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 Football 2013 Payback Games: Miami

Last Season's 41-40 Loss to Virginia in the Final Seconds is a Game Miami Would Prefer to Forget

Last Season’s 41-40 Loss to Virginia in the Final Seconds is a Game Miami Would Prefer to Forget

Every team in the ACC has a couple games they wish they had back from 2012. Whether they didn’t bring their A-game, or the other guys just got lucky, every school would love another shot at an opponent, for the ability to prove it won’t happen again. Luckily, because of conference play and parity in the ACC, many will get a chance at redemption immediately, with rematches already on the books for 2013.

As part of our 2013 college football season preview, we’ll be running through the biggest “payback” games for each school. As no team finished with just one loss, there are likely multiple choices for each — none more “right’ than another, necessarily. Still, every selection should help provide some extra motivation for fans as they gear up for this season’s slate of games.

Team: Miami Hurricanes

Opponent: Virginia Cavaliers

Last Year: Loss, 41-40 at Virginia

This Year: November 23 vs. Virginia

At 5-4, and 4-2 in a down Coastal Division, Miami was actually thinking about playing in the ACC Championship Game for the first time. No, this wasn’t the best ‘Canes team the ACC had seen, but sometimes it’s more about the luck of the draw. After beating Virginia Tech the week before, Miami was in the driver’s seat and with a victory over lowly UVa, would’ve been a near-lock to head to Charlotte. But then they allowed a late 10-point lead to evaporate — the final strike coming with just six seconds remaining on the clock — and that was it. Coastal hopes dashed, it set in motion another self-imposed bowl ban for Miami (hopefully the last one). Perhaps if they’d won this game, we’d have seen a different outcome there.

Setting the stage for the dramatic finish: a back-and-forth game featuring 900 yards of total offense had seemingly given way to the Hurricanes at around the 11-minute mark in the fourth quarter. Up 38-28 following a long touchdown strike from Stephen Morris to Phillip Dorsett, Miami’s beleaguered defense just needed to hang in there for a little bit longer — and they almost did. It took Virginia around five minutes to score a touchdown to make it 38-35, but then an intentional grounding penalty ended up rewarding Miami with a safety with just four minutes to go, making it 40-35. Four minutes and 13 seconds later, UVa quarterback Michael Rocco would complete his out-of-nowhere master class (29/37, 300 yards, four TDs), completing a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jake McGee in the back of the endzone for the one-point lead. And yet somehow, Rocco was the quarterback basically run off campus…

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ACC vs. The World

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Georgia Tech backup QB Vad Lee hit WR Jared Green with a long touchdown pass as GT unveiled cool new uniforms again and racked up 721 yards on offense

It’s the ACC vs. The World, or at least the world of college football.  As one of the major FBS football conferences, it is important for the ACC to see how it stacks up against the competition. The public perception of conference strength influences everything from pride to money for TV deals and more. So let’s take a look to see how the ACC (including Pitt and Syracuse of course) has fared against other conferences so far this year.

Week 1: 10 games (7-3)

vs. Big 10 (0-1) Syracuse lost a close game to Northwestern 42-41, but QB Ryan Nassib showed that the Orange are dangerous on offense.

vs. SEC (1-1)

Highlight- Clemson beat a quality SEC foe in Auburn at a neutral site (The Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga.). QB Tajh Boyd and Andre Ellington had the Clemson offense rolling.

Lowlight(s)- Pitt lost to Youngstown St. NC State faced a tough test in Tennessee, but did not show up on game night and live up to lofty preseason expectations.

Week 2: 12 games (8-4)

vs. Big East (2-1) NC State bounced back to grab a win over UConn, and Maryland got the win over Temple. But Pitt found themselves embarrassed by former/current conference-mate Cincinnati on Thursday night.

vs. Big 10 (1-0): Virginia was outplayed by Penn State for virtually the entire afternoon, yet found a way to score a big victory nonetheless.

vs. Big 12 (0-1): Miami looked horrible against Kansas State, as QB Collin Klein had a field day against the ‘Canes. However, Miami was saved from being the lowlight of the week.

vs. Pac-12 (0-2) Syracuse lost, but played a respectable game against the number two-ranked USC Trojans.

Highlight- UVA’s victory over Penn State in Charlottesville, Va. Cavaliers QB Michael Rocco connected with Jake McGee late in the 4th quarter to grab the lead for good.

Lowlight- Pitt…again