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.
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
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