2020 Season Preview – Opening Thoughts

So, uh, this is weird, isn’t it?

This is Hoos Place’s fourth academic year of operation, and third of covering football. Every year it feels like something really makes that year unique; key players gone and new players in their place, dramatic endings to the season prior, big philosophical questions for the coaching staff… All those usual annual concerns feel so quaint right now, don’t they?

As of today, the morning of Friday August the 14th, 2020, college football’s fall season is in tatters, beeping along on life support. The B1G 10 and Pac-12 have thrown in the towel along with a growing number of smaller conferences and programs. The Big XII, SEC, and ACC are fighting tooth and nail to remain the sport’s standard bearers, along with the AAC which is the big dog of the remaining G5 conferences. UVA’s already seen VMI, it’s opening day opponent, punt on their fall season leaving UVA currently in search of a new non-conference foe (BYU, Liberty, ECU, and Army are the names I’m seeing as of today, but it could be someone else or even no one else when the dust settles).

What I’m not going to do right now, or probably ever on this site, is litigate the Go / No-Go decision process for the ACC or the other conferences, or judge whatever decision is ultimately made. The only thing I’m going to say before I let it drop is this: It’s a lose-lose situation. If we play, the schools are under immense scrutiny every week of any positive COVID case, irregardless of whether the rates of spread are any better or worse than the players would’ve faced in the general populace of the student body or their home towns. If we don’t play, athletic departments are going to be forced to take a machete to their budgets, and while at one end of the spectrum it’s easy to maybe say goodbye to the palatial facility costs or multi-million head football/basketball coach salaries, the reality is the bulk of the hurt is likely going to be felt by non-revenue sports shutting down, hardworking kids across a variety of sports losing their scholarship, and a lot of department staff making modest paychecks (front office administrative, non-revenue assistant coaches) being out of a job. I haven’t even touched on the #WeWantToPlay movement. Folks want to jump to the conclusion that the university presidents and their athletic directors are motivated purely by (A) revenue and/or (B) politics… if you’re of the mind to immediately jump to the most extreme, judgmental conclusion, then I’m probably not going to be the one to change your mind. Obviously across all of the big college sports programs, you’re going to find a handful of folks with selfish motivations. But I’m choosing to believe that the vast majority of these folks are honestly trying to balance all the factors, risks, and potential consequences of any decision they might make, and in the end they’re making a good faith decision.

But anyways, here’s what I know. As of today, UVA is still preparing to play football this fall, and therefore we’re going to preview it for you. There’s a cloud of uncertainty, but for the moment, try and ignore it. Let’s focus on the football team, let’s build excitement for them, because there’s a lot to be excited about.

Folks, we won our first Coastal Division title just 9 short months ago. We beat Virginia Tech in thrilling fashion, along with exciting wins over long-time ACC rivals FSU, Duke, GT, and UNC. We went to the Orange Bowl and took SEC powerhouse Florida to the final whistle. 

And best of all, there are so many reasons to believe that 2019 wasn’t an aberration, as it was the culmination of 4 years of continuous growth under a proven, united coaching staff. And for the fourth offseason, staff turnover and roster turnover have been minimal. We had one assistant (Vic So’oto) move on and replaced him with the exciting Hoo and NFL vet Clint Sintim. We had a normal-sized senior class graduate, coupled with a few disappointing transfers but not an overwhelming number, and were able to supplement those losses with a talented blend of freshmen and incoming transfers, the largest UVA transfer class in memory in fact.

Obviously, much will come down to how effectively we replace All-Everything QB Bryce Perkins, and we’ll evaluate his potential successors a few times over the coming weeks. The quarterback position is obviously the most impactful on the program, and you hate having to say farewell to a talented, veteran warrior like Bryce, but there are some intriguing options under center this year all the same. And we’ve got a ton of continuity at basically every other position group. Casual pundits will downgrade UVA’s chances of making noise because Bryce Perkins took a lot of production with him, and because our defense down the stretch last year struggled due to injuries for the second year in a row. But as we dig deeper, we’re going to see that the offense has the potential to produce even without Bryce, and that the defense has the depth and talent to be one of the league’s best if it doesn’t suffer historic in-season attrition like it did in ’18 and ’19.

We’ll see what kind of in-season attrition this weird season delivers. The numbers out of Bronco’s mouth right now are five players missing due to the ‘current situation,’ but those players haven’t been named. Some will be underclassmen who weren’t expected to be called upon this year anyways. Some will be upperclassmen who will be missed sorely from the 2-deep. Very likely those numbers could change throughout the year, either for better or worse, but impossible to predict at this stage. Have to also expect our foes will be facing similar unpredictability.

The makeup of our team is still a fairly known quantity, the lone wild card being those COVID opt-outs. But we know enough that our position group and system previews over the next two weeks are fairly confidently written, though we’ll try to update things on the fly as best we can as more is reported on attrition from the roster. Writing about the rest of the league, however, is proving a moving target. We’ll do our best to break down our opponents and the ACC as best we can, understanding our schedule may yet change again, and that our league rivals are dealing with just as much uncertainty as we are, sometimes more. 

About that league uncertainty: So much about the schedule and the league structure are new this year. For one year at least, gone are the Coastal and Atlantic divisions. Gone are most of our OOC games, potentially all of them if a replacement for VMI isn’t found. We’re playing Virginia Tech in September. Notre Dame is part of the league! Bowls are a pipe dream at this stage with half of FBS shut down.

We’ll press on, though, writing in pencil instead of pen so that we can go back and re-vector as required. As always, we appreciate you joining us on this journey, knowing that despite the myriad backgrounds we all come from, UVA football is something we can bond over, appreciating that now in 2020 that common bond is more important than ever.

So as long as Bronco Mendenhall and his program are on the field practicing and playing, we’re going to be right here writing proudly about them.

#HoosTogether #TheStandard #BeatTech