Previously from WTOP.COM’s Sports page…

It’s been said what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.  There’s a very good chance Virginia’s football season will be on life support by the end of the season’s first month:  the Cavaliers begin the year by visiting 13th ranked UCLA (and this year they don’t have the benefit of playing the Bruins at 9am Pacific Time).  Coach Mike London’s team comes home the following weekend to host #11 Notre Dame…and then face 23rd rated Boise State two weeks later.  Thank goodness for William & Mary…as well as an ACC schedule that doesn’t include Florida State or Clemson.  Georgia Tech is the only conference foe in the preseason top 25, but the Cavaliers have lost three straight to Duke and haven’t beaten North Carolina since Mike London took over the program.  Do I dare even mention the 11-year losing streak to instate rival Virginia Tech?

More than a few media outlets have Cavaliers coach Mike London squarely on the “hot seat”.  Since losing the Chik-Fil-A Bowl in 2011, they’ve gone 5-19 in the ACC while also enduring head-scratching losses to the likes of Louisiana Tech and Ball State.  London feels he has things on the right track this year, saying “a lot of our guys who played last year are back and are in leadership roles. Our team’s closer, we’re more mature.  It’s a team full of guys who just want to win…and have the opportunity to play in teh postseason.”

The quarterback position has been somewhat of a jumble in Mike London’s tenure, with the annual scenario involving two contenders that wind up sharing playing time before the runner-up transfers out of the program in the offseason.  One year’s Michael Rocco becomes the next season’s Greyson Lambert.  David Watford’s unrealized potential takes the form the following fall in Phil Sims…only to reinvent itself in Watford one year later.  Inconsistency at this position over the last few years seems to be a major roadblock for this program.  This year junior Matt Johns begins as the starter (he threw for 1109 yards and 8 TD’s and 5 INT’s last fall) for coach London: “He earned the job coming out of spring practice.  He’s mobile and understands it is wise to pull the ball and go on third and 3…but also if you got a guy wide open you make the decision and put the ball on him where it’s accurate.  He’s worked on that and knows he has to continue to work on that.  He’s really grasped the offense and I believe that’s gonna allow him to have a very, very productive season for us.”  If Johns is able to keep his coach’s confidence he should be an improvement over last year’s rotation.

For the first time in ages, the graduated Kevin Parks will not be the primary ballcarrier for coach London.  Taquan Mizzell (nicknamed “Smoke”) expects to get the bulk of the carries, while coach London also has former Maryland tailback Albert Reid at his disposal. The former Terp has two years of eligibility remaining after graduating this spring (his 2014 campaign was wiped out with a medical redshirt) and should provide another backfield option.

Defensively the Cavaliers return a lot of experience in the trenches…with All-ACC hopeful David Dean being one of three seniors on the line.  They need to replace 27 of 34 sacks from 2014…Quin Blanding anchors the secondary after leading the team in tackles as a freshman.  Blanding had the opportunity to play alongside NFL-bound Anthony Harris…and will use those lessons this fall:  “Having had Anthony as a mentor last year, now Quin is in that position where he’s making the calls defensively.  That’s going to make him a better player and make us a better defense.”  Blanding led the Cavaliers in tackles (123) last fall, which is nice from the standpoint that he’s great at getting to the football but less than ideal from the perspective that a defensive back is needed to make so many stops.  It’s good that he was able to make so many plays…but it’s not ideal that the Cavaliers had a safety having to make so many stops (123).  The linebacking corps will have three new starters…and they won’t have the luxury of learning their way through growing pains.

The road to respectability begins in Pasadena Saturday.  While they kept it close with UCLA last fall (28-20 loss in Charlottesville), the Bruins boast a highly touted freshman quarterback in Josh Rosen.  “We have to make sure we take care of the football on offense (they were tied for 11th in the ACC in giveaways last year),” London adds, “it’s still gonna come down to blocking and tackling and executing our techniques that allow you to win.  We’re confident and are looking forward to the challenge.”

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