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College Football Countdown: No. 43 Virginia

College FootballCollege SportsVirginia CavaliersFootballAtlantic Coast ConferenceGeorgia Tech Yellow Jackets

The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Today at No. 43: Virginia

Coach: Mike London (12-13, entering third season at Miami, 36-18 overall)

2011 record: 8-5 (5-3 in Atlantic Coast Conference, third in ACC)

Look back: Last season, Virginia enjoyed its best record and first bowl game appearance in five years with a campaign that got second-year coach Mike London named the ACC’s Coach of the Year. While the season didn’t end in fanfare — the Cavaliers fell to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl — Virginia still boasted its share of successes. Among its signature wins were narrow victories at Miami and Florida State, and at home against Georgia Tech. The Seminoles and Yellow Jackets were nationally ranked at the time of those wins.

Offensive starters lost/returning: 4/7

Defensive starters lost/returning: 7/4

Key losses: WR Kris Burd, G Austin Pasztor, C Anthony Mihota, FB Max Milien, DT Mark Conrath, DT Nick Jenkins, DE Cam Johnson, CB Chase Minnifield, P Jimmy Howell

Top returnees: QB Michael Rocco, RB Perry Jones, WR Tim Smith, OT Oday Aboushi, LB Steve Greer, CB Demetrious Nicholson

Strengths: After the rebuilding job he has done so far in his tenure, London appears to be one of the biggest strengths the Cavaliers have. If they can continue to follow his leadership and guidance and match his now well-documented late-game intensity, 2012 could go even better than 2011. In addition to having a sound leader as their guide, the Cavaliers have a schedule that bodes quite favorably for a run at an ACC Championship, or a repeat appearance in a Chick-fil-A or Russell Athletic type of bowl. That is, if they don’t end up in a BCS bowl, they could end up back in one of the ACC bowl tie-ins that are perceived as next level bowls; postseason games just on the outside of the BCS in terms of prestige and national attention. With the experience Virginia brings back on offense, an eight- or nine-win regular season isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Weaknesses: Defense will and should be an area of concern for the Cavaliers. After the departures of Matt Conrath, Cam Johnson, Chase Minnifield and four other key starters from last season’s team, Virginia will be working to find suitable replacements for them. If the Cavaliers can get similar play up front and in the defensive secondary this season, they should enjoy another successful season.

Outlook: Virginia has one of the best schedules in the ACC, with home games against Richmond and Penn State to start off the year. Yes, the Nittany Lions are always a tough team to play, but given the recent developments in the sex abuse scandal at the university, and the role administrators may have played at covering up former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s actions, the athletics program could be under quite the spotlight when September rolls around. A 2-0 start with tough road trips at Georgia Tech and TCU looming, will let the Cavaliers know early on just how good they are. If they get out of the first four games with a 3-1 or 4-0 record, look out ACC. This could be another year Virginia legitimately challenges for a conference title game spot.

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Richmond

Sept. 8 Penn State

Sept. 15 at Georgia Tech

Sept. 24 at TCU

Sept. 29 Louisiana Tech

Oct. 6 at Duke

Oct. 13 Wake Forest

Oct. 20 Maryland

Nov. 3 at North Carolina State

Nov. 10 Miami

Nov. 15 North Carolina

Nov. 24 at Virginia Tech

Rest of the countdown:
No. 45 Miami
No. 46 Southern Miss
No. 47 USF 
No. 48 North Carolina
No. 49 Illinois
No. 50 Tulsa
No. 51 California
No. 52 UCF
No. 53 Pittsburgh
No. 54 Arizona
No. 55 BYU 
No. 56 Ohio

No. 57 Temple

No. 58 Purdue

No. 59 Arkansas State

No. 60 Vanderbilt

No. 61 Connecticut

No. 62 Arizona State

No. 63 Wyoming

No. 64 Northern Illinois

No. 65 Utah State

No. 66 Louisiana-Lafayette

No. 67 Marshall

No. 68 Western Michigan

No. 69 Louisiana Tech

No. 70 Kentucky

No. 71 Air Force

No. 72 Western Kentucky

No. 73 UCLA

No. 74 Toledo

No. 75 FIU

No. 76 San Jose State

No. 77 North Texas

No. 78 Iowa State

No. 79 Nevada

No. 80 Eastern Michigan

No. 81 Hawai’i

No. 82 East Carolina

No. 83 Texas Tech

No. 84 Washington State

No. 85 San Diego State

No. 86 Ball State

No. 87 Navy

No. 88 Tennessee

No. 89 Kent State

No. 90 Louisiana-Monroe

No. 91 Bowling Green

No. 92 Syracuse

No. 93 Minnesota

No. 94 Boston College

No. 95 Kansas

No. 96 Oregon State

No. 97 Rice

No. 98 Ole Miss

No. 99 Colorado

No. 100 New Mexico State

No. 101 Duke

No. 102 Idaho

No. 103 Army

No. 104 Maryland

No. 105 Colorado State

No. 106 Miami (Ohio)

No. 107 UTEP

No. 108 Troy

No. 109 Fresno State

No. 110 Central Michigan

No. 111 Indiana

No. 112 Memphis

No. 113 Middle Tennessee

No. 114 UAB

No. 115 Buffalo

No. 116 Tulane

No. 117: FAU

No. 118: UNLV

No. 119: Akron

No. 120: New Mexico

Follow me on Twitter: osmattmurschel

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