clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The ACC's hired a ton of good coaches. How will Virginia's Bronco Mendenhall stack up?

New, comments

UVA upgraded by bringing on a coach who had better teams than the Cavaliers did, and he did it without being in a power conference. But the conference is upgrading all over the place. This is Bill C's daily preview series, working its way through every 2016 team.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. An intriguing experiment

Bronco Mendenhall is a very good coach, probably the second-best BYU has ever had.

It appeared this was a coaching marriage gone stale. Mendenhall didn't know what else he could do to move the program forward through independence, and at some point BYU administration was going to get tired of only beating mediocre and bad teams.

Mendenhall welcomed Virginia's advances, and BYU got a chance to start over.

-- The 2016 BYU guide

The ACC made a lot of coaching changes, and the potential upgrades were clear. Virginia Tech landed Memphis' Justin Fuente to replace Frank Beamer. Syracuse replaced Scott Shafer with Bowling Green's Dino Babers. Miami replaced Al Golden with alum and former 10-wins-a-year Georgia coach Mark Richt.

As Memphis was better than VT, BGSU was better than Syracuse, and Georgia was better than Miami last year, you could pretty clearly call these upgrades. And combined with Pitt adding Pat Narduzzi last year, it really appears the ACC has improved through strong hires.

Virginia's hire didn't feature the same level of pizzazz. It was renowned as a strong hire but didn't seem to rank as highly as Fuente or Richt.

But it may have been every bit as much of an upgrade. Over the course of Mike London's six seasons, his Cavaliers showed random promise and featured just enough star recruits to make you curious about their upside. But they never came close to putting the pieces together. They were a lucky 8-5 in 2011 and an unlucky 5-7 in 2014, but their average S&P+ ranking was 74.5, their average win total 4.5.

Whatever you consider to be Virginia's realistic expectations, Hoo fans should expect more than that. London recruited at a top-50 level but only once produced top-50 results or performed better than Mendenhall's BYU in a given year (in the unlucky 2014.) And in 2015, just as their offense began to figure some things out -- UVA ranked 54th in Off. S&P+, easily the best offensive rating of the London era -- the defense bottomed out.

Just as it may have been a good time for Mendenhall to leave Provo, it was definitely a good time for London to leave C'ville.

So now we get to find out exactly how good a coach Mendenhall is. The 50-year-old Oregon State alum dealt with unique recruiting challenges at BYU and consistently produced top-50-caliber teams. Now he deals with a different challenge: selling a program that doesn't have the history of its conference rivals.

Virginia was once the most consistently decent program -- in the 25 seasons between 1983 and 2007, the Cavaliers won at least six games 21 times but won 10 only once -- but has now bowled just twice in 10 years. They are in the right ACC division (the Clemson- and FSU-free Coastal) but have finished within two games of the division crown only once since 2008.

The bar is low, and Mendenhall is a good enough coach to clear it with room to spare. This could be a happy second marriage. At the very least, Mendenhall's record suggests he could get Virginia back to the point where fans are getting tired of seven-win seasons. Al Groh averaged seven wins per year from 2001-08, and that wasn't really getting the job done. London only hit that mark once.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 6-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 78 | Final S&P+ Rk: 73
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep at UCLA 28 16-34 L 23% 0% -3.2 +1.5
12-Sep Notre Dame 7 27-34 L 53% 19% +3.4 +6.0
19-Sep William & Mary N/A 35-29 W 55% 68% -16.6
25-Sep Boise State 37 14-56 L 35% 2% -34.2 -39.0
10-Oct at Pittsburgh 46 19-26 L 22% 1% +4.0 +3.0
17-Oct Syracuse 85 44-38 W 62% 60% +2.8 -1.0
24-Oct at North Carolina 24 13-26 L 29% 1% +4.9 +4.5
31-Oct Georgia Tech 64 27-21 W 76% 85% +14.9 +12.0
7-Nov at Miami-FL 62 21-27 L 35% 8% +7.6 -6.0
14-Nov at Louisville 39 31-38 L 46% 15% +12.4 +6.5
21-Nov Duke 74 42-34 W 91% 97% +15.7 +5.5
28-Nov Virginia Tech 59 20-23 L 57% 40% +0.8 +0.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 30.7 54 31.1 86
Points Per Game 25.8 89 32.2 96

2. Consistency? What's that?

If you drew a trendline with Virginia's percentile chart above, it would be moving slightly up.

