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Who the heck is Kurt Benkert?  Frankly, the name sounds made up to me.  But he’s the starting quarterback at Virginia.  The Cavaliers under new head coach Bronco Mendenhall go with the East Carolina transfer at QB, and even though this is a different coaching regime it almost makes sense.  If there was one consistent theme during former coach Mike London’s tenure, it was inconsistent quarterback play (usually followed by the deposed QB transferring out of Charlottesville).  So just as Michael Rocco begat Phillip Sims who begat David Watford who begat Greyson Lambert who begat Matt Johns,  Johns now gives way to the former Pirate.  Truth be told, the quarterback carousel in actually dates back to the Al Groh days as this will be the 11th different starter in 12 season openers.

Benkert actually won the East Carolina starting job in 2015 before a knee injury ended his season…after throwing 10 passes the season before.  New coach Bronco Mendenhall told the Washington Post, “Kurt has been the one that has consistently — and can continue to be — consistent in terms of moving our team forward regardless the type and caliber of opponent we play. He’s a good decision-maker with a strong arm, and he has natural leadership skills.” Benkert will have weapons at his disposal–beginning with runningback Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell, who led the Cavaliers in rushing and receiving last fall.  Former Maryland runningback Albert Reid averaged 5.5 yards per carry while getting limited work (only one game of 10 carries or more).  Olamide Zaccheaus was equally effective last year as a runner (7.9 yards per carry) and receiver (his 50-yard TD catch helped UVa beat Duke).  It’ll be interesting to see how he’ll be employed this fall.

Defensively last year’s unit ranked 96th in points allowed and had problems getting to the passer.  Switching to the 3-4 may not only be Mendenhall’s preference, but it works with a defensive line that returns no starters.  The fact that linebacker Micah Kiser led the ACC in tackles last year is encouraging;  the junior was also the team’s best pass rusher (7.5 sacks) and will be expected to bear the build on last year’s breakthrough season.  The fact that free safety Quin Blanding was second in the league in stops is not encouraging–because if a defensive back is making that many tackles it means the other team has been able to consistently get by the first two layers of defense.

This year’s schedule is the one that former coach Mike London wishes he had the last few years.  Yes, they swap out ranked Pac-12 foes by visiting #24 Oregon instead of traveling to #13 UCLA.  And they exchange pesky William & Mary from the CAA for pesky Richmond.  But Boise State and Notre Dame have been replaced by the likes of UConn and Central Michigan.  The  Cavaliers still play in the Coastal Division (in other words, the non-Clemson/Florida State half of the league) and have ACC crossover games with Wake Forest (winnable) and Louisville (maybe not so winnable).  The scenario exists where they could once again be 5-6 heading into Thanksgiving weekend’s game with Virginia Tech.  Gulp–the only thing more consistent than quarterback inconsistency over the last decade has been the Cavaliers’ inability to beat the Hokies.

Best Case– Kurt Benkert winds up being the answer.  After taking 3 of 4 non-conference games…the Cavaliers beat Duke and Wake Forest to move into postseason contention before shocking Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.  A bowl appearance is nice…but beating the Hokies?! Priceless.

Worst Case– the Cavaliers collapse against FCS foe Richmond on opening day…and finish 2-10 with another disappointing loss to Virginia Tech.  Benkert and last year’s starting quarterback Matt Johns both transfer…guaranteeing there will be a 12th new QB in 13 years next fall.

 

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