99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff

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Virginia kicks off in fewer than 80 days.
Bronco Mendenhall led Virginia to a bowl game in 2017. ~ Kris Wright

The “99 Virginia Football Thoughts Before Kickoff” series took Sunday off for Father’s Day so readers get a two-for-one special to kick off the work week. For those interested in a Father’s Day article, however, here’s a David Teel article in the Daily Press about Mendenhall’s son’s mission trip.

Athlon Sports doesn’t do father rankings, however. so let’s get back to football countdowns with a discussion about the ACC’s coaches.

No. 76 – ACC Coach Rankings

As typical offseason conversation fodder, Athlon Sports rated the ACC’s football coaches for an article last Wednesday. The article says a variety of criteria determined the order of the rankings and that available resources for the programs factored in as well.

So where did Bronco Mendenhall fall in the list?

He made the top 10! Yes, barely at No. 9. Still, Athlon’s list placed Mendenhall in the ninth slot, mostly on the strength of a season that was “arguably the biggest surprise” in the ACC in 2017. The Cavaliers, of course, returned to bowl eligibility for the first time since 2011 last fall and authored a four-win improvement from 2016. Mendenhall supporters and the wait-and-see crowd will point to that improvement as a step in the right direction, while naysayers will bemoan any extra credit received from improving on a two-win debut campaign.

If you’re wondering, these rankings from the Sporting News listed Mendenhall as No. 51 among the FBS level’s 130 head coaches.

The entire ACC list from Athlon shook out like this: 1. Dabo Swinney (Clemson), 2. Mark Richt (Miami), 3. Bobby Petrino (Louisville), 4. Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech), 5. David Cutcliffe (Duke), 6. Dave Clawson (Wake Forest), 7. Willie Taggart (Florida State), 8. Paul Johnson (Georgia Tech), 9. Bronco Mendenhall (UVA), 10. Larry Fedora (UNC), 11. Dave Doeren (NC State), 12. Pat Narduzzi (Pitt), 13. Dino Babers (Syracuse), 14. Steve Addazio (Boston College).

(As an aside, some musings about the rankings follow. Swinney, Richt, Petrino, and Fuente make some sense. Three of the four have won their division in the past two years and the fourth coached a Heisman Trophy winner. It’s interesting that Cutcliffe gets some credit for consistently making Duke competitive, but Addazio doesn’t get a similar bump for consistency at BC. Doeren just led NCSU to its best season on his watch and owns a 2-1 bowl record after three straight trips to the postseason, but he didn’t crack the top 10.)

With its list, the Athlon rankings bumped a Virginia coach into the top 10 for the first time since the 2012 offseason rankings. That year, Mike London made it up to fourth on the list thanks to an eight-win season that landed a spot in the Chick-fil-A Bowl the previous December.

Here are UVA’s rankings from 2012-2018: 4. Mike London (2012), 12. Mike London (2013), 14. Mike London (2014), 13. Mike London (2015), 10. Bronco Mendenhall (2016), 12. Bronco Mendenhall (2017), 9. Bronco Mendenhall (2018).

The Cavaliers have not made back-to-back bowl appearances since 2004 and 2005. A 34-31 victory against Minnesota in the Music City Bowl in 2005 capped a stretch that saw the Hoos win three bowl games over four years under Al Groh. That’s the task that faces Mendenhall in 2018. Can he get UVA back to a bowl game in consecutive years? Can he deliver the first bowl win for the program since that comeback against the Gophers?

If he can produce another bowl season, he’ll likely get a favorable spot in next offseason’s rankings. Getting there won’t be easy. The Hoos must replace their starting quarterback in Kurt Benkert plus two all-time program greats on defense in Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding.

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

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