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The Conveyor Belt

Posted on October 24, 2018, in The Team by MaizeAndBlueWahoo.

Let's face it: Bronco is ahead of schedule.  Big time.  Anybody who predicted nine wins for this football team before the season was just trying to get a rise out of you.  And yet 5-2 is the record, and as things stand now they'll be favored in their next three games - and maybe four.  They could be 9-2 going into Thanksgiving weekend.

(Could be.  I fought a slight urge to make this week's post a cold-water bucket and a reminder that this team is still kind of flawed.  There's a lot to mine in that vein if I wanted to.  But that's no fun and this is not the time for being a cold wet blanket.  After the last decade-plus of mostly butt football, we deserve some giddy optimism unfettered by boring reality.)

One of the biggest reasons for this speedy turnaround is one of the most obvious.  It's probably unfair to constantly be dropping bombs on the Mike London era, but it's also hard to really appreciate the Bronco Mendenhall era without that contrast.  One of the approximately three kajillion ways Bronco differs from London is a keen understanding of the need for stability at the one position where you'd think it'd be most obviously needed: quarterback.  London was here six years; in only two of them (2011 and 2012) did the same player lead UVA in passing yards.  And 2012 was the one in which London decided to bring in Phillip Sims and indecisively platoon him with Mike Rocco, which Rocco understandably took as a giant middle finger and responded by transferring to Richmond.  London spent the rest of his time bouncing between quarterbacks that ranged from horrendous to potentially respectable - had they been allowed more than a season to develop.

Bronco, on the other hand, went 2-10 and stuck with the quarterback that led him there.  Part of that was essentially having no other choice; Kurt Benkert's backups last year would've been terrifying if they'd had to take meaningful snaps.  But Bronco brought in Benkert for a reason: specifically because he would be around for two years.  It is not a coincidence that the team was bowl-eligible, probably before its time, with a second-year quarterback decisively at the helm in consecutive years for the first time since 2007.  That was Jameel Sewell, and oh by the way that also was a bowl season.

This year it's Bryce Perkins.  Perkins has that gamer factor in his style.  Like Benkert, he's a transfer, essentially out of necessity.  And like Benkert, he was identified and zeroed in on by Bronco and his staff.  London saw the value in QB transfers, too - it's just that everyone he targeted was a raging disaster.  Phillip Sims blew up any chance of developing chemistry under Rocco and Connor Brewer did nothing of any value at all.

Perkins is a huge reason for UVA's success this year, but he's also an even bigger reason why this success feels real.  Because (barring a surprise) he'll be here next year.  And that makes this newfound winning streak sustainable.  You'll note my handle and forgive me a tangent off to the team I grew up watching.  Michigan was a powerhouse for a long time, and their powerhouse years coincide directly with a conveyor belt of quarterbacks that just kept on coming.  From Elvis Grbac in 1989 to Chad Henne in 2007, every quarterback who started a game for Michigan eventually went on to an NFL roster.  Some were better than others, but the common thread is this: when they graduated, another guy was ready in the hopper having percolated a little bit, and came in looking a hell of a lot like the last guy.

That's what Bronco has going now.  Ideally you don't do it with transfers, but at the beginning of a total teardown and rebuild, you do what you can, and Bronco's transfer-chasing strategy has mimicked the recruiting conveyor belt with remarkable accuracy.  Perkins will be here in 2019, and when he leaves, someone - Brennan Armstrong most likely, but R.J. Harvey or Lindell Stone possibly - will take over.  (You'll note that Bronco has made sure to sign a quarterback every year without fail.)  And if all goes to plan, they'll be around more than a single damn year.

That's what it takes.  There isn't an unlimited supply of potentially really good quarterbacks at junior colleges in Arizona.  And you can't go chasing shiny objects as London did.  Freshman sensations do sometimes happen, but you can't count on them.  The surest path to success is to have a long-term plan at quarterback, and the surest long-term plan is to make sure that whoever starts next year either is also starting this year, or has already been on the roster for at least a year or two.  This string of success feels like it could stick around a while, and Bronco's well-laid foundation and intelligent design for quarterback roster planning is a primary reason for that.

This article contains the tags:

Bryce Perkins, Kurt Benkert