A Bowl Recap: Auburn over Virginia, 43-24

Auburn's Onterio McCalebb Led the Tigers' to an Impressive 43-24 Chick-fil-A Bowl Win over Virginia

What Happened: The Auburn Tigers finished off an otherwise disappointing 2011 campaign by easily taking care of the Virginia Cavaliers, 43-24 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. After a strong start, the orange-clad Cavaliers struggled to complete drives on offense, and saw themselves staring down a 28-17 halftime deficit. The theme would continue through the remainder of the contest, as Auburn’s defensive and special teams units came up with play after play to stop Virginia in their tracks in the second half. Virginia followed up a highly disappointing effort versus arch rival Virginia Tech to close the regular season with more of the same — letting the Tigers register more points than any of their previous opponents.

Who’s to Blame: After a strong effort all season, the Virginia defense has showed that against superior competition, it just has very little in the tank. As mentioned above, they closed the year allowing a combined 81 points in just two contests, compared to just 24 points scored (all against Auburn). This brings to light the Cavaliers larger problem, however — offense. Putting up just 23 points per game, the offense has left much to be desired all season, and put an unnecessary amount of pressure on the defense to make up the difference. While it’s worked several times this year (versus Florida State, in particular), it just wasn’t enough against Auburn. Quarterback Michael Rocco managed his most impressive effort of the year, but without a balanced and effective rushing attack, they could not beat the Tigers’ team speed on defense.

It Was Over When: Auburn back Onterio McCalebb caught a 25-yard touchdown pass with just a minute to go in the first half. The score was Auburn’s third straight, flipping the game from a 14-7 deficit to a suddenly commanding 28-14 lead. If that wasn’t enough, the Tigers came out swinging in the second half to put the game away for good after running back Tre Mason‘s 22-yard TD scamper. Up 35-17, Auburn’s defense allowed the team to coast the rest of the way.

Game Ball Goes To: The aforementioned McCalebb. Filling in for the injured Michael Dyer, the junior managed two touchdowns and 162 total yards on just 12 touches (10 rushes and two catches). His electrifying play bookended Auburn’s big 21-point second quarter and allowed the Tigers to attack the once-heralded Virginia D early and often.

Predictions Update: A terrible call on my part going with the Cavaliers in this one, which drops my record to 3-3 in ACC games. Even worse, the conference is knocked down to 2-4, including an 0-3 mark against SEC schools (if we’re counting Missouri).

Chick-fil-A Bowl Preview: Virgnia vs. Auburn

The Chick-fil-A Bowl Matches Up Auburn and a Surprising Virginia Team

Few expected the SEC‘s Auburn Tigers to equal the heights of their 2010 National Championship season, but a stumbling 7-5 campaign? Conversely, the Virginia Cavaliers were picked amongst the ACC‘s worst, yet were one win from a Coastal division championship. Can the Tigers’ recapture some of last year’s postseason glory in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl?

Bowl Game: Chick-fil-A Bowl

Location: Atlanta

First Year: 1968 (as Peach Bowl)

2011 Participants: Virginia Cavaliers (8-4) vs. Auburn Tigers (7-5)

Last Meeting: 1998, a 19-0 road win by Virginia

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Virginia (previous bowl game: 31-28 loss to Texas Tech in 2008 Gator Bowl)

The Cavaliers shocked the ACC in 2011, with a staunch defense that shut down some of the conference’s best in Georgia Tech and Florida State. Unfortunately, however, it all came crumbling down in a ghastly effort versus archrival Virginia Tech. Still, aside of that one game, Virginia played close football all year, playing in six games decided by 10 points or less, and only allowed 22 points per game. As good as the defense was, the offense wasn’t all that much better though, sporting the 88th-ranked offense in the country at just 23 points per game. If they’ve got a shot versus Auburn, the Cavs will have to dominate the line of scrimmage, taking a similar approach to the one they took in an exciting 14-13 victory over the Seminoles.

Auburn (previous bowl game: 22-19 win over Oregon in 2011 BCS National Championship Game)

After losing stars Cam Newton and Nick Fairley to the NFL, this Auburn team was expected to have a bit of a learning curve. But the way the Tigers performed in 2011 was disappointing and erratic, equal parts a testament to Fairley and Newton’s talents, and this squad’s overall lack of proficiency in any aspect of the game. Auburn barely averaged 150 passing yards per game, and managed to get outscored by an average of five points per contest. While they managed to beat a very good South Carolina team, they were embarrassed against the SEC’s other top teams — not to mention a near-loss at home to Utah State. While their run-game was ranked amongst the top 40 in the nation, it doesn’t provide the type of advantage truly needed to overtake an aggressive defense.

