You need to know your place in college football. You have to know where you are in the pecking order. If you’re one of the Ohio State’s of the world, you’re going to get the benefit of the doubt when it’s playoff time; if you’re one of the Baylor’s, well… you know.
You need to know your goals for the season. Everyone says their goal is to win championships, but that’s not close to realistic for the vast majority of the college football programs in the country. When Alabama and Oregon say their goal is to win a championship, that’s real. When Kansas says it, everyone, including the Jayhawks, know that’s not quite right.
Knowing who you are is not the same as accepting where you are. Every program wants to do better this year, but if a program doesn’t have a good idea what it is doing it can handicap itself. National title contenders can’t play four out of conference games against FCS competition and not expect problems.
Scheduling Like A Champion
What do we make of Virginia’s schedule to start the season? No one would confuse the Cavaliers, fresh off a 5-7 season with a coach on the hot seat, with a potential playoff participant. A bowl game is the Cavaliers’ goal: winning more than you lose and moving the program forward. 7, 8, 9 wins: that’s where the Cavaliers are in growing their program.
Virginia opened the season in Los Angeles against UCLA and got to know freshman phonem Drew Rosen well. They played a respectable game, got a respectable result and were a little bit further from their goals. They came home to play Notre Dame, nearly won, but suddenly they didn’t. After a close win over William & Mary, Boise State comes to town.
That’s some schedule, and it will prove too daunting if Virginia loses to Boise. If the Hoos start their season 1-3, head coach Mike London will be squarely behind the 8 ball. He will need to finish 5-3 in the ACC, flipping last season’s 3-5 finish, to make a bowl game. That won’t be easy.
Then again, there is power in not knowing who you are and not knowing what you can’t do. Virginia shouldn’t have been in position to beat Notre Dame; that should have been a blowout. They shouldn’t have beaten Louisville last year, but they did. They shouldn’t have scheduled one of the hardest out of conference schedules, but they did.
The out of conference portion of the schedule concludes on Friday night when Boise State comes to Charlottesville. Though they are the “mid-major” team, the Broncos are clearly the more successful program of late; they have a better record and every expectation to win, but this isn’t Chris Peterson’s Boise team.
The Broncos have sported a stout defense that has played well in the young season. They should be able to hold Virginia’s running game in check most of the night. How they match up with the passing attack will be key for the game.
The strength of Virginia’s offense is quarterback Matt Johns. His performance Friday, and the rest of the season, will dictate the Cavaliers’ trajectory. The more he protects the ball and gets it to playmakers like Canaan Severin the higher the ceiling for this team will be. Boise presents a challenge, but it is not a greater challenge than those from Notre Dame or UCLA. If Johns has learned from those early games, success through the air is likely.
The Virginia offense shouldn’t have to do too much. The Boise offense has been down right bad at times. Despite returning 9 starters from last season’s team, the offense has a habit of disappearing under first year offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz. And while it would be easy to point the finger at the new guy, there are other under-performers on the field as well. Adding to the difficulties is the loss of quarterback Ryan Finley to injury last week.
Opposing that offense is a defense that is as much mystery as it is anything else. Jon Tenuta’s defense lives by the blitz, so perhaps it’s fitting that at times the defense looks like an upper echelon ACC unit, and at other times it seems completely lost. Afterall the very nature of a blitz is a gamble. It produces sacks and turnovers, but it yields big plays and touchdowns. The gambling philosophy is reflected in the box score and on the scoreboard. Some games it works spectacularly well, and other games it blows up, just as spectacularly.
On that single aspect the fate of the Cavalier season and the Mike London era may turn. If the defense turns in one of its strong performances and Virginia wins, the out of conference schedule looks ambitious, but managed. There would still be hope for a bowl and a step forward for the program.
If the Broncos leave victorious, it’s hard to see how the rest of the season isn’t a farewell tour for Coach London. A losing season becomes likely, and regime change would be coming. The stakes are high for a team with a gambling defense who gambled with their schedule. Friday night is the payoff.