But those three things are just symptoms of a greater malady. The disease which ills the Virginia Football program is something greater. My hypothesis is that the real reason we suck is:
Lack of Positive Upperclassman Impact
The best players on a college football team should be its fifth-year seniors, its seniors, and its juniors, right? Typically, yes? Well those three classes coincide directly with our 2008, 2009, and 2010 recruiting classes. This is not something I haven't already said a few times, but I thought it a worthy blog post to drill down into those three recruiting classes, and really take a hard, long look at what they are giving us here in 2012.
But before we begin, a quick mention of a college football coaching cliché that I think is buoyed pretty convincingly in fact: For a recruiting class to be deemed successful, you can divide it into thirds, as follows...
- Top Third: one-third of the class needs to become stars and/or impact starters.
- Middle Third: one-third of the class needs to develop into solid contributors to the two-deep.
- Bottom Third: only one-third of the class can be victims of attrition or never crack the rotation in any meaningful way due to injury or lack of ability.
Anything skewed away from the top toward the bottom, and you are looking at a failed recruiting class. The more skewed, the bigger the failure.
With that as the backdrop, let's take a look at the recruiting classes that now compose our crop of upperclassmen...
The 2008 Recruiting Class
Torrey Mack, RB, 4-star
He was never great when he got on the field, but you can't say he wouldn't have improved with physical development and experience. Either way, he left the program with eligibility remaining and isn't helping the effort in 2012, so he's listed in the bottom third.
Cam Johnson, DE, 3-star
Eligibility exhausted after four seasons.
Rodney McLeod, S, 3-star
Eligibility exhausted after four seasons.
Klinton "Buddy" Ruff, DT, 3-star
Left the program for a while and has since returned. Now playing out his 5th-year senior season without cracking the d-line rotation. He's not helping. Bottom third.
Ausar Walcott, DE, 3-star
Recruited as a defensive back, redshirted, moved to linebacker, kicked off the team, reinstated, moved to defensive end, and is now starting in place of an injured Billy Schautz. I'd say he's currently giving us a solid "two-deep" sort of effort, though he's surely no star or impact starter. Middle third.
Matt Mihalik, OL, 3-star
Couldn't gain traction in the battle to replace Anthony Mihota at center and is currently struggling to maintain a spot on the two-deep. I'd say he's been a bust, as he has yet to experience meaningful snaps in a game. Bottom third.
Billy Schautz, DE, 3-star
I think he's an impact starter, but he's not healthy and he's not playing. So for purposes of this snapshot look at why we are currently struggling, we will consider him a victim of injury and part of the bottom third.
Steve Greer, LB, 3-star
Some fans bang on Greer for a lack of raw footspeed, but he's been very reliable and productive, and there's no arguing that he's at least an impact starter, if not a star. Top third.
Devin Wallace, CB, 2-star
He was on a trajectory to be a starting cornerback for this year's team as a 5th-year senior. The loss of that potential experience and physical development in our secondary really hurts. Bottom third.
Javaris Brown, WR, 2-star
Victim of attrition. Bottom third.
Aaron Van Kuiken, OL, 2-star
Victim of attrition, which is too bad because I think he'd be a factor on this year's o-line, at least in the two-deep. Bottom third.
Jimmy Howell, P, 2-star
Eligibility exhausted after four seasons.
Riko Smalls, QB, 2-star
Would Smalls be our starting QB this season, as a 5th-year senior? Probably not. But it doesn't matter because he was a victim of attrition and has to be listed as part of the bottom third.
Colter Phillips, TE, 2-star
Paul Freedman starts over him and Jake McGee regularly out-shines him, but Phillips is at least contributing to the team as part of the two-deep. Middle third.
Austin Pasztor, OL, 2-star
Eligibility exhausted after four seasons.
Rod Wheeler, TE, 2-star
I only vaguely remember who this guy is. Victim of attrition. Bottom third.
Tory Allen, DE, 2-star
Who? Bottom third.
Michael Price, OL, 2-star
Might have been our starting center this season if he had been able to stay out of trouble. He couldn't, and he isn't. Bottom third.