  • UVA's first 5 games:
    Record: 1-4 | Average percentile performance: 38% (~top 80) | Yards per play: Opp 6.3, UVA 5.5 (-0.8)
  • UVA's next 4 games:
    Record: 2-2 | Average percentile performance: 51% (~top 65) | Yards per play: Opp 6.3, UVA 5.3 (-1.0)
  • UVA's last 3 games:
    Record: 1-2 | Average percentile performance: 65% (~top 45) | Yards per play: Opp 6.0, UVA 5.8 (-0.2)

That is what you hope to see from a team that is scheduled to return its quarterback, two versatile running backs, most of its offensive line two-deep, and most of its linebackers and defensive backs. Virginia wasn't the youngest team in FBS, but it was young, and based on averages, it seemed to settle in at a top-50 level by the end of the year.

There were two main problems.

First, though they were playing better, they couldn't seal the deal. That was the case from start to finish. In the second game, against an excellent Notre Dame, they gave up a long, late pass to turn a 27-26 lead into a 34-27 defeat. They lost by seven at Pitt, by six at Miami, by seven at Louisville, and by three at Virginia Tech. They were just decent enough to lose tight games.

Second, they could never pull off good performances back to back. They hit the 62nd percentile in a win over Syracuse, then fell to the 29th against UNC. They surged to the 76th against Georgia Tech, then the 35th against Miami. Et cetera. They probably shouldn't have been as close as they were in some of those close losses, and the offense wasn't good enough to overcome the defense's sudden deficiencies.

UVA becomes a Mendenhall team. That likely means a fast-paced offense and an angry, sometimes too angry, 3-4 defense. If he can install some consistency in 2016, that will be a nice first step.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.27 64 IsoPPP+ 100.2 64
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.8% 76 Succ. Rt. + 101.0 68
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 32.1 113 Def. FP+ 29.5 63
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.7 48 Redzone S&P+ 107.8 45
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.7 ACTUAL 24 +4.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 75 70 68 64
RUSHING 100 100 99 89
PASSING 51 52 36 61
Standard Downs 74 68 77
Passing Downs 58 63 53
Q1 Rk 60 1st Down Rk 82
Q2 Rk 60 2nd Down Rk 85
Q3 Rk 87 3rd Down Rk 74
Q4 Rk 86

3. A Robert Anae offense, starring Matt Johns

As BYU's offensive coordinator from 2005-10 and 2013-15, Robert Anae produced an average Off. S&P+ ranking of 35.9. Without him in 2011-12, BYU averaged 68.5. A career line coach before his 2005 promotion, Anae tries to focus on tempo and physical play.

He allows the talent on hand to dictate everything else. When he had a dual-threat talent like Taysom Hill, his offense was heavy on read options; Hill threw for 2,938 yards and rushed for 1,344 in 2013. When a passer like Tanner Mangum or Max Hall was in charge, he turned to the passing game; Hall threw for nearly 4,000 yards in 2008, and Mangum, a freshman, threw for nearly 3,400 last year.

While Johns did rush three or four times per game, he far more resembles Hall and Mangum than he does Hill. He showed serious efficiency potential in 2015, completing at least 60 percent of his passes in eight of 12 games. But in his first full year as a starter, he struggled to pull out of a skid. When things went poorly, they went REALLY poorly.

  • Johns against Boise State, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech: 47-for-93 (51 percent), 518 yards, 3 TD, 9 INT, 88.6 passer rating.
  • Johns against everybody else: 200-for-310 (65 percent), 2,292 yards, 17 TD, 8 INT, 139.6 passer rating.

A 139.6 passer rating isn't amazing, but it will do. 88.6 will not.

