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: Defensive Line

Senior James Gayle Leads the Hokies' Top-Ranked Defensive Line in 2013

Senior Defensive End James Gayle Leads the Hokies’ Top-Ranked Defensive Line in 2013

A little over 40 days from the start of the 2013 college football season! And it is indeed 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 until 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 defensive lines (check out previous rankings of ACC quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers/tight ends, offensive line). For several teams that have been churning out elite defenders for years, this is simply another group of stud performers. For others, this is a sign of some serous rebuilding. The ACC has plenty of stars on the defensive line this season, but there’s also plenty of question marks too. We’ll get to both. though as you’d expect, the questions increase as we head further down the list.

Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual end or tackle is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of defensive linemen is (though it certainly does help). Also note: Louisville (as has been the case since November) is included here, despite playing in the American this season. Additionally, since these are completely subjective rankings, the difference between one number to the following one is almost entirely negligible. Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.

ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Defensive Line

1. Virginia Tech Hokies: Looking for experience? The Hokies have plenty, as they bring back all four starters from last season and are chock full of juniors and seniors on the depth chart. As a whole, Tech’s defense recorded 35 sacks last season (16th in the FBS), most of which is attributable to this group. With another year of playing together under their belt, the unit — led by senior defensive end James Gayle — could be in for a monster season as the motor that drives Virginia Tech’s success.

2. Clemson Tigers: You might be surprised to see Clemson here, but that only means you haven’t been paying attention. The young Tigers that watched the 2012 Orange Bowl debacle are all grown up and have become a pretty frightening foursome (34 sacks last year; 20th in the FBS). Yes, they did lose Malliciah Goodman and his seven sacks, but considering who’s replacing him at defensive end (Vic Beasley), there’s very little to worry about in terms of a drop-off in production. Expect Brent Venables’ men to be even more aggressive getting after the passer this season.

3. Florida State Seminoles: FSU replaces every starter from last year’s potent pass-rush, but all is not lost in Tallahassee. Last year’s deep group received plenty of reps as the line was ravaged by injury, so this still ends up being a pretty veteran defensive line. Tackles Timmy Jernigan and Demonte McAllister will anchor them from the tackle positions, but they’ll also rely on Mario Edwards to take a leap as a sophomore and become the threat he was projected to be as a recruit.

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ACC Announces Student-Athlete Attendees for 2013 ACC Football Kickoff

Clemson Quarterback Tajh Boyd is One of 28 Players Attending the ACC Football Kickoff

Clemson Quarterback Tajh Boyd is One of 28 Players Attending the ACC Football Kickoff

The ACC has announced the list of football student-athlete attendees for the ACC Football Kickoff today. A fancy way of saying “Media Days,” the event will take place on July 21 and 22 at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro, N.C. Each schools’ coaches will be in attendance, as will two representatives per team.

The list:

Boston College: QB Chase Rettig (Sr.), LB Steele Divitto (Sr.)

Clemson: QB Tajh Boyd (Sr.), LB Spencer Shuey (Sr.)

Duke: QB Anthony Boone (Jr.), CB Ross Cockrell (Sr.)

Florida State: WR Rashad Greene (Jr.), CB Lamarcus Joyner (Sr.)

Georgia Tech: OT Will Jackson (Sr.), DE Jeremiah Attoachu (Sr.)

Maryland: QB C.J. Brown (Sr.), CB Dexter McDougle (Sr.)

Miami: QB Stephen Morris (Sr.), DE Shayon Green (Sr.)

North Carolina: QB Bryn Renner (Sr.), DE Kareem Martin (Sr.)

N.C. State: WR Rashard Smith (Sr.), CB Dantae Johnson (Sr.)

Pittsburgh: WR Devin Street (Sr.), DT Aaron Donald (Sr.)

Syracuse: C Macky MacPherson (Sr.), DT Jay Bromley (Sr.)

Virginia: OT Morgan Moses (Sr.), DE Jake Snyder (Sr.)

Virginia Tech: QB Logan Thomas (Sr.), LB Jack Tyler (Sr.)

Wake Forest: WR Michael Campanaro (Sr.), LB Justin Jackson (Sr.)

Some additional thoughts:

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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