Bronco Mendenhall came to Virginia with 99 wins in his pocket. He’s still waiting on No. 100. The Cavaliers are off to an 0-3 start in the Mendenhall era, but he’s remained optimistic about the team’s progress. Will that result in a win this week? The Sabre staff makes its picks for the final non-conference game of the season with Central Michigan in town.
The Chippewas have started much better than that. They’re off to a 3-0 start, including the miracle win at Oklahoma State that had everybody talking. Central Michigan, of course, comes from the Mid-American Conference and that’s one of the more respected non-Power 5 leagues. Still, UVA is 11-2-1 all-time against the MAC and CMU is 0-13 all-time against the ACC. Continuing those trends, however, won’t be easy for the Hoos.
CMU boasts one of the nation’s most experienced and most productive quarterbacks in Cooper Rush. He enters this game off of a six-touchdown day against UNLV last week. He’s thrown for 10,311 yards (10th all-time in the MAC and closing in on No. 9 Chad Pennington) and 78 touchdowns (9th all-time in the MAC and closing in on No. 8 Ben Roethlisberger) in his career.
Throw in a supporting cast with a lot of belief in its team and a confident bunch of Chippewas will take the field this Saturday in Charlottesville. So who does the Sabre staff have as the winner in its picks?
Virginia can win if … the defense plays well again. After two rough outings against Richmond and Oregon, the Cavaliers got on track defensively at Connecticut. The defense allowed only 13 points and 277 yards to the Huskies. The issue, of course, is that Central Michigan is much closer to Richmond and Oregon on the offensive spectrum. The defense will be tested by Rush and an experienced group of receivers, but if the Hoos rise to the challenge with a strong defensive day then that can be enough to win.
Virginia can lose if … the offense continues to be a no show for long stretches. The Cavaliers didn’t find their footing until the second half of the first two games when the scoreboard was already out of reach. Last week, they had it going early but then vanished until late in the fourth quarter and the final drive came up short. Against a CMU team that could threaten the 30’s Saturday, the offense will need to find a way to score some points this week.
And the winner is …
Sabre Editor Kris Wright: I want to think that a breakthrough is right around the corner. There are little improvements popping up week to week, but it hasn’t been sustained throughout a game from all three phases. I’ve been consistently too optimistic on my score predictions for UVA’s offense and I want to avoid that trap until there’s more proof in the performance. On the other hand, this feels like one of those Virginia Saturdays where the team unexpectedly puts it all together on the same day that an opponent doesn’t. I’ll pick it that way … reluctantly. VIRGINIA 31, CENTRAL MICHIGAN 30. Season to date: 1-2.
Sabre Associate Editor Chris Horne: The play of the Virginia defense against UConn was encouraging, but Central Michigan is a much, much better passing team. That will test a Virginia secondary that gave up big plays against Oregon and struggled mightily against Richmond. Virginia’s run game, which will be key this Saturday, has performed well the past two weeks. In general, UVA’s mental toughness seems to be improving and I think the team believes it can win. My questions come on offense. Specifically, is Kurt Benkert healthy and can the offense be consistent and put up enough points to beat CMU? My head says Central Michigan, but I’m going with my gut and predicting UVA to get its first win in the Bronco Mendenhall era. VIRGINIA 28, CENTRAL MICHIGAN 27. Season to date: 1-2.
Sabre analyst Greg Waters: Don’t let the MAC label fool you. The Central Michigan Chippewas are a formidable opponent. Virginia will have to do everything right and it will need a three-operation effort on special teams, offense, and defense working together and executing to win. I don’t like the match-up of the Virginia defense against this CMU offense and unfortunately I think Virginia comes out of this weekend 0-4. CENTRAL MICHIGAN 35, VIRGINIA 21. Season to date: 1-2.
Sabre analyst Ahmad Hawkins (check out The Ball Hawk Show UVA-CMU preview here): The Cavaliers will have a difficult time slowing down the passing attack of Central Michigan. Offensively, I think UVA will be able to run the football, but it won’t be able to generate enough stops to win this shootout. CENTRAL MICHIGAN 42, VIRGINIA 24. Season to date: 0-3.
Sabre meteorologist BadgerHoo: A delightful early fall day with a mix of sun and clouds, pleasantly warm temperatures and low humidity. Like the sun, the Hoos break through too. VIRGINIA 28, CENTRAL MICHIGAN 24. Season to date: 1-2.
What about you? Who wins?