Welcome back to our 2019 Football Season Preview. To view our preview table of contents and read already-completed pieces, click here or on the Series button above.
At ACC Media Days in July, Virginia was picked to win the Coastal Division.
Let's say that again.
Virginia was picked to win the Coastal this year.
Virginia has never won the Coastal. Virginia has never been picked to win the Coastal. In the 14-year history of the division, Virginia is the only team never to have won it. Even Johnny-come-lately Pitt, a perpetual middleweight, won it last year. And yet a plurality of ACC media members felt strongly enough about UVA to pick us over the likes of Miami and VT this year. That's noteworthy.
Now, part of this is due to an unprecedented amount of staff turnover around the league, particularly with teams on UVA's schedule. There are new head coaches at Miami, Georgia Tech (bye bye Triple Option!), North Carolina, and Louisville. Additionally, offensive overhauls are in place with new OCs at Pitt and FSU. Of the eight ACC teams on our schedule, only VT and Duke can hang their hats on maintaining real continuity of staff this offseason; UVA has been slated to capitalize on that.
But this isn't just about the rest of the Coastal potentially being down. This is also about UVA's expected growth trajectory: two wins in 2016, six in 2017, and eight last year. Returning one of the ACC's best quarterbacks, expecting improvement from a young but maturing O-Line, and bringing back eight starters from last year's ACC-3rd-best defense, all occurring under a coaching staff with full continuity. Hopes aren't unreasonable.
This means that the season begins with the weight of expectations. Expectations that UVA is now a contender, that it won't get caught sleeping by upstarts, that it will finally end the streak.
Is that fair? Is UVA ready for these expectations? Time will tell.
The coaching staff and players will have to learn how to approach the season as the hunted rather than the hunter. No sneaking up on overconfident heavyweights like perhaps we did vs Boise St and Miami in recent years. Instead, traditional ACC powers like FSU, Miami, and VT are going to view UVA as a usurper who needs to be put back in its place.
This cannot invite overconfidence. Virginia's margin is still thin, we're still young, there are still depth concerns at key positions and inexperience at others. Part of what made Virginia dangerous last year was that it played hungry and took nothing for granted. Entering this season as a presumed favorite, it will be on the staff and the veteran players to maintain that edge, to still play as a hungry underdog even when the Vegas betting line says we're the favorite.
Virginia fans will also need to strike a balance of excitement with patience. We're being tempted to buy into the hype and, by extension, buy tickets to Scott Stadium (or make travel arrangements). That's great! We can expect a big crowd when Florida State visits the same weekend Bennett and the basketball team hoist their banners. But we'll need than fan support to stretch out over the months, even if hiccups occur during a tough opening six-game stretch that sees three tough road games (defending Coastal champ Pitt, preseason Top 10 Notre Dame, and a Miami team picked by many to take this year's Coastal) sandwiching that visit from the always-talented Seminoles. Hoo fans should take to heart that while this season is full of potential, nothing is certain and they should stick with the team through the end of November even if the Hoos have to fight and claw their way through their shot at the division title in ways that may not always be pretty.
So then is Virginia football going to live up to the potential the media and some of its fans are hoping for?
The answer is, of course, we shall see.
Over the course of this preview series, we're going to do our best to lay the foundation for answering that question. We're going to look long and hard at every position group one-by-one. We're going to look at how those groups fit together on each side of the ball as a cohesive offensive or defensive unit. We're going to look at the rest of the Coastal, and we're going to go game-by-game through the schedule. Our staff of writers is going to share their thoughts on some critical keys to the season's success, and they're going to offer their bold predictions on how this season may unfold.
By the end of it all, we'll all together, writers and readers alike, hopefully have a good understanding of where this season may be heading and just what kinds of hopes we might realistically let ourselves have.
Me? Spoiler alert, I've already bought my plane ticket to Pittsburgh. I can't wait to see this team any longer than I have to. And I certainly hope you all come to share this enthusiasm as well. Bronco and his staff aren't only building a winning team, they're building a winning culture and locker room as well. The sense of family, the sense of pride coming out of this program is obvious, and when you take a long look you realize this is a program that's really easy to root for.
So join us in this countdown to the 2019 season, get to know the players we're going to see on the field this year, and share our excitement for our Hoos. We can't promise that Coastal crown the media is predicting, but I guarantee you the team is going to fight like hell to make it happen, and that alone deserves our enthusiasm. Should be a heckUVA next four months. I'm excited to embrace the #NewStandard.