2008 ACC Football Season Preview: Virginia

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Virginia Cavaliers

Returning Starters: 11 (6 offense, 5 defense)

Key Losses: QB Jameel Sewell, TE Tom Santi, TE Jonathan Stupar, WR Chris
Gorham, OG Branden Albert, C Jordy Lipsey, OG Ian-Yates Cunningham, DE Chris
Long, DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald, DT Allen Billyk, LB Jermaine Dias, S Nate Lyles, S
Jamaal Jackson, CB Chris Cook

Key Returnees: RB Cedric Peerman, RB Mikell Simpson, WR Kevin Ogletree,
WR Maurice Covington, TE John Phillips, OT Eugene Monroe, OT Will Barker, DT
Nate Collins, LB Clint Sintim, LB Jon Copper, LB Antonio Appleby, CB Vic Hall,
CB Ras-I Dowling, S Byron Glaspy

Overall View


Virginia
had a very good 2007 season, coming within a game of representing the Coastal
Division in the ACC Championship. They overachieved, however they had so many
losses in the offseason that any bowl game could be considered a solid result in
2008.

Virginia’s strength was their toughness up front last season, and most of it
is gone this year. They lose all three starters on the defensive line, including
All-American Chris Long to the NFL, and defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald due to
academics. On the offensive line, both guards and the center are gone, including
First Round NFL Draft Pick Branden Albert.

To top things off, quarterback Jameel Sewell was ruled academically
ineligible and will not play this year. Despite all of those losses, there is
still some talent on both sides of the ball to build around.

Offensive Strength

Virginia has the most underrated offensive backfield in the ACC. Cedric
Peerman and Mikell Simpson performed at a very high level last year. Peerman was
leading the ACC in rushing before going down with an injury in the sixth game of
the season. Both players averaged five yards per carry or more. Simpson in
particular has very good speed and is very effective on the edge.

Simpson also led the team in receiving with 43 catches. Virginia has the
talent in the backfield to get a good running game established this year, which
will be important due to their inexperience at quarterback and limited talent at
wide receiver. However, will they have the running room?

Offensive Weakness

Virginia lost all three members of their interior offensive line. Had Branden
Albert returned for his senior season, this could have been one of the best
lines in the ACC, but Albert is now a Kansas City Chief.

The only experienced player on the inside for the Hoos is Zak Stair, who
actually started seven games at left tackle in 2006. If he can make the
transition to guard, this line could turn out to be okay, though they certainly
won’t be dominant. Young and inexperienced players such as B.J. Cabbell, Jack
Shields, Billy Cuffee and Anthony Mihota find themselves in the mix for playing
time on the inside.

Virginia’s ACC schedule certainly won’t help their rebuilt interior. They
will have to face some very good defenses this year, including Georgia Tech,
Miami, Wake Forest, Clemson and Virginia Tech. UNC’s defensive tackles should be
much improved, and a guy like Duke’s Vince Oghabaase could give them all sorts
of problems. It will be a tough year to have a bad offensive line in the ACC.

Defensive Strength

Without
a doubt, Virginia’s greatest strength on defense are the linebackers. Jermaine
Dias is gone, but proven veterans such as Clint Sintim, Jon Copper and Antonio
Appleby are back. Sintim is one of the top linebackers in the conference and
could be the best overall player on Virginia’s team.

Denzel Burrell is the likely starter to replace Dias. As a junior, he’s had
enough seasoning as a backup to be ready at this point. These linebackers are a
very good group, and they are going to have to play very well to make up for
Virginia’s deficiencies at some other spots.

Defensive Weakness

Virginia lost all three defensive line starters. The big losses are Chris
Long and Jeffrey Fitzgerald, both defensive ends. Starting nose tackle Allen
Billyk is gone as well, but Nate Collins will probably be an improvement there
this year. Still, the position won’t have a lot of depth.

The big question is how well new defensive ends Sean Gottschalk and Alex
Field can play. Gottschalk is a young sophomore with promise, but Field is a
senior who has just 23 career tackles. If Field and Gottschalk can step up and
play solid football, this can be a good defense again. Until they prove that
they can, the defensive line is the biggest question mark.

Will Stewart’s Take

I
reviewed a couple of items I wrote on UVa last preseason for some perspective.
The first was our 2007
Virginia preview
, in which I said it was a critical year for Al Groh, and
that if the Cavaliers missed a bowl game for the second year in a row, UVa would
go searching for a new coach.

Two and a half weeks later, after Wyoming annihilated Virginia, I blogged
that "the switch had been
flipped
" in Charlottesville, and I all but dug Al Groh’s grave.

In a not-so-fast reversal that Lee Corso would treasure, Virginia turned the
tables and proceeded to win nine out of ten games, a damned impressive feat for
a team that wasn’t showing any signs of life. Flip that switch back on and stop
all talk of ticking clocks, because Groh’s team ended the talk of Al being a
short timer.

Virginia lost a ton of talent to graduation, academics, and off-field
troubles. But they’re returning some guys that can play, guys the Hokies wanted
and would gladly accept today, so it’s not completely dark in Cville.

My first instinct is that the biggest problem area is quarterback, but then
again, Sewell finished 91st in the nation in passing efficiency each of the last
two seasons, so it’s not like they’ve been getting great production from the QB.
Like Chris noted, it’s been strong line play, led by Chris Long, the object of
every TV announcer’s man-crush most of the last two seasons.

My gut tells me Virginia’s going to have a bad season, sparked by a mass
exodus of talent, poor play at the QB position, and a schedule that starts with
USC, ends with Virginia Tech, and is no cake walk in between. But just eleven
months ago, I was shoveling dirt on Al Groh, so this year, I’m going to just
keep my mouth shut and watch.

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