Verdict

Auburn failed to excel at much this season, ranking in the bottom third of the nation in points for and against, as well as passing yards. Meanwhile, Virginia’s defense is a well-documented success, capable of keeping some of the ACC’s most prolific offenses in check (Georgia Tech ended up scoring just 21 against them, after averaging over 45 points per game entering their contest). In spite of their many carry-overs from last year’s championship team, the 2011 Auburn team just doesn’t have what it takes to win this game. Prediction: Virginia 27, Auburn 17

Champs Sports Bowl Preview: Florida State vs. Notre Dame

The Champs Sports Bowl Matches Florida State Up Against Notre Dame

Today’s bowl preview may end up being an ACC conference game soon if the cards fall right. For the moment however, it’s just a showdown between two underachieving teams that have not been considered national powers for at least the better part of the last decade. Still, tons of compelling stories going on for this year’s Champs Sports Bowl between the Florida State Seminoles and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Bowl Game: Champs Sports Bowl

Location: Orlando, Fla.

First Year: 1990 (as Blockbuster Bowl)

2011 Participants: Florida State Seminoles (8-4) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-4)

Last Meeting: 2003, a 37-0 road win by Florida State

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Florida State (previous bowl game: 26-17 win over South Carolina in 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl)

The Seminoles entered 2011 as a top-five team looking to return to their rightful place of national prominence. After two huge wins against cupcakes to start the season, expectations went through the roof in anticipation for their matchup with then-top-ranked Oklahoma, and following a close loss to the Sooners, it seemed like the team was still on track. Two weeks later, however, they were unranked and sitting at a stunning 2-3. Yet, the team would regroup, winning six of its final seven. And while scoring was sometimes at a premium, Florida State’s defense would finish the season as top five in something else — defense. Allowing just 14.2 points per game, the effort on that side of the ball more than made up for their paltry 118 yards per game on the ground and mostly inconsistent quarterback play from EJ Manuel. As we saw in the Seminoles’ games versus quality opponents, however, that formula doesn’t always turn out the way they plan.

Notre Dame (previous bowl game: 33-17 win over Miami (FL) in 2010 Sun Bowl)

Notre Dame also began their year ranked, with high expectations. Enter an 0-2 start, and suddenly the irish had to regroup in a hurry. And just as they did with their backs to the wall in 2010, they collected themselves this past season too. The Golden Domers would lose just two more times (to top-five programs USC and Stanford), and end the year with five wins versus bowl-bound teams. Frighteningly, if not for some poor luck in their first two games, this Irish squad could very well be 10-2, and surely playing in a BCS game (something I actually wouldn’t protest for once). Alas, it was not meant to be, so instead they bring a very balanced and entertaining team (once again, can’t believe I’m saying any of this about ND) to Orlando. Though their defense is not nearly as stingy as the Seminoles’, they run and throw the ball better, and don’t possess offensive numbers inflated by games versus Nowhere State University. The big concern won’t be team numbers, however, but the Irish’s big playmakers; QB Tommy Rees, RBs Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray, and WR Michael Floyd. Just as a sidenote, Floyd caught 95 passes this year (cue concern).

Verdict

In spite of what admittedly looks like gushing above, I truly hate Notre Dame. That said, I think they have a real shot to win this one. Balanced offense usually beats one-dimensional, especially when good defenses are involved. The question is, is Notre Dame’s good enough to keep this score down? Following Virginia‘s gameplan from late in the regular season, if the Irish can hold Florida State to under 20 points, they stand a pretty good chance. On the flipside, the ‘Noles haven’t allowed a team to score 20 points themselves since October 8 (!) and have outscored opponents by 132 points total since that game. Given all that, the pick is Florida State, though not by that overwhelming a margin. Prediction: Florida St. 27, Notre Dame 26

ACC Bowl Projections, Week 14

Virginia Tech Looks Poised to Win Its Fifth ACC Title

Admittedly, including Syracuse and Pittsburgh in these bowl projections makes little sense, so that won’t happen until the teams actually begin conference play. Each week, I’ll just provide a postseason ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on both, while for the current ACC schools, a bowl game will be assigned.

In this week’s rankings, Virginia Tech gets more entrenched as the odds-on favorite to win the ACC, and the conference’s second tier jostles for position in the middle of the bowl lineup. After some late heroics, NC State finds itself in the postseason, while either Syracuse or Pitt will end up sitting at home late this December.

