ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: Virginia Cavaliers

Can Kevin Parks Help Bail Out a Virginia Team That Lacks Experience in Several Key Areas?

Can Kevin Parks Help Bail Out a Virginia Team That Lacks Experience in Several Key Areas?

Team: Virginia Cavaliers

2012 W-L: 4-8 (2-6)

Head Coach: Mike London (16-21; fourth season)

Returning Starters: 13 (6 Offense, 7 Defense)

Virginia’s collected plenty of praise over the last few years for their torrid pace on the recruiting trail. Despite a minimal history of football success, Mike London has been able to attract top-tier talent to Charlottesville since he arrived, and that trend continues this offseason, with another likely top-40 class. But unfortunately, all of these recruiting wins have failed to produce actual wins for the most part. In three years, London has just one winning season (2011 at 8-5) and the current roster is based more on youth than actual proven talent. Should the team post its third losing season in four years, does that mean London’s shown the door, though?

Well, a large part of that can be answered (and prevented) by the offense. Returning four of five starters on the line, the Hoos would appear to be set, though they did lose the unit’s top player from last year in Oday Aboushi. Last season’s group also allowed 25 sacks last season, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of their viability going forward. And it gets worse, too. Following up on a 2011 season that saw UVa average 162 yards on the ground, last year’s team had just 128 — and with the same two backs functioning as primary rushers. Starter Perry Jones is gone, but Kevin Parks still remains and the team may actually benefit from having a primary ball-carrier. Of the two, Parks was more effective, though at 5’8″ and 200 pounds, he lacks the physical make-up to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the ACC’s truly elite backs. Still, he’ll be expected to carry the entire load, and given the state of the passing game, it may end up being the entire offense.

Both of last year’s quarterbacks — Phillip Sims and Michael Rocco — are gone from the program, leaving the team in the inexperienced hands of David Watford. The sophomore hasn’t thrown a pass since 2011, so right off the bat, there’s some doubt about how quickly he’ll be able to jump in and be effective. Luckily, the Hoos do bring back a nice stable of pass-catchers, who should all help ease the transition into the starting role. Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell both have the promise of true play-making ability, though we’ve yet to really see it from either. Blame it on the fluctuating quarterback position if you want, but at this point, both need to find a way to produce at a higher level. A combined 86 catches won’t cut it to get through this year, and expect Watford to test both early to see who his most reliable target is. He’ll also have rising talent Jake McGee at his disposal at tight end. Hardly just a safety valve, McGee has some big-play ability and could be the team’s top receiver by year’s end.

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ACC Football Positional Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Sammy Watkins is the ACC's Top Receiver, But Does a Different Team's Wideouts Outpace Clemson's?

Sammy Watkins is the ACC’s Top Receiver, But Do a Different Team’s Wideouts Outpace Clemson’s?

While we’re still (barely) over two months away from the season, it does indeed seem to be that time of year — when college football blogs like this one and so many others start churning out season preview materials. We’ll be holding off till July and August for the team-by-team season previews, but in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with taking a look at each position on the field and evaluating ACC squads’ respective strengths and weaknesses.

This week, we’re on to the wide receivers and tight ends (we’ve also covered running backs and quarterbacks thus far). Like virtually every other conference in the country, you can’t necessarily call the overall receiving product in the ACC “stellar.” For some reason we’ve arrived at a dearth of talent at the position of late. But nonetheless, the league still possesses a strong group of receivers at the top, plus a ton of depth, even on the teams that are lower on this list.

Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual wide receiver or tight end is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of pass catchers is. Also note: Louisville (as has been the case since November) is included here. Additionally, since these are completely subjective rankings, the difference between the seventh and eighth team is almost entirely negligible (especially in the case of this position). Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.

ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

1. Florida State Seminoles: FSU just has too many players who can catch the ball in the open field, and that’s a good thing, especially when fielding an inexperienced quarterback. After a productive season last year (57 catches, 741 yards, six scores), Rashad Greene looks ready to take a huge leap forward for this group, and could be one of the better pass catchers in the ACC. Along with Greene, look out for Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, especially Benjamin, who could end up being a breakout player for the ‘Noles this season following a productive freshman campaign. At tight end, Nick O’Leary should continue his improvement, but with so man other players looking for the ball, it’s uncertain how many passes are thrown his way.

