Thursday, June 08, 2006
A REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENT OF: VIRGINIA
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered but not too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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Rising Cavs suddenly "rebuilding" after surprising losses on and off the field
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 37-26 (21-19 ACC) - 2005: 7-5 (3-5 ACC); Won Music City Bowl
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 12 (6 Offense, 6 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: The offensive coordinator, the defensive coordinator, a versatile two-year starting quaterback, a versatile four-year starting tailback, a top five draft pick and two other linemen with a combined 124 career starts, two more starting defensive linemen, a pair of star linebackers - one the victim of the proverbial team rules, the other a premature departure - and a pot-smoking team captain in the secondary: all gone.
WHAT'S THE SAME: Al Groh; the uniforms.
Umm...otherwise, there are some familiar faces at receiver for the new quarterback, most notably Deyon Williams, who had 58 catches last year and 85 over the past three, and the usual array of big, talented white tight ends; this time, juniors Tom Santi and Jonathan Stupar (57 combined career receptions).
AS FOR THAT NEW QUARTERBACK: He will apparently be Christian Olsen, a Notre Dame refugee who's bid his time for two years on the bench. He held off junior Tom McCabe and a few youngsters in the Spring, but Olsen's only thrown a handful of college passes, none meaningful, so all we know is what we can surmise from the typical "one-and-done" senior starters before him: his strengths will be "maturity" and "playing withing the system," or variables thereof, rather than a strong arm or other applicable athletic attribute (backed up in Olsen's case by his inability to overtake just OK
MarioMarques Hagans [Mario was the Mississippi State linebacker, you fool! - ed. Ack, I know, thanks, Ian], who always had his speed going for him, either of the past two seasons for even a short stretch), will calm fans with some early competence before reviving their anxiety with a midseason slump and finally have them calling for the kids once any momentum stagnates and begins to fall slowly back down the hill - if we're going to suck, at least have somebody who can use the experience to his advantage later - only to have Groh stick with him through a slightly down but not catastrophic season. As it was in the beginning, as it now and ever shall be.
THESE GUYS KNOW THE DRILL: Of course, so much of what Olsen's able to accomplish will rely on the abilities of the revamped running game, which lost a lot of prodcution but isn't green - to the contrary, Jason Snelling has more than 1,000 career all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns from the fullback position, which he'll give up to push the much faster but less consistent Michael Johnson for the starting position. Snelling is the team's leading returning rusher with Hagans and Wali Lundy leaving, though Johnson would easily be in that position if he hadn't missed the entire second half of last season with an injury. It's Johnson's last chance to get the "bust" tag off his back despite showing some versatility over the past couple years behind Lundy and Alvin Pearman. Apparently young Cedric Peerman is in the rotation as well, though the play of the new linemen will largely determine how positive that status is for him.
OVERLY OPTIMISTICAPPROPRIATELY UNEASY POST-SPRING CHATTER: The transition to a new coordinator on defense certainly would be smoother if one-time all-universe pick Ahmad Brooks was back for his senior year, weight and commitment problems and all. Instead, Groh sent his disgruntled star linebacker packing, along with starting corner and team captain Tony Franklin and contributor Vince Webb, just before the start of practices in late March. Overhyped or not, the defense largely sans Brooks in 2005 was about 400 total rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns, 15 sacks and a touchdown per game worse than in '04 despite forcing one more turnover. That decline was not all about Brooks' absence - though he was in for much of the upsets over FSU and Georgia Tech, those offenses weren't exactly crushed, and his best day of the year (7 total tackles) came in Virginia Tech's 52-point barrage - there is a suspicious correlation between the two, one that runs the risk of being exacerbated further with the graduation of 66.6667 percent of starting D-linemen, Kai Parham's foolish early exit and Redd's dismissal: sacks dropped to 97th nationally last year, tackles for loss to 111th. Who's going to make up that difference?
On the bright side, ESPN called sophomore Clint Sintim "a monster," and liked redshirt freshman end Jeffrey Fitzgerald, too.
REASON FOR HOPE: Groh hasn't coached a loser at UVA since his first season, and "new" in many cases here does not mean "inexperienced"
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: New faces - the inexperienced and merely shuffled - are everywhere, with all of the biggest contributors from the past two seasons now vying to make NFL rosters
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... McCall and Brill: like the young comedy team that blew its big break by bombing before The Beatles' closing act on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, Virginia was in place for a breakthrough in 2005 - returning veteran quarterback, running backs and offensive line and a talented, experienced defense - but even while beating Florida State and Georgia Tech screwed itself out of ACC title contention in wildly disparate ways, like losing 45-33 to offensively-challenged Maryland and dropping a 7-5 stunner to the nation's 64th-ranked scoring defense in North Carolina. Things worked out, you know, OK, but how good could they have been if the team had played to its potential?
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... Six wins, probably not enough to sneak back into the bowl situation. Groh was building something big here - right? Are all those recruits chomping at the bit, or has his luck run out already?
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PREVIOUS REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENTS:
June 3: Boston College...June 4: Arkansas State...June 6: Hawaii
ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENTS:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: BYU...April 5: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 16: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 21: N.C. State...April 23: Arizona...April 24: Memphis...April 25: Louisiana Tech...April 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...May 7: Louisiana-Lafayette...May 11: Akron...May 12: North Carolina...Michigan State...May 15: Air Force...May 17: Stanford...May 18: Georgia Tech...May 21: Connecticut...May 23: Purdue...May 24: Navy...May 27: UCLA...May 28: New Mexico State...May 29: Tennessee
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