Since the ACC’s realignment to divisions in 2004-05, UVA football has not won the Coastal. This season stands their best chance for Bronco Mendenhall’s crew. Respect is not being shown to this non-traditional football program amid forming a reputation. Mendenhall has led a large turnaround within three seasons bringing them from 2-10 to consecutive bowl appearances. Bryce Perkins returns as the second-best quarterback in the conference behind a stout defense. UVA football should target three goals for this season. First, qualify for a third straight bowl. Second, defeat Virginia Tech for the first time in 15 seasons. Last, win the ACC Coastal division.
The Wahoos excel in three areas that will set them up for success. Mendenhall’s team have been historically strong on defense. As a matter of fact, their secondary looks to be the top group of the ACC. Bryce Hall (CB) seeks to give more quarterbacks nightmares by adding to his 22 passes broken up last season. Help will be provided over the top by their stellar safety duo in Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson. In the middle, Virginia returns three starting linebackers along with solid depth. These linebackers and secondary come in with a minimum of 9 games played each, so this experience will mitigate any production lost.
A dominant defense can only get you so far in a conference featuring Clemson. Therefore, Bryce Perkins will need to be an engine to generate points for this offense. Ranking only behind Trevor Lawrence, he certainly has the talent to. Perkins threw for 25 touchdowns while adding 923 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns. On top of that, he completed 64.5% of his passes establishing him in the top 30 in the country.
Returning production on the offensive side can be a concern for them as they rank 90th of 130 teams. The biggest shoes to fill are at the running back position. Coming into this season, they rank dead last in the ACC. Their leading rusher from last season Jordan Ellis graduated which in turn, leaves them with PK Kier as their lead back. Kier rushed for 80 yards last season as Ellis and Perkins carried the load. Additionally, leading receiver Zaccheaus graduated but UVA has depth and a transfer from Richmond to step in. As a final note, Virginia ranks in the middle of the pack in the ACC for their offensive and defensive lines.
Non-conference: Weaker opponents in three of their four games should net them half the wins necessary for a bowl. Furthermore, each come at Scott Stadium hosting Liberty, William & Mary and ODU. The Wahoos will play at Notre Dame for their other game. ND holds advantages on both sides of the ball leading them to be a projected 10-point favorite over UVA. Knowing they would match up with ND, the other three games seem to make sense securing them three wins.
ACC: The first three games of the conference will determine if Virginia has a destined match-up in the final game of the season against VT to play for the ACC Championship. To start the season, they play at Pitt and home vs FSU where each game stands as a pick’em. Look for them to split these and head to Miami for a crucial game. As of now, Miami would be 3-point favorites given their advantages on both sides of the ball. One decisive advantage for UVA would be that they are coming off a bye coupled with Miami playing six days earlier vs VT. Establishing a run and Miami’s fatigue could smell for an upset road victory.
Mendenhall’s camp will need to stay focus because they have the potential to win four straight ACC games and should. Two come at home against Duke & GT while the others are on the road at Louisville and UNC. They will be the favorites in all. Achieving a win in these would set them up at 6-1 in the ACC and hosting VT for an even more significant rivalry win.
ACC Coastal Champions?
Last year’s OT thriller was unforgettable with the Hokies walk-off turnover. The Commonwealth Cup has not returned to Charlottesville in 15 seasons as a result. There is nothing sweeter than a rivalry win, but to add on it, they would win the Coastal division too. From expectations, VT would be boasting a similar record, so UVA would be a field goal favorite with the game at Scott Stadium. Virginia holds a pivotal advantage that can be exploited will be Perkins vs the Tech secondary. His dual threat ability should create for multiple chances that Perkins will need to take advantage of. Look for UVA football to be a dark-horse this year in the ACC where they hold a strong chance to win the Coastal.