In 2011, Virginia made its first bowl since 2007 under second-year coach Mike London’s guidance – even having a shot at the Coastal Division crown at home against the rival Virginia Tech Hokies (ended in a 38-0 loss though).
Last year? They fell right back to the bottom, going 4-8, for a third season in the last four with two or less ACC wins.
Two-year starting quarterback Michael Rocco transferred to Richmond in the offseason, and so did junior tailback Clifton Richardson this week, who averaged 4.4 yards per carry over the last two seasons.
Also in the mix, London changed both coordinators – Jon Tenuta from N.C. State on defense, and former Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien and San Diego Chargers assistant Steve Fairchild on offense.
If a turnaround is to come in 2013, London will do it with the third-least returning starters and lettermen in the ACC.
“When you look at it, we've always been a young team,” London said recently on an ACC teleconference. “When you come in, you're changing over rosters because you're changing over schemes and things like that.
“You have an opportunity to assess players as they get bigger, stronger, have those experiences on the field, in the classroom, in the community. I think if you still look at our team, they're young guys that have played in college football games.
“To me, this next three months, four months before we play a game, is a critical development in some of the guys.”
More on the Cavaliers…
2012 Record:4-8 (2-6 in the Coastal Division, 6th)
Plays Clemson: at Virginia, Nov. 2.
Returning Starters by Position (15)
Outgoing Starters: 9
Offensive Leader: RB Kevin Parks – Parks rushed for 700-plus yards both seasons an underclassman, accounting for 15 scores.
Defensive Leader: CB Demetrious Nicholson – As a sophomore, Nicholson knocked down 15 passes, ranking fifth in the ACC, with 56 tackles (25 passes defended in two seasons).
Key Issues This Spring: 1) QB competition – Don’t expect to know Virginia’s QB for a little while. That’s how London did it last season – naming Rocco No. 1 out of a three-way battle into fall camp, and the plan is the same this time around with a new trio. Off a redshirt, highly-regarded Hampton Roads prospect David Watford will compete with redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert and former Alabama transfer Phillip Sims. Sims is Virginia’s leading passer back (1,263 yards/9 TD-4 INT), but was outclassed in the Cavaliers’ spring game – Lambert throwing for 248 yards and two touchdowns. London, again, says the offseason is key for each of them. “No coaches will be watching them, standing on top of them making them watch film, getting seven on sevens organized,” London said. “It's going to be critical for our team that those guys, particularly the quarterback position, emerge themselves coming out of the summer. But then as we get into early August, we're going to make the decisions of who that one and two is going to be.”
2) Running back production – Richardson’s transfer hurts a spot where the Cavaliers are also losing another stalwart back in Perry Jones (2,033 career rushing yards). But with them both last season, Virginia still dropped 48 spots season-to-season in rushing yards per game to 96th nationally (a reason behind the change at offensive coordinator). Along with Parks, Khalek Shepherd, a talented kick returner, and five-star all-purpose back Taquan Mizzell are expected to share the load.
3) Rebuilding a productive LB corps – The Wahoo defense is losing almost 40 percent of its ’12 tackles (11th out of the new 14-team ACC), and the top-two stoppers from last season are in the linebacker corps, MLB Steve Greer (122) and WLB LaRoy Reynolds (90). Projected starters Henry Coley (MLB), Daquan Romero (OLB) and Demeitre Brim (OLB) combined for 92 tackles and 8.5 for loss last season.