2. Clemson Tigers: Replacing Brandon Ford (TE) and leading receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson certainly has their work cut out for them. But you can’t underestimate the receiving depth Chad Morris and Dabo Swinney have built on this Tigers roster. After an uneventful offseason, Sammy Watkins should be back to his freshman year form, which immediately takes the load off of Adam Humphries and Charone Peake. While not overly experienced, the two still caught 66 combined passes last year, which should trend even higher in 2013. Tight end is a question mark, though Stanton Seckinger likely has the inside track to starting there.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels: In year two of Larry Fedora’s offense, it’s time opposing teams started to fear this group. Quinshad Davis put up one of the best freshman receiving seasons in ACC history last year and there’s little doubt he’ll continue to produce at that level again. And he’ll have help, too. Fellow starter Sean Tapley brings further speed on the outside, while tight end Eric Ebron will be putting his athleticism to use against linebackers and corners alike. Ebron’s slated to be one of the best TEs in the country this year, and one look at his 6’4″ 245-pound frame leaves little question as to why.

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ACC 2012 Season Preview: Virginia Cavaliers

Does Michael Rocco Have What It Takes to Lead Virginia, or Will He Lose the QB Battle to Phillip Sims?

Team: Virginia Cavaliers

2011 W-L: 8-5 (5-3)

Head Coach: Mike London (12-13; third season)

Returning Starters: 12 (7 Offense, 5 Defense)

Mike London’s Virginia team surprised the conference last year, winning eight games on the backs of a veteran defense that ranked in the top five (in the ACC) against both the run and pass. Now, the question begs how they’re going to top that. So far this offseason, it appears they’re well on their way. Landing Alabama QB transfer Phillip Sims was huge, and getting him eligibility for this season was enormous (despite the ensuing/ongoing drama as a result). The biggest coup, however, may be what Mike London’s done in the recruiting game. As of last night, the Hoos are in uncharted waters — pulling down a top-20 class — and continuing to make waves. But will that momentum reflect at all on the field this year? That’s still up for debate.

For all the good will surrounding the program coming off last year’s over-achievement, there are still tons of question marks to be addressed. And of course, they start at quarterback. Last year, starter Michael Rocco was efficient enough, throwing for 2,600 yards and 13 touchdowns. Without Sims, he’s firmly entrenched as a team leader and returning starter. But with him, there’s a lingering doubt that he’ll be able to get things done. If you look at his game-by-game progression from last year, you see a quarterback that grew into his role and delivered consistent — though average — numbers, with upward spikes for a few impressive performances. What’s alarming, though, is his performance against quicker, more blitz-heavy defenses. In those games (I count five), the team went 1-4, with Rocco four TDs to six interceptions. At the collegiate level, Sims may not be a proven commodity, but in high school, the quarterback made a living under pressure and while not a “running QB,” he does know how to move his feet. Sims may not know the offense yet, but once he does, there may be a greater conversation to be had here, all dependent on Rocco’s results.

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ACC 2012 Spring Practice Expectations: Virginia Cavaliers

Does Virginia's Michael Rocco Have What It Takes to Guide His Team to an ACC Title?

As spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing what needs to happen for the teams and players of the ACC, culminating with notes on all 14 spring games.

Today’s featured team: Virginia Cavaliers

With all the good that came out of Virginia’s surprisingly successful 2011 season, the one thing truly missing were points on the board. Though the team ran a balanced offensive attack, ranking in the country’s top 60 in both passing and rushing, they had a difficult time punching it into the endzone — averaging just 23.2 points per game. Bringing back just seven starters on offense probably won’t make changing that number any easier, but collective experience may. In his first full season as a starter, then-sophomore Michael Rocco showed poise and leadership in completing nearly 61 percent of his passes for 2,600+ yards and 13 touchdowns. If the unit is looking to take it up a notch this spring, it’ll all start with Rocco’s improvement and the passing game overall. Last year’s leading receiver Kris Burd is graduating, but fellow starter Tim Smith will be back in a more active role for 2012. Competing for the spot alongside him will be sophomores Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell — two receivers who combined for just 28 catches last year in limited action. At running back, senior Perry Jones will also continue his jack-of-all-trades act this spring. As the motor that runs the Virginia offense, he racked up 1,400 total yards on 220 touches, and will once again serve as the main safety valve for Rocco in the passing game. Continue reading