99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff

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Kickoff is getting closer for the Virginia football team.
Bronco Mendenhall won six games in 2017. ~ Kris Wright

If you’ve read the message boards at all this week, surely you’ve seen the ongoing conversation about the comments Bronco Mendenhall made to the Virginia Board of Visitors. For some context on all of that, this Daily Press article from David Teel and this companion article where he spoke to DeMaurice Smith of the NFL Players’ Association are an excellent source.

One comment within Teel’s context article fits for this entry in the “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series and this ESPN article about the easiest non-conference schedules among Power 5 schools. Without further ado …

No. 78 – Schedule For Success

While responding to a question from a BOV member, Mendenhall caused a stir of sorts by saying he wanted to play “the worst Power Five team” available to meet the ACC’s directive that each league team play one non-conference game per year against another Power Five team. Per Teel, he also said that he prefers for the three other non-conference games each year be played against “intriguing, regional and beatable” opponents.

Basically, for a program that ended a six-year bowl drought in 2017 but still ended up with a losing record (at 6-7) for the sixth straight season and the ninth time in 10 seasons, Virginia needs to schedule intentionally and intelligently with overall success in mind. In other words, while things like a new operations center and an expanded support staff are important in their own right, the program needs to improve the on-field product and results to ultimately grow back into a consistent winner. Face it, higher rated and more talented recruits – nearby and far away – would rather play for a winner. Plus, fans and donors are more likely to get behind and give more money to a team that is winning games.

Schedule for success. It’s a term fans are familiar with and many programs have used. UVA fans often pointed to Virginia Tech’s scheduling philosophy during Frank Beamer’s successful years as part of the reason for the Hokies’ consistent wining.

Virginia athletics director Carla Williams said in Teel’s article that she approves of this approach. She inherited the football schedule in place for 2018 – more on that in a moment – but thinks the scheduling model makes sense.

“My early assessment of our scheduling is that we are moving in the right direction,” Williams said in the article. “You’ve just got to be really smart. You’ve got to schedule for success.”

That shouldn’t be too surprising to read from Williams. She took over the AD job at Virginia after working as deputy director of athletics at Georgia where she was the administrator responsible for oversight of the football program. Georgia and SEC schools regularly embrace a schedule for success model in non-conference games, due in part obviously to the rigorous nature of their league games.

Georgia’s out-of-conference schedule this season, just months removed from winning the SEC title and an appearance in the National Championship Game, features Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee, Massachusetts, and Georgia Tech. All four games are home games at Sanford Stadium. The combined record for those opponents: 24-24. AP finished 8-4 at the FCS level last season. MTSU went 7-6 last season. UMass moved up to the FBS level in 2012 and posted a 4-8 record last season. GT ended up 5-6.

Alabama beat Georgia in the National Championship Game, 26-23. The Crimson Tide’s non-league schedule for 2018 isn’t any more inspirational. They face Louisville, Arkansas State, Louisiana, and The Citadel with no road game in the mix; the Louisville matchup is in Orlando. The Cardinals went 8-5 last season, but lost QB Lamar Jackson. A-State went 7-5. The Rajun Cajuns finished 5-7. The Citadel posted a 5-6 record in 2017. That’s a combined 25-23.

Nick Saban, by the way, hasn’t lost a non-con game in the regular season since 2007. While there have been some good tests in there like the matchup with Florida State early last season, there have been plenty of appearances by Chattanooga, Georgia State, Western Carolina, Florida Atlantic, and the like in there too.

Those non-conference schedules, by the way, landed both Georgia and Alabama on the list of easiest non-conference schedules in this ESPN article. That puts Virginia in good company as No. 6 on that list. With FCS Richmond, reclassifying to FBS Liberty, Indiana, and Ohio on the schedule with three home games and one road game, that’s not an unfair ranking. It’s also a reasonable schedule to give UVA a chance at winning some games. Ohio fits the intriguing and regional part of Mendenhall’s preference.

As discussed many times on the message boards and in this article, that doesn’t solve the ACC part of the schedule. For the ultimate goals and postseason hopes, the Cavaliers ultimately will have to win some league games each year too. That’s understood and they got back to bowl play last year with a 3-5 mark in the ACC. Intelligent non-con scheduling, however, leaves a greater margin of error.

The hope, of course, is that more wins leads to ABC football gains – more attendance, more bowls, and more confidence. That, in turn, hopefully leads to more wins again and the cycle repeats. That level of consistency creates better revenue streams for the program and theoretically more donations too. With more money coming into the program, that makes more structural support things possible (while also helping the entire athletics department) and that leads to more wins again and the cycle repeats. Recruits get more interested, fans stay more happy, and so on.

In other words, scheduling for success is an intentional plan. If it’s good enough for the Alabama and Georgia programs of the FBS world, then it’s good enough for Virginia too.

The “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series has discussed much more. The previous articles are below. Click away.

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