99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff

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Virginia football seasons kicks off in fewer than 80 days.
Bronco Mendenhall guided UVA to a bowl game in 2017. ~ Kris Wright

The “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series tackled the ‘schedule for success’ concept in Friday’s entry. The general idea there is to play beatable competition, preferably at home, in the four non-conference games to best position the program for a run at bowl eligibility within conference play. Plus, winning consistently year to year generally creates more interest and more revenue.

The topic for No. 78 on the daily countdown was sparked by an ESPN article on the easiest Power 5 non-con schedules and coach Bronco Mendenhall’s comments to the UVA Board of Visitors recently. While Friday’s entry looked at the overall concept of non-conference schedule building, this “99 Virginia Football Thoughts” article looks a little closer at one of Mendenhall’s comments.

No. 77 – Who’s The Worst?

As part of his comments to the BOV, Mendenhall said he wanted to schedule “the worst power-five team that we can play” in order to fit with the ACC mandate to play one Power 5 team per season. First, as the ‘schedule for success’ discussion suggested, that’s not a bad plan for the program in its current state given the ACC scheduling policy; UVA has posted six straight losing records from 2012-2017 despite making it back to a bowl game last season. Perhaps Mendenhall could have softened his language to say something like similarly positioned Power 5 teams, but the point is understood either way.

So who would fit on that type of Power 5 list for future schedules? I took a three-year composite record from 2015, 2016, and 2017 for Power 5 teams to figure out who the ‘worst’ among the leagues have been in recent years and who may be a good scheduling partner for the Hoos. Ideally, both teams would look at it as a winnable non-con game that has a little more drawing power than teams from outside the Power 5.

Here are the most likely avenues for scheduling from each of the leagues. I started with the ACC’s Atlantic Division in years where one of the four teams is not on the schedule as a conference game. That’s an unlikely path for scheduling. The other four Power 5 leagues follow.

Power 5 Schedule Options

ACC Atlantic2015201620173-Year Record
NC State7-67-69-423-16
Wake Forest3-97-68-518-20
Boston College3-97-67-617-21
Big Ten
South Carolina3-96-79-418-20
Big 12
Texas Tech7-65-76-718-20
Iowa State3-93-98-514-23
Pac 12
Arizona State6-75-77-618-20
Oregon State2-104-81-117-29

So drilling down within the table, the ‘worst’ potential opponents are Syracuse (ACC), Rutgers/Illinois (Big Ten), Vanderbilt (SEC), Kansas (Big 12), and Oregon State (Pac 12). Second from each? Boston College (ACC), Purdue (Big Ten), Missouri (SEC), Iowa State (Big 12), and Arizona (Pac 12). Certainly, putting any of those teams on a future schedule would not be swinging for the fences. It would be a reasonable test but winnable games from the Power 5 competition.

Purdue and Iowa State are worth monitoring because both had winning 2017 records with new coaches at the helm; Matt Campbell was in his second year at ISU, while Jeff Brohm was in his first at Purdue. Both names were bantered about among fans when UVA made its coaching search hire of Mendenhall ahead of the 2016 season.

There are other names of interest in the table.

From the Big Ten, Virginia travels to Indiana in week two this year in the second game of a home-and-home with the Hoosiers that began last year in Charlottesville. Maryland used to be a regular ACC foe and even a road game would allow the alumni heavy D.C. area to make an easy road trip (that’s also a fertile recruiting area). Mendenhall played Nebraska while at BYU.

From the SEC, Mississippi is a name UVA fans throw out as a potential fun matchup and road trip, but Ole Miss owns the post non-ACC power 5 record in the table and is one of only four teams on the list with a winning three-year record. Kentucky and Missouri could fit and South Carolina would be another blast from the ACC past files.

In the Big 12, a Texas Tech rematch from the Gator Bowl also ties in some coaching roots for coach Robert Anae, who coached there from 2000-2004. Texas certainly has brand name power and would be a throwback to a 90’s matchup. BYU played the Longhorns under Mendenhall.

In the Pac 12, Colorado has posted 11 losing records among its last 12 seasons so that three-year record is bolstered by one big run in 2016. California matches up as an academic institution and would give the heavy West Coast alumni base a game nearby. It might be wise to avoid UCLA since Chip Kelly just took over there. The aforementioned Oregon State is Mendenhall’s alma mater. The Beavers just hired fellow alum Jonathan Smith for his first season in charge.

The hard part is predicting how these teams – Virginia included – will look years from now. In fact, the future schedules are already in place in full through 2021 unless UVA plans to buy out or move a game. So there’s at least a possibility that Mendenhall, the coach who triggered the conversation, may not even be in charge of the Hoos still for the years beyond that if things don’t turn around in the next two to three seasons.

If you’re wondering, yes some of the table teams are on future schedules. Virginia is at Indiana in 2018. A home-and-home series with Illinois begins in Charlottesville in 2021 with UVA on the road in 2022. A home-and-home series with Maryland begins in College Park in 2023 with the 2024 game at Scott Stadium. Of the schedules posted from 2018-2024, only 2019 and 2020 don’t have a team from the table above on the schedule.

The Cavaliers play Notre Dame on the road in 2019 with William & Mary, ODU, and Liberty as the other non-con games. The Hoos take on Georgia in Atlanta in 2020 with VMI, Liberty, and ODU as the other non-con games.

All in all, the future schedules as currently listed through 2024 already seem to fit Mendenhall’s vision. The seasons with the Power 5 opponents to meet the ACC mandate mostly feature teams from the ‘worst’ three-year composite records above. The two seasons without a table team (ND and Georgia) include three in-state teams that fit Mendenhall’s “intriguing, regional and beatable” opponents strategy comment from this David Teel context article.

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

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