Assuming Johns holds off Connor Brewer and ECU transfer Kurt Benkert, his job will be to get the ball into the hands of two unique backfield threats -- Taquan Mizzell and Olamide Zaccheaus, who combined for 197 carries and 96 catches last year -- and more steadily guide an offense that wants to wear a defense down with tempo and lots of snaps. You can't take lots of snaps if you're throwing picks.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Matt Johns 6'5, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8562 247 403 2810 20 17 61.3% 19 4.5% 6.4
Connor Brewer 6'2, 215 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9267 4 8 34 0 1 50.0% 1 11.1% 3.4
Kurt Benkert
(ECU)
6'3, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8364
Sonny Abramson 6'2, 208 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8493
Devante Cross 6'2, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8046

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Taquan Mizzell TB 5'10, 195 Sr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9721 164 664 4 4.0 4.1 32.9% 5 3
Albert Reid TB 5'9, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8667 66 360 3 5.5 9.9 28.8% 0 0
Daniel Hamm TB 5'10, 200 Jr. NR NR 56 249 1 4.4 4.5 30.4% 0 0
Matt Johns QB 6'5, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8562 42 213 1 5.1 3.0 47.6% 6 2
Olamide Zaccheaus TB/WR 5'8, 190 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8529 33 262 1 7.9 6.3 60.6% 1 1
Jordan Ellis TB 5'11, 205 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8442 24 74 2 3.1 9.0 16.7% 0 0
T.J. Thorpe WR 5 28 1 5.6 10.3 40.0% 0 0

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Taquan Mizzell TB 5'10, 195 Sr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9721 99 75 719 75.8% 25.6% 7.3 59.6% 47.5% 1.38
Canaan Severin WR-X 74 54 761 73.0% 19.1% 10.3 37.8% 58.1% 1.70
T.J. Thorpe WR-F 55 23 321 41.8% 14.2% 5.8 56.4% 32.7% 1.53
Olamide Zaccheaus TB/WR 5'8, 190 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8529 33 21 216 63.6% 8.5% 6.5 66.7% 39.4% 1.49
Evan Butts TE 6'4, 240 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8432 23 16 182 69.6% 5.9% 7.9 65.2% 65.2% 1.05
Keeon Johnson WR-Z 6'3, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8544 22 13 173 59.1% 5.7% 7.9 63.6% 50.0% 1.45
Charlie Hopkins TE 22 11 90 50.0% 5.7% 4.1 59.1% 40.9% 0.88
Daniel Hamm TB 5'10, 200 Jr. NR NR 18 14 174 77.8% 4.7% 9.7 44.4% 50.0% 1.75
Albert Reid TB 5'9, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8667 18 12 47 66.7% 4.7% 2.6 66.7% 22.2% 1.00
Doni Dowling WR-F 6'1, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8100 6 1 -1 16.7% 1.6% -0.2 16.7% 0.0% 0.00
Andre Levrone WR 6'3, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8568 5 2 16 40.0% 1.3% 3.2 80.0% 40.0% 0.72
David Eldridge WR-Z 6'1, 170 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8544 2 2 88 100.0% 0.5% 44.0 100.0% 100.0% 3.78
Brendan Marshall TE 6'5, 245 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8453
Tanner Cowley WR 6'4, 225 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8320
Joe Reed WR 6'1, 198 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8575
Hasise Dubois WR 6'3, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8550
Cole Blackman WR 6'1, 193 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8529
Aidan Howard WR 6'4, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8355

4. Got any actual receivers?

Mizzell has been an athlete posing as a running back. The former blue-chipper wasn't nearly as effective as his backups last year, averaging 4.1 yards per carry to their 5.6, but his versatility became a significant threat. He led the Hoos with 75 catches, and when you combine carries and targets, he averaged 21.9 intended touches per game for 115.3 yards. That's not bad.

Zaccheaus did a pretty solid Mizzell impression as a freshman. He had 66 intended touches -- 33 carries, 33 targets -- and gained a combined 478 yards.

Neither are big backs, but Mizzell and Zaccheaus could serve as pretty strong muses for Anae; they can line up in the backfield and motion out wide, and they are decent threats in either place. Plus, Anae has all-or-nothing back Albert Reid and sophomore Evan Butts to play with.

