99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff

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Virginia returned to bowl play in 2017.
There are only 99 days left before kickoff for Bronco Mendenhall’s third season. ~ Kris Wright

As Memorial Day weekend arrives for the unofficial start to summer, Virginia football season creeps closer. In fact, I put up the Countdown Clock on TheSabre.com football message board Friday because kickoff for UVA is now only 99 days away!

While there likely are plenty of beaches, ball games, and beverage bottles ahead for many Wahoos, today is also a perfect day to start something on the site. So how about a “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series? Don’t worry, I’m not throwing a list of 99 one-liners at you right now. And no, I haven’t planned out all 99 daily entries yet. Let’s just see where the summer leads us in that sense. Regardless, the goal is to provide a daily football update from now until kickoff to hopefully drive interest and message board conversation.

The Cavaliers, after all, are entering an interesting season. They made it to bowl eligibility in 2017 for the first time since 2011, but lost the bowl game and lost three experienced players at three critical positions in Kurt Benkert, Quin Blanding, and Micah Kiser. The program hasn’t produced back-to-back bowl seasons since 2004 and 2005. Can they string two together now or is it too early in the Mendenhall rebuild to get there?

With that in mind …

No. 99 – Another fast start seems { Insert Adjective Here }

Important? Critical? Absolutely necessary? Helpful, but not season-defining? Unimportant? Unclear? I’m not sure where most Virginia fans would place their answer on a spectrum, but I trend toward the starting adjectives myself. While the schedule does feature a three-game homestand that wraps up with Liberty in the back half of the 12-game set, the final two games of the season come in less than a week at the two Techs. I think it would be a big challenge to win more than three games in those final six weeks.

Last season’s run to bowl eligibility, of course, hinged on getting hay in the barn early. UVA posted a 5-1 record over the first seven weeks. It took three tries to get over the bowl hump, but last year’s group did it with a close 40-36 home win against Georgia Tech. The Cavaliers grabbed two road victories at Boise State and UNC among those early wins, which considering the road trends prior to that was unexpected. In other words, the bowl bid required a fast start to the season.

I know what some might be thinking. That was last season, this is this season. So the same start may not be needed. That might be true, but historical trends suggest otherwise. (With his focus on analytics and historical details, it’s something Mendenhall probably knows too.) Of Virginia’s 19 bowl seasons, only three got off to a sub-.500 record in the first three games.

The 1987 team started 0-2, but turned things around to get to 3-2 and eventually the All-American Bowl. That group, in fact, won eight of its last 10 games with a five-game winning streak to finish the season, including a 22-16 victory against BYU in the bowl.

The 1991 team started the season 1-2, but rebounded to a 3-2-1 start and eventually the Gator Bowl. That group put together seven wins with one tie to end the season before losing to Oklahoma in the bowl.

The 2002 team started 0-2, but responded with a six-game winning streak to get to bowl eligibility and eventually landed in the Continental Tire Bowl. That team won three of its last four games, including the bowl game against West Virginia.

That’s it. Every other bowl team in Virginia football history got to the postseason by getting off to a good start over the season’s first three games. The next closest examples of a “slower” start panning out with a bowl came in 2000 and 2011 when those two teams each went 2-2 in the first four games. Here’s the whole list:

  • 1984 – 4-1-1
  • 1987 – 0-2 but 3-2
  • 1989 – 4-1
  • 1990 – 7-0
  • 1991 – 1-2 but 3-2-1
  • 1993 – 6-1
  • 1994 – 6-1
  • 1995 – 5-1
  • 1996 – 5-1
  • 1998 – 5-0
  • 1999 – 3-1
  • 2000 – 4-2
  • 2002 – 0-2 but 6-2
  • 2003 – 4-1
  • 2004 – 7-1
  • 2005 – 4-2
  • 2007 – 7-1
  • 2011 – 4-2
  • 2017 – 5-1
Virginia returned to bowl play in 2017.
Joe Reed picks up steam. ~ Mike Ingalls

It certainly seems like a good start over the first three weeks or so of a season is the best way for the UVA program to get to the postseason. The only exceptions with that theory over the years came in 1983 (4-2 start), 1985 (3-1), 1992 (5-0), 2001 (3-1), and 2014 (4-2). Obviously, those early years didn’t have bowls available on every aisle either.

So that brings things back to the upcoming season and this team. The schedule opens with Richmond at home on Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. The Hoos travel to Indiana the next week, but then return home for two games against Ohio and Louisville. The first month closes with a road trip to NC State, which still counts as an ACC game even though the two programs haven’t played since 2012 and have met only twice in a decade (2011 and 2012). Conference expansion everybody!

That early slate gives the Hoos a chance to get the desired fast start to try to get back to a second straight bowl. Richmond comes in as an FCS team and even though the Spiders won in their last trip here, eventual NFL QB Kyle Lauletta is no longer at the helm. They finished 6-5 a year ago. Indiana enters the year off a 5-7 campaign in 2017. That placed the Hoosiers sixth in the Big Ten East Division.

The three-game run to end September features three teams coming off better seasons. Ohio went 9-4 in 2017 and won the Bahamas Bowl against UAB. Louisville finished 8-5, but UVA has played the Cardinals well in Charlottesville. The Hoos upset then No. 22 Louisville at Scott Stadium in 2014 and only a Lamar Jackson drive in the final moments prevented another upset of then No. 5 Louisville in 2016. Finally, NCSU finished second in the ACC’s Atlantic Division last season with a 9-4 record. The Wolfpack topped Arizona State in the Sun Bowl.

There will be a lot of games to play after that five-game September schedule opens things up, but I’m sticking with “important” and “critical” as the type of adjectives to describe the need for a fast start again in 2018. And there are only 99 days before that story starts to unfold.

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2 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Kris, I would say a fast start is “absolutely essential” for the ‘Hoos to have a successful season and reach a bowl game.

    1. That’s a good way to put it. Like I said, I’d lean to “critical” or any similar adjective.

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