This horrific 0-3 start to the season has successfully stripped me of any sort of enthusiasm I had for the 2009 edition of Virginia Football. The fact that Al Groh wasn't handed his walking papers this week (during the bye week) means that he's our coach until at least the end of the season... which is probably the most prudent move UVA could have made, although a solid "he's retiring at the end of the season" statement being released would have eased fan angst and made these next nine games at least potentially enjoyable. Now we're left to worry about whether or not any given win will be the win that saves Groh's job. (Seriously, imagine if we end up winning six of the last nine and going to a shitty bowl game --- can't you see the administration buying into the "whole new offense" excuse and giving ol' Groh one... more... season...?) So we're in the very weird, uncomfortable spot of needing to pull for our team to lose games. That just leaves a terrible taste in my mouth, and makes me feel depressed and a little bit dirty. Of course, in the heat of the moment logic will take a backseat to emotion, and I'll pull for the Hoos, but the best thing for the program is continued losing and Al Groh's swift exit stage left.
So I've been doing a lot of dwelling on the negatives and wallowing in misery over these last three weeks. But that has to stop. I love football too much to live like this, and I love Virginia Football too much to completely turn my back on it.
A few days ago, on the Hoo's Next message board on Cav's Corner, Jamie Oakes wrote a very simple message: "The cupboard isn't bare for UVA's next head coach." That message was exactly what I needed to snap myself out of my embarrassing loss-induced funk and get the gears of optimism turning again. Jamie is right! The cupboard most certainly IS NOT bare for UVA's next head coach! Consider...
We have a lot of underclassmen starting on this football team, and thus, we'll be returning a lot of starters for the 2010 season --- four on the o-line, all the wide receivers, Torrey Mack, Dominique Wallace, and Perry Jones at tailback, all of the tight ends, Matt Conrath, Kris Jenkins, Steve Greer, Cam Johnson, Corey Mosley, Rodney McLeod (who has been playing GREAT football so far this season), Chase Minnifield, and possibly Ras-I Dowling. We'd be naive to think there won't be some attrition with a coaching change, but this is still a lot of talent returning to the field next season. Given the right breaks, I count eight returning on offense and either five or six on defense. Not bad. And of the guys we're losing to graduation, there isn't a lot of star power. Guys like Chris Cook, Will Barker, and Nate Collins are good players, but far from irreplaceable. In a lot of spots, I think we'll see tangible upgrades with the roster turnover (quarterback!)
Take a look at the projected depth chart for 2010, assuming a switch back to a more traditional two-wide offense and a standard 4-3 defense...
QB) Marc Verica / Riko Smalls / Ross Metheny / Quintin Hunter
The QB battle will be an interesting one to watch unfold for a new coaching staff. We have two traditional pocket passers and two scramblers. All four have legit talent.
HB) Torrey Mack / Dominique Wallace / Perry Jones / Max Milien
Wallace's injury casts his future into doubt, but it's not a terribly serious injury, so a complete bounce-back should be in the works. He could be the bellcow for a power running game, with Mack and Jones providing the curveballs and change of pace.
WR) Jared Green / Javaris Brown / Tim Smith / Kris Burd / Dontrelle Inman / Staton Jobe / Matt Snyder / Kevin Royal / Bobby Smith
It's raw, but there is a lot of talent here. The end of the TCU game and the first half of the Southern Miss game proved this unit's upside. The right coaching, the right system, and the right quarterback could coax it out.
TE) Joe Torchia / Colter Phillips / Paul Freedman
All three of these guys were big-time recruits.
OL) Landon Bradley / Austin Pasztor / Jack Shields / B.J. Cabbell / Billy Cuffee / Anthony Mihota / Oday Aboushi / Matt Mihalik / Lamar Milstead / Aaron Van Kuiken / Luke Bowanko / Hunter Steward
Groh's regime did a great job of recruiting the o-line over the course of the last two seasons. There is a lot of talent left in the program, as this unit only loses the inconsistent play of RT Will Barker.
DE) Matt Conrath / Will Hill / Zane Parr / Justin Renfrow / Jake Snyder / Tory Allen-Ford
I'm not sure that there's a true edge rush terror in this group, but there is solid talent. I'm sure the new coach will move some of the 3-4 OLBs to 4-3 DEs.
DT) Kris Jenkins / Buddy Ruff / Brent Urban / John-Kevin Dolce
The numbers are a bit lean for the switch to a full-time 4-3, but Jenkins and Dolce could really excel given fewer blockers to absorb.
LB) Cam Johnson / Steve Greer / Darnell Carter / Bill Schautz / Terence Fells-Danzer / Aaron Taliaferro / Jared Detrick / Jeremiah Mathis / Tucker Windle / Connor McCartin
It's difficult to say exactly how these positions will shake out (other than Greer at MLB and Cam Johnson at OLB), but moving from a 3-4 to a 4-3 leaves this position flooded with warm bodies. The cream will rise.
S) Rodney McLeod / Corey Mosley / Ausar Walcott / Matt Leemhuis / LoVante Battle / Corey Lillard / LaRoy Reynolds
The safety position is absolutely LOADED with returning talent. So much so that McLeod might even be able to move back to cornerback.
CB) Ras-I Dowling? / Chase Minnifield / Dom Joseph / Mike Parker / Devin Wallace / Trey Womack / Javanti Sparrow
If Ras-I's play doesn't improve this season, his option of leaving early for the NFL will go the way of Kevin Ogletree's. I don't count on him returning in '10, but it is a distinct possibility. I'm bullish on Minnifield's ability at the position, and I really like the upside of Joseph and Sparrow. Solid.
K/P) Jimmy Howell / Robert Randolph / Drew Jarrett / Chris Hinkebein
Yep, they're all back.
So yes, there is talent on hand. The cupboard is not empty. And there is a great mix of talent that can allow a new coach to step in and turn this thing around quickly. I think that will attract potential candidates, and I think we could see brighter days ahead.
So that's what I'll be doing during these next nine games -- cheering on our underclassmen, watching the develop on the field, and daydreaming of the 2010 season and the excitement of a fresh start.
Is it sad to be looking ahead to September 2010 in September 2009? You bet your ass it is. But that's where I have to go to find my football happiness right now, so that's where I'll go.