No. 93 Virginia
No one expected Bronco Mendenhall to deliver Virginia's second 10-win season in program history but few saw the two-win, lose-to-Richmond season coming. He now enters year two of the rebuild with more returning talent, a friendly schedule and tempered expectations.
2016 Record: Wins-Losses (2-10, ACC)
Outside a road upset of Duke, Virginia's 2016 season was mostly a disaster. The Cavaliers lost their opener against Richmond and never recovered, losing seven of their 12 games by at least 14 points, including a 52-10 shellacking at Virginia Tech.
They failed to score more than 25 points in their final six games and ranked worse than 110th nationally in yards per game, rushing yards per game and scoring average.
Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (2nd, 2-10)
Bronco Mendenhall is a winner. He won eight or more games in nine of his 11 seasons at BYU, 10 or more five times and never missed a bowl game. So when he lost 10 games in his first season at Virginia — more than he lost from 2006-09 combined — it didn't feel right.
He did manage to compile a deep, albeit unspectacular, 25-man 2017 recruiting class that featured 23 three-star players who should give him much-needed depth.
Key Returning Offensive Players
Kurt Benkert was unreliable in his first season after following Ruffin McNeill from East Carolina.
He showed good mobility outside the pocket and had nice games against Central Michigan and Duke but completed just 56 percent of his passes on the season and threw multiple interceptions in two one-score games.
“I think he can be,” McNeill, the Cavaliers' offensive coordinator, said when asked if Benkert can be an elite passer. “He’s just got to learn to relax and trust his reads and throw it to those fast guys and let ‘em run a long ways for it. He’ll do good at that. He could always throw the long ball.”
Benkert's top targets are back in Dowling and Zaccheaus, who combined for 101 catches, 1,210 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2016. Three sophomore receivers are expected to have bigger roles, namely Joe Reed, a 6-foot-3, 210-pounder who flashed big-play ability in limited action.
English and McDonald are the only returning starters from an offensive line that allowed 36 sacks.
Key Returning Defensive Players
To put it bluntly: Virginia's defense would've been screwed had Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding left early for the NFL. The pair ranked first and second in the ACC, respectively, in tackles, combining for a staggering 251.
Andrew Brown (No. 9, below) is set for a huge senior season after recording six sacks and a team-high 13 tackles for loss. He's flanked by Eli Hanback, who had 4.5 tackles for loss as a freshman.
Cornerbacks Harris, Armstrong and Robinson all return from injuries to bolster a deep secondary led by Blanding. The unit must improve their 103rd-ranked pass defense, particularly by limited 20-plus-yard plays.
Notable Player Losses
Mizzell is the biggest loss. He averaged five yards per attempt and caught 52 passes, racking up 1,344 total yards and seven scores.
Elsewhere, nose tackle Donte Wilkins leaves a big hole — literally — that defensive coordinator Nick Howell will attempt to fill with sophomores Juwan Moye and James Trucilla. Losing punters usually don't make headlines but All-ACC performer Nicholas Conte was one of the Cavaliers' few consistent performers last season.
Notable Player Additions
QB Marvin Zanders, OT Colin McGovern, OT Brandon Pertile, G, John Montelus, K Brian Delaney
Kurt Benkert is the man under center, but ineffectiveness or injury could force dual-threat quarterback Marvin Zanders into action. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Missouri grad transfer played sparingly for the Tigers last season, completing 10 of 12 passes for 114 yards.
McGovern, Montelus and Pertile and are all grad transfers, with the the first two from Notre Dame and Pertile from Oklahoma State. They're all seniors and all expected to compete for starting jobs on a putrid offensive line.
“Basically, they want some guys to come in and work and kind of develop some of the attitude that, ‘Yeah, we’re going to go out there and we’re going to win and we’re going to dominate some opponents," Pertile said in February. "And just kind of have that killer instinct."
Virginia only attempted 10 field goals last year, converting five. Parade All-American Brian Delaney will ensure that doesn't happen over the next four years.
The Cavaliers complete the second half of the home-and-home series with Boise State with a Sept. 22 road game. They were annihilated by the Broncos at home in 2015 and will have their hands full containing the Brett Rypien-led offense.
Virginia has a gentle ACC schedule. They don't play a conference road game until Oct. 14 at North Carolina and avoid both Clemson and Florida State, giving them the chance to possibly double their one ACC win from a year ago.
|Saturday, Sept. 2||vs. William & Mary|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. Indiana|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. UConn|
|Friday, Sept. 22||at Boise State|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||vs. Duke|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||at North Carolina|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||vs. Boston College|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||at Pittsburgh|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||vs. Georgia Tech|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||at Louisville|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||at Miami (FL)|
|Friday, Nov. 24||vs. Virginia Tech|