These are all pretty interesting pieces, but none are wideouts. UVA had only two wideouts targeted more than 22 times last year, and both are gone. T.J. Thorpe's production out of the slot was replaceable, but Canaan Severin had a nice year, catching 54 passes and averaging 10.3 yards per target. On a per-target basis, senior Keeon Johnson was reasonably effective, but he's the only returning WR who caught more than two passes.

Johns was decent on passing downs last year, and a lot of that had to do with Mizzell, an excellent checkdown option on second-and-long. But there will be plenty of times this year when a checkdown option is suboptimal. Will Johnson be able to carry more of a load? Will junior Doni Dowling figure out how to parlay a strong spring into a strong fall? Will sophomore David Eldridge, a speedy former mid-three-star recruit, do more than flash upside?

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 97.1 2.8 2.92 35.4% 62.1% 22.0% 118.4 4.6% 6.0%
Rank 85 75 99 105 90 96 41 59 38
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Eric Smith RT 6'5, 300 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8219 12 32
Ross Burbank LG 12 27
Jay Whitmire RG 8 21
Jackson Matteo C 6'5, 290 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8005 12 15
Michael Mooney LT 6'6, 290 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8479 5 14
Jack English LT 6'5, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8059 7 7
Sean Karl LG 6'6, 310 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8465 2 2
Jack McDonald RG 6'5, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8519 2 2
Sadiq Olanrewaju LT 6'6, 300 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8568 0 2
Rob Burns LT 0 0
Eric Tetlow C 6'6, 305 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8253 0 0
Steven Moss OG 6'4, 300 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9157 0 0
Jared Cohen (UNC) OG 6'3, 310 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8771 0 0
Jake Fieler OT 6'5, 295 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8800 0 0
Ben Knutson OT 6'8, 280 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8400

5. Lanky and experienced

At BYU, offensive line coach Garett Tujague was used to working with road graders up front; BYU's top eight returning linemen this year average 6'4, 313.

From a recruiting perspective, Tujague inherits a more talented line in Charlottesville, but it's lankier; the top nine returnees average 6'6, 298.

That's probably fine, considering the likely pass-first nature. UVA was pretty good in pass protection last year and poor in run blocking, and at first glance, it's not hard to assume that will continue in 2016. UVA's line will be a mix of low-three-star upperclassmen (seven of whom have starting experience) and four- or high-three-star youngsters. UNC transfer Jared Cohen gives the Cavaliers another high-upside piece.

SIGN UP FOR OUR COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWSLETTER

Get all kinds of college football stories, rumors, game coverage, and Jim Harbaugh oddity in your inbox every day.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.32 96 IsoPPP+ 94.2 90
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 44.2% 93 Succ. Rt. + 99.9 68
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 26.7 122 Off. FP+ 29.3 85
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.4 68 Redzone S&P+ 99.4 75
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.8 ACTUAL 15.0 -5.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 79 83 68 90
RUSHING 50 70 71 64
PASSING 97 87 67 99
Standard Downs 68 58 78
Passing Downs 92 83 90
Q1 Rk 64 1st Down Rk 83
Q2 Rk 80 2nd Down Rk 89
Q3 Rk 71 3rd Down Rk 75
Q4 Rk 75

6. A good, old-fashioned 3-4

At their best, Mendenhall's BYU defenses combined beef and tenacity up front with speed on the edges and physical play-makers in the secondary. The Cougars were able to invade the backfield without sending six defenders, and they were happy to get physical.

After dominating with linebacker Kyle Van Noy in 2012 (sixth in Def. S&P+) and 2013 (13th), the Cougars had only a decent defense in 2014 (49th) and 2015 (34th). Talent matters, and Mendenhall didn't quite have the right mix recently.

Mendenhall brought coordinator Nick Howell to Charlottesville, so we know what attempted identity we can expect to see. Mendenhall wants to attack the run on standard downs and the pass on passing downs, and his units tend to play well in the redzone.