Discover Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech Hokies (11-1)

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Clemson Tigers (9-3)

Champs Sports BowlFlorida State Seminoles (8-4)

Hyundai Sun Bowl: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-4)

Belk BowlVirginia Cavaliers (8-4)

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: NC State Wolfpack (7-5)

Advocare V100 Independence BowlNorth Carolina Tar Heels (7-5)

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop GrummanWake Forest Demon Deacons (6-6)

Syracuse Orange (5-6): As far as most SU fans are concerned, the 2011 season ended back in October. With very little offensive production and a defense that refuses to wrap up when making tackles, how can you blame them (us)? Still, the Orange have an opportunity to wrap up a bowl bid (potentially) by beating rival/expansion-mate, Pittsburgh. Can they do it? No. And I say that as someone who’s chosen to watch every game this season.

Pittsburgh Panthers (5-6): Few can blame Pitt for falling by one point to a superior West Virginia squad, but mistakes did cost them dearly at several junctures. Pitt has had to rely heavily on their passing game and defense these past few games, and it will likely be up to them to halt Syracuse on Saturday. If the Orange play-calling resembles recent weeks, the Panthers should be just fine.

ACC Bowl Projections, Week 13

As it Stands, Virginia Tech Looks to Be Returning to the Orange Bowl This Postseason

Admittedly, including Syracuse and Pittsburgh in these bowl projections makes little sense, so that won’t happen until the teams actually begin conference play. Each week, I’ll just provide a postseason ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on both, while for the current ACC schools, a bowl game will be assigned.

In this week’s rankings, the shuffling all over the board reflects the weekend’s unexpected results and the shifts happening all over the ACC power rankings. With a new king of the hill, some teams in a freefall and one squad (Miami) taking itself out of the postseason picture in spite of bowl eligibility, things are looking drastically different from week to week — with some more changes bound to happen before season’s end.

Discover Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech Hokies (10-1)

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Clemson Tigers (9-2)

Champs Sports Bowl: Virginia Cavaliers (8-3)

Hyundai Sun Bowl: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-3)

Belk Bowl: Florida State Seminoles (7-4)

Franklin American Mortgage Music City BowlWake Forest Demon Deacons (6-5)

Advocare V100 Independence Bowl: NC State Wolfpack (6-5)

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman: North Carolina Tar Heels (6-5)

Syracuse Orange (5-5): Will the bye week do the Orange a favor in either of their final two games? Knowing the mentality of this team, they’ll have to win this weekend’s contest versus Cincinnati, otherwise, it’s very difficult to see them gathering the ability to emerge victorious in a season-ending, must-win contest. As of right now, I’d say they’re not headed to the postseason.

Pittsburgh Panthers (5-5): No easy tests left for Pittsburgh either, with arguably their two biggest rivals remaining (SU and West Virginia). Most frustrating for the Panthers is that they were within a score in all but two of their losses. As mentioned, I think you’ll see Pitt win a must-win scenario with ‘Cuse, especially given they can still win the Big East right now (miraculous).

ACC Bowl Projections, Week 12

This Week's Projections Feature a New Orange Bowl Representative

Admittedly, including Syracuse and Pittsburgh in these bowl projections makes little sense, so that won’t happen until the teams actually begin conference play. Each week, I’ll just provide a postseason ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on both, while for the current ACC schools, a bowl game will be assigned.

In this week’s rankings, there was plenty of shake-up. Clemson’s sudden vulnerability has them shaky as the presumed league champ, while Virginia Tech’s running game makes them a likely replacement. Two of the league’s 5-5 teams need just one more victory to become bowl eligible, while another (NC State) needs an unlikely two wins to get it done.

Discover Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech Hokies (9-1)

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Clemson Tigers (9-1)

Chick-fil-A BowlFlorida State Seminoles (7-3)

Champs Sports BowlGeorgia Tech Yellow Jackets (7-3)

Hyundai Sun BowlVirginia Cavaliers (7-3)

Belk BowlNorth Carolina Tar Heels (6-4)

Franklin American Mortgage Music City BowlMiami (FL) Hurricanes (5-5)

Advocare V100 Independence BowlWake Forest Demon Deacons (5-5)

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman: If the ACC lands two teams in the BCS, it’s likely the Military Bowl takes an at-large school from the Big East or Conference USA.

Syracuse Orange (5-5): And this may not even be rock-bottom. Once 5-2, the Orange could now very likely finish 5-7, killing the program’s momentum and making everyone forget why they were invited to the ACC to begin with (beside basketball, the appearance of a football upswing had to have helped). If you’re an SU fan (like your author), just pray.

Pittsburgh Panthers (5-5): Pitt may be able to attribute last week’s win to the release of “Call of Duty 3,” but it’s unlikely they’ll have the same luck to end their season. If both SU and the Panthers lose their next game, it’ll set up a playoff-style regular season finale — winner gets the “honor” of playing in a minor bowl game, loser gets to hand their head in shame and belabor a season that could have been so much more.