Mike London was successful as head coach of sub division Richmond and when he took over at Virginia last season many were hoping that success would carry over. After the Cavaliers began 2010 at 4-4 things went downhill with an 0-4 finish but with 18 returning starters and a good recruiting class under his belt London might be laying the foundation for brighter days to come. Time will tell if the pieces are coming together for a program that hasn’t been to a Bowl game since 2007.
The offense returns eight players minus quarterback Marc Verica but he was more suited for the spread offense that was already in place while London preferred a pro style attack. Michael Rocco assumes the QB duties and looks like a good fit for this style of offense so the loss of Verica might not be as great as thought. The backfield will likely be Perry Jones getting most of the work after sharing carries a year ago. Rocco will look to Kris Burd when he goes to the air after an 800 yard receiving year in 2010. Tight end Colter Philips is a reliable pass catcher that is primarily a safety valve but big things are expected to come from freshman Darius Jennings. Whoever is running the ball will have the luxury of an experienced offensive line to follow with all five starters back. The ability to effectively run the ball will take the pressure off Rocco to make plays through the air.
Probably the most reason to be optimistic lies on the defensive side of the ball where most of this unit is back. The ability of the Cavaliers smallish defensive line to get a push on the pocket in passing situations might be the strength but big aggressive offensive lines will try to push them around in the ground game. Matt Conrath, Cam Johnson and Nick Jenkins will see the majority of snaps but there is enough talent to form a rotation to keep fresh legs on the field. With all three linebackers returning including leading tackler LaRoy Reynolds, the run defense has some able bodies to make running on them a more difficult task than most would think with an undersized defensive line. The ability of the line backing crew to provide a pass rush is bolstered by a secondary that is seasoned at both safety spots and corner. Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley have the necessary speed, quickness and experience while Chase Minnifield is Virginia’s version of a shutdown corner. The one question is at the other CB spot where freshman Demetrious Nicholson is penciled in.
The Cavaliers kicking teams will remain mostly intact with Robert Randolph proving to be accurate on field goals going 10 of 14 last season. Senior punter Jimmy Howell averaged over 42 yards per boot and could be even better in 2011. Chase Minnifield and Perry Jones will handle return duties with Raynard Horne lost to graduation.
Virginia has the most returning starters of any team in the ACC and because of that it’s only logical that the Cavaliers improve upon their 1-7 conference mark. Throw in a surprisingly strong recruiting class and UVA has arguably the most talent they have had in years. The problem I see in the short term is the elite teams are already established and for lack of a better word, Virginia is starting from scratch. A win or two more is possible but a finish in the bottom half of the Coastal Division is likely.