It's not football season yet, I know. But it's 84 days away, for those keeping track (no one but me). And that means we're prepping for this all-important 2015 season at Syracuse. We start with our opponents, which "may" not be as tough as they've been in recent seasons. Each week, we'll preview another team on the 2015 slate, from week one through week 13. Today, we continue with the:
School: University of Virginia
#BRAND Slogan: "Chasing Uncompromised Excellence"
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: "Not the Most Important Thing Thomas Jefferson Created." "Hoos the Boss?"
Recommended Blog: Streaking the Lawn
Coach: Mike London, 6th year. Recruiting well has not really lent itself to positive on-field results for London, who possesses just one winning season down in Charlottesville (2011). London's had a large buyout in previous years, which has lent to less pressure than one would normally get in that situation, but this is the year he really has to deliver. Given his previous success at Richmond and how well he performed as a defensive coach for UVa before taking the head job, you'd think he would've been set up to succeed. We'll see what happens this fall...
2014 Record: (5-7) (3-5)
Recapping Last Season:
Virginia actually improved last year, even if that's hard to see with a third-straight losing record and a 1-5 finish on the season following a 4-2 start. The Hoos ranked in the top 40 of the final F/+ rankings, which should depress the hell out of you when considering only one SU team has pulled that off since 2005 (2012's 8-5 squad). Mike London's team was really only blown out once -- a 35-10 loss to eventual Orange Bowl champ Georgia Tech -- plus they beat Louisville and Miami, hung with BYU (pre-Taysom Hill injury) and UCLA, and didn't embarrass themselves vs. Florida State.
The trouble with UVa was the offense, which struggled for consistency on offense, and also shied away from its bread-and-butter of running the football (all of this should sound very familiar). With unproven passers like Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns, the team struggled to get things going through the air in many games -- though they still wound up finishing with an average (58th in the country) attack. The stronger emphasis on the pass, mixed with offensive line struggles, hurt what should have been a strong run game. Kevin Parks, Khalek Shepherd and Taquan Mizzell were never able to get the carries they needed, and the team finished a paltry 100th in rushing yards per game. The team was also prone to turnovers -- with 24 on the season (including eight lost fumbles).
The defense was obviously the bright spot, as the team was top-20 in turnovers forced (29 total), and allowed just 24.1 points per game (33rd in the country). Considering the scoring prowess of some of the squads they faced (mentioned above), that's no small feat, and one the team hung its hat on all season while picking up for a floundering offense. UVa was one of the best teams in the country at stopping the run, which made up for a lackluster pass D predicated on big plays (again, should all sound very familiar to Syracuse fans).
History with Syracuse: The Orange and Hoos are tied all-time, at two apiece. Syracuse won the first two meetings (1975, 1977) by a combined score of 43-3. Since then, UVa pulled off their own two-game win streak, with wins over SU in 2004 and 2005. We both wear orange and blue, which would make for a confusing game this fall if not for our emphasis on PLATINUM and other nonsensical uniform elements such as the very-likely-for-this-game Storm Trooper set.
2015 Season Outlook:
Some of the above sounds sort of promising, right? The problem is the team only returns 10 starters from last year, many of them being the reasons behind a top-40 finish. At QB, things were supposedly settled with Johns being named the starter, but the position may have received a boost when former four-star prospect Connor Brewer (Arizona, Texas) announced his transfer to Charlottesville and can play right away. Whoever wins the job will be throwing to a mix group of both experienced and young receivers, including last year's leading pass-catcher Canaan Severin and North Carolina transfer T.J. Thorpe, who never really panned out for the Heels. The run game will fall squarely on Mizzell, who needs to produce up to his huge billing as a recruit several years ago -- a task that could have mixed results based on the line staying healthy in front of him.
The defense is where a load of trouble could lie, since the Hoos return just four players from last year's group, including just two members of a very solid front-seven. Four All-ACC performers are gone, and that means introducing a large collection of inexperience up front while expecting them to duplicate last year's stout run defense. That's not to say they can't pull it off, but the onus will fall squarely on senior returning starters like Kwonie Moore and David Dean on the line to get this unit to last year's levels. The linebacker spot, in particular, raises some red flags, as there's just one start between those three players.
If you're looking for another similarity between SU and UVa, look right toward the schedule, which is likely to doom the Hoos to another losing record even if they manage to improve on offense. A trip to UCLA to start the season, plus home dates against both Notre Dame and Boise State all sound like a recipe for disaster before conference play starts, and trips to North Carolina and Louisville won't help matters either. When glancing at "winnable" games on the schedule, William & Mary and Syracuse are the only ones you can entertain, and even the latter is more of a toss-up than anything else.
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, October 17
Location: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.
Odds of Orange Victory: 55 percent
Very Early Outlook:This one screams toss-up, pitting two defensively-minded/offensively-challenged squads against one another in a game both will likely have circled as a "must-win." With so many difficult games to start the season, UVa could be pretty battered by the time Syracuse rolls into town, though SU will also be playing its second straight road game (they face USF the week before). But based on the bodies they need to replace on the defensive side, plus what should be an improved Orange offense (because, again, how could it get any worse?), I'll hand a slight edge to our guys -- despite being the visiting team. If they win, it could very well be SU's fifth victory of the season, which... should scare the hell out of you given what comes next.