Virginia’s football players and coaches expect to build off last season’s surprising run to a bowl game, going into 2018 anticipating more wins and a bowl victory. The experts? They’re less bullish on the Cavaliers.
A year after winning six games and reaching its first bowl since 2011, U.Va. was picked to finish last in the Coastal Division in a poll of media who cover the ACC, the league announced Monday.
“No, that would be regressing from last year,” senior wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus said. “Our expectation every year is to go to a bowl game and this year, we have to win one. It was good to experience the experience last year, but we have to improve and make strides as a program and an organization.”
After going 2-10 in Bronco Mendenhall’s first season at U.Va., the Cavaliers made an impressive – and widely unexpected – jump last year, going 6-6 in the regular season, winning three league games (Duke, Georgia Tech and North Carolina) and playing in their first bowl game since losing to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl seven years ago.
Virginia returns 17, including eight on defense. But the losses were key ones. Quarterback Kurt Benkert, defensive end Andrew Brown, linebacker Micah Kiser and safety Quin Blanding were all seniors. U.Va. also graduated three starting offensive linemen and lost four more defensive linemen, who left the program since last season.
Still, the Cavaliers’ players believe the program’s trajectory – and win total – will continue upward.
“The goal is an ACC championship. That’s what we break down on, ‘ACC champs,’” senior cornerback Tim Harris said after a recent conditioning workout. “’But we’ve still got a lot of steps, a lot of work to do, a lot of time to put in before we can say we can be that team. But we have the guys here that can do it.”
The Cavaliers have a very manageable home schedule, with only one game where they’re an obvious and overwhelming underdog at Scott Stadium – Oct. 13 against Miami.
Of course, taking care of business in non-conference games against Richmond, Ohio, Indiana and Liberty will be a must, and then U.Va. has to find a way to win games in the ACC. Louisville, North Carolina and Pittsburgh also visit Charlottesville this season.
Miami was picked as the favorite in the Coastal Division, followed by Virginia Tech, then Georgia Tech, Duke, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Virginia.
Clemson was tabbed as the preseason favorite as league champion.