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