In 2016, the UVA defense's success will depend on two things: how well the line reloads and how well the secondary rebounds. The former is replacing last year's top three and is moving from four down linemen to three. The latter was supposed to be a strength last year but couldn't keep anybody healthy and bombed.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 104.4 2.88 3.56 41.3% 69.0% 24.0% 89.9 4.5% 6.9%
Rank 45 67 100 99 90 15 82 85 76
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
David Dean NT 12 34.5 5.6% 8.0 3.5 0 3 1 0
Trent Corney DE 12 27.5 4.5% 9.0 2.0 0 0 1 0
Kwontie Moore DE 12 22.5 3.7% 6.0 2.0 0 0 2 1
Mark Hall DE 6'2, 245 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8557 6 10.0 1.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Donte Wilkins NT 6'1, 290 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8542 12 8.5 1.4% 1.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Andrew Brown DE 6'4, 280 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9941 10 4.5 0.7% 2.5 1.0 0 2 0 0
Andre Miles-Redmond DE 6'4, 280 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8650 8 3.5 0.6% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jack Powers
(Arizona State)
DE 6'6, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8349
James Trucilla NT 6'1, 270 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8417
Steven Wright DE 6'4, 235 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8346
Christian Brooks DE 6'5, 240 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8113
Christian Baumgardner DE 6'4, 230 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8071








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Micah Kiser ILB 6'2, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8778 12 90.5 14.7% 13.0 7.5 0 2 3 1
Zach Bradshaw ILB 6'3, 235 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8532 10 38.5 6.3% 3.5 1.5 0 0 1 0
Mike Moore OLB 12 34.0 5.5% 12.5 7.0 0 3 3 0
Chris Peace OLB 6'1, 240 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 12 9.5 1.5% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Malcolm Cook OLB 6'1, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8727 3 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
C.J. Stalker OLB 6'2, 225 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8690 2 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Cory Jones OLB 6'5, 215 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8159
Jahvoni Simmons ILB 6'1, 240 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9310
Dominic Sheppard ILB 6'2, 240 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8575
Gladimir Paul OLB 6'2, 210 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8120
Juwan Moye OLB 6'3, 235 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8391
Landan Word ILB 6'3, 245 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8305
Matt Terrell OLB 6'4, 227 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8016








7. Compatibility check:

The shift from a 4-3 to a 3-4 can be awkward. Your light defensive ends shift to outside linebacker, your light defensive tackles might shift to defensive end, you might not have the mammoth presence at nose tackle. You might not have the speed/size combination you need at OLB.

On a scale of 1-10, I would rate Virginia's 3-4 readiness around a 5. Former blue-chipper Andrew Brown could be custom-made for life as a 3-4 end, and the linebacker duo of Micah Kiser and Zach Bradshaw should do just fine (or better than fine) from the ILB posts.

But there's almost no proven disruptive ability on the edges at linebacker, and no lineman is listed at higher than 290 pounds. If former star recruits like Brown and linebackers C.J. Stalker and Jahvoni Simmons can begin playing up to their perceived potential, UVA might have enough athleticism to get by up front. Otherwise it might take a couple of years of recruiting and development to get this unit where Mendenhall wants it.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Quin Blanding SS 6'2, 205 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9966 12 91.5 14.9% 1 0 1 3 1 0
Kelvin Rainey FS 6'1, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8506 12 55.0 8.9% 3 0 0 3 0 0
Maurice Canady CB 11 34.5 5.6% 3 0 0 6 1 0
Tim Harris CB 6'2, 200 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9150 10 30.0 4.9% 3 0 1 6 0 0
Demetrious Nicholson CB 7 29.5 4.8% 2.5 0 0 4 1 0
Wilfred Wahee SS 5'10, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8055 10 29.5 4.8% 1 0 0 4 0 2
Darious Latimore CB 6'0, 165 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8457 7 13.0 2.1% 0 0 2 4 1 0
Mason Thomas SS 5 3.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Divante Walker CB
2 2.5 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Juan Thornhill CB 6'1, 200 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8587 3 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kirk Garner FS 5'11, 180 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8761 12 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chris Sharp S 6'2, 195 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8286
Jordan Mack DB 6'3, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8537
Deedrick Daniels DB 6'0, 168 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8219
Nick Grant DB 6'1, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8199








8. Step 1: Find cornerbacks. Step 2: Keep them on the field.

I expected this secondary to be one of the ACC's best last year, and maybe it would have been with better health and more help from a below-average pass rush. Alas, it got neither of those things.

