SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Virginia Cavaliers

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Al Groh (3rd year, 14-12)
2002 record: 9-5 (Beat West Virginia 48-22 in Continental Tire Bowl)
ACC finish: 2nd
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 126.9 ypg
(7th in ACC, 82 in nation)
Pass: 230.1 ypg (4th, 48th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 208.9 ypg (8th, 108th)
Pass: 215.7 ypg (4th, 59th)
Projected Starters
Offense (8 returning starters in bold)
WR  37  Ryan Sawyer  Sr. 
WR   80   Michael McGrew   Sr.  
LT   66   D. Ferguson   So.  
LG   62   Brian Barthelmes   So.  
65  Kevin Bailey  Sr. 
RG   61   Elton Brown   Jr.  
RT  69  Brad Butler  So. 
TE   89   Heath Miller   So.  
QB   7   Matt Schaub   Sr.  
FB   86   Kase Luzar   Sr.  
TB   33   Wali Lundy   So.  
Defense (6)
DE   96   Brennan Schmidt   So.  
NT   60   Andrew Hoffman   Jr.  
DE   95   Chris Canty   Jr.  
OLB  47  Raymond Mann  Sr. 
ILB  53  Rich Bedesem  Jr. 
ILB  59  Bryan White  Jr. 
OLB   56   Darryl Blackstock   So.  
CB   22   Almondo Curry   Sr.  
CB   29   Jamaine Winborne   Sr.  
36  Jermaine Hardy  Jr. 
15  Jay Dorsey  Jr. 
Special Teams
Connor Hughes  So. 
10  Tom Hagan  So. 
KR  33  Wali Lundy  So. 
PR  18  Marques Hagans  So. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  Duke 
Sept. 6  at South Carolina 
Sept. 13  at Western Michigan 
Sept. 27  Wake Forest 
Oct. 4  at North Carolina 
Oct. 11  at Clemson 
Oct. 18  Florida State 
Oct. 25  Troy State 
Nov. 1  at NC State 
Nov. 13  at Maryland 
Nov. 22  Georgia Tech 
Nov. 29  Virginia Tech 
After being picked next-to-last in the ACC last season and finishing tied for second, then storming to a convincing bowl win, Virginia fans wonder what coach Al Groh is going to do for an encore. Groh's answer is easy: He's looking for improvement in every phase of the game. Despite all the success, UVa finished last in the ACC in total offense and next-to-last in total defense.

With 14 starters returning, including ACC Player of the Year Matt Schaub at quarterback, Groh believes he has enough talent on hand to challenge for the conference title. Strong back-to-back recruiting classes have boosted the roster's depth and shored up its weaknesses.

"We had a lot of success last year, winning nine games and a bowl game," says Schaub. "Once you get a taste of winning, you hunger for more. We're working hard to reach that next level."

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

The young Cavaliers return nine starters to an offense that sparked a 9-5 record with four upsets over nationally ranked opponents.

A main reason expectations are soaring is the return of Schaub, a 2003 Heisman Trophy candidate. Schaub was one of the nation's most efficient passers, completing at least 70 percent of his passes eight times, including 80 percent or better twice. While he must find a new go-to guy after the departure of record-breaking Billy McMullen, Schaub has shown he can spread the ball around. Running backs and tight ends were responsible for 180 catches last season, and all those players return.

The Cavaliers need to improve a rushing attack that ranked 82nd in the nation in 2002. With the top four leading rushers returning, led by Continental Tire Bowl MVP Wali Lundy, that shouldn't be a problem. A bigger, better offensive line has found its comfort zone after a year of trial by fire.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

Virginia finished next-to-last in the ACC in total defense last season. That must change if the Cavaliers are to compete for the league title.

Groh's 3-4 defensive scheme, which he brought with him from the New York Jets, depends on great linebackers making big plays. The Wahoos have an abundance of talent in those spots, including two of the nation's best freshmen, inside backers Ahmad Brooks and Kai Parham, along with sophomore outside backer Darryl Blackstock, who led the nation's freshmen with 10 sacks and 14 tackles for loss last season.

The Cavs welcome back six of their top seven linemen, including all three starters in Groh's 3-4 scheme. Junior end Chris Canty is the top playmaker up front.

The only question mark is at safety, where sophomore Willie Davis is the only player with game experience.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Virginia's kicking game is in good shape, with both punter Tom Hagan and placekicker Connor Hughes returning. Both had on-the-job training last season as freshmen, with Hagan handling punting duties all 14 games. His 36.7 yards-per-kick average makes him the second-leading returning punter in the ACC. Hughes took over in the final month of the season, and his first kick was a 47-yard field goal in the upset over Maryland.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

All the pieces of the puzzle appear to be in place for the Wahoos to make a run for the ACC title. Skeptics, however, will want to wait and see how the offense operates after the departure of coordinator Bill Musgrave (to the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars) before anointing the Cavs a contender.

Groh pointed out that "a lot of coaches, including me, must expand the capacity of what they do if the team is to move on." Offensively, Virginia needs to develop a stronger running game and hope that some new faces in the wide receiver corps can make up for the loss of playmaker McMullen. If the defense can repeat the shutdown mentality it displayed over the last month of the 2002 season, the Cavs could be off and running.

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