The Cavaliers ranked just 82nd in Adj. Sack Rate -- Kiser and since-departed linebacker Mike Moore had 14.5 sacks, and the rest of the team had just 11.5 -- and only two defensive backs were able to stay on the field. Eleven DBs averaged at least half a tackle per game, and nine missed time.

Heading into 2016, safety appears well-set with Quin Blanding, Kelvin Rainey, Wilfred Wahee, and Kirk Garner.

Cornerback is a mystery. Of last year's top five corners, only two are back, and they missed a combined seven games. Tim Harris has flashed upside for a couple of years, and Darious Latimore was active as a freshman -- he had six passes defensed to only 13 tackles, which means he either missed a ton of tackles or made as many plays as he allowed. In theory, if the projected starting four of Blanding, Rainey, Harris, and Latimore is able to stay on the field, UVA could have what it needs. But especially after last year, that's quite an "if."

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Nicholas Conte 6'3, 225 Sr. 52 44.7 5 11 10 40.4%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Dylan Sims 6'0, 190 Sr. 60 63.3 30 1 50.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Ian Frye 34-35 11-12 91.7% 6-10 60.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Olamide Zaccheaus KR 5'8, 190 So. 28 19.3 0
Taquan Mizzell KR 5'10, 195 Sr. 7 13.7 0
Maurice Canady PR 5 25.2 1
Olamide Zaccheaus PR 5'8, 190 So. 5 6.8 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 48
Field Goal Efficiency 47
Punt Return Success Rate 97
Kick Return Success Rate 120
Punt Success Rate 44
Kickoff Success Rate 34

9. Nice legs

UVA got almost nothing from its return game in 2015. Maurice Canady had a 74-yard punt return against William & Mary, and that was about it from either kick or punt returns. But the Cavaliers still had a top-50 special teams unit becaus eof its legs. Ian Frye was a strong place-kicker, Nicholas Conte averaged nearly 45 yards per punt, and Dylan Sims knocked half of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.

Conte and Sims should assure that this unit has at least a couple of strengths, and goodness knows that Zaccheaus and Mizzell have the athletic potential to develop into good return men. (Mizzell averaged a decent 23.1 yards per kick return in 2014.)

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep Richmond NR 20.0 88%
10-Sep at Oregon 18 -16.6 17%
17-Sep at Connecticut 81 0.4 51%
24-Sep Central Michigan 85 8.0 68%
1-Oct at Duke 51 -6.2 36%
15-Oct Pittsburgh 29 -4.9 39%
22-Oct North Carolina 27 -5.9 37%
29-Oct Louisville 20 -9.0 30%
5-Nov at Wake Forest 74 -2.2 45%
12-Nov Miami 30 -4.7 39%
19-Nov at Georgia Tech 54 -6.1 36%
26-Nov at Virginia Tech 32 -10.9 26%
Projected wins: 5.1
Five-Year F/+ Rk -4.8% (71)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 62 / 48
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -9 / 1.2
2015 TO Luck/Game -4.2
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 72% (80%, 64%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 4.0 (0.0)

10. Do the Hoos have a surprise in them?

Sometimes the win probabilities can create a pretty strong dividing line. Projected 68th in S&P+, Virginia is given between a 36 and 51 percent chance of winning in seven of 12 games, with likely wins against Richmond and CMU and likely losses against Oregon, Louisville, and Virginia Tech.

That sets a pretty clear path for 2016. Of those seven games in which the Cavaliers are either slight underdogs or the tiniest of favorites -- at UConn, at Duke, Pitt, North Carolina, at Wake Forest, Miami, at Georgia Tech -- UVA has to win four to reach bowl eligibility. That probably won't happen. But a win at UConn in particular would likely create a 3-1 start and a little bit of early buzz.

Mendenhall was by any account a solid hire. He has 99 wins to his name, he produces a lot of academic All-Americans (which will play well at UVA). At a school without power-program status, he produced teams that were usually stronger than their UVA counterparts.

But the ACC has made a lot of strong hires. It will be interesting to see how much of a niche Mendenhall can carve out in an increasingly competitive conference. After the challenge of ushering BYU into independent life, he seems excited about starting over.