The 2008 Verdict (with exhausted eligibility removed from the equation):
- Top Third: 1/14, 7%
- Middle Third: 2/14, 14%
- Bottom Third: 11/14, 79%
I think we all knew that the 2008 recruiting class was relatively bad, and that it wasn't helping with the 2012 campaign, but the above numbers are just downright unsettling.
The 2009 Recruiting Class
Dominique Wallace, RB, 4-star
This loss is one that really gets me down. Imagine a bruising 235-pound power back in his 4th year of development - ala Keith Payne in 2010 - providing the complement to Perry Jones. Actually, if Wallace were still on the team, it'd be Jones providing the complement. *sigh* In any case, those failed 4th down conversions probably wouldn't have been failed. Not having Wallace on the team right now is a big blow to the program, as he was the headliner of the 2009 class. Alas, attrition. Bottom third.
Oday Aboushi, OL, 4-star
At this point in his career, he is a stalwart at left tackle and one of the best players on the team. Top third.
Tim Smith, WR, 4-star
He's a starter, but hasn't been playing. I'll put him in the middle third, though reasonable arguments could be made that he deserves a spot in the top third OR the bottom third. His impact just hasn't been consistent enough, but he's a good player when he's on the field.
Quintin Hunter, WR, 4-star
How would a big (6-3, 210) receiver in his 4th year of development look on this year's team? Think it'd help? Attrition stripped Hunter away from us, and I have no doubt that he'd currently be a starter were he still here. Big loss. Bottom third.
Jake Snyder, DE, 3-star
He's a starter by default, but like with Colter Phillips, I think you'd have a hard time making a case for him to be considered a star or an impact starter. He's more like a solid member of the two-deep type of player. Middle third.
Sean Cascarano, OL, 3-star
He's starting, but hasn't been playing particularly well at guard, and has been dinged by some really costly penalties. Middle third.
LaRoy Reynolds, LB, 3-star
He's not the big-time playmaker I hoped he'd become, but he's still a really good linebacker. Top third, no doubt.
Paul Freedman, TE, 3-star
Just like Snyder and Cascarano, he's a low-impact starter. Middle third.
Corey Lillard, S, 3-star
He'd either be a senior or a redshirt junior playing in a 2012 secondary marred by youth. Another victim of attrition who could have made a big potential difference to this year's team. Bottom third.
Luke Bowanko, OL, 3-star
The fact that he was an effective starter last year and is manning the extremely difficult center position this year makes me grant him top third consideration, though his current play warrants only middle third mention.
Will Hill, DT, 3-star
This one's tricky, though I'd ultimately say he's giving us an impact starter presence, so... top third. But just barely.
Ross Metheny, QB, 3-star
Lost the job to Rocco and transferred away. I can't say that he'd be starting right now, so really no great loss. Still, bottom third.
Tucker Windle, LB, 3-star
He's listed on the two-deep but I don't know about the solid contribution. At best, he's "just a guy." Middle third by just a hair, but he's really giving us close to nothing.
Bobby Smith, WR, 3-star
Hasn't been able to stay healthy or crack the rotation, despite our crippling need for a big, sure-handed possession receiver. Bottom third.
Justin Renfrow, DT, 3-star
I'd say he's definitely making a solid contribution on the two-deep. Middle third.
Brent Urban, DT, 2-star
He's just like Snyder, Cascarano, and Freedman. Starting, but making a limited impact. Middle third.
Kevin Royal, WR, 2-star
Victim of attrition, though another big (6-4) receiver we could sorely use right about now, had he developed into a player. Bottom third.
Javanti Sparrow, CB, 2-star
No doubt, he'd be a starting cornerback on this year's team if he hadn't flunked out of school. This was a really big loss, despite his low, 2-star rating. Every UVA fan was excited about his potential before his bad grades got the best of him. Bottom third.
LoVante' Battle, FB, 2-star
As a senior, he moved from safety to fullback in search of more playing time. I honestly haven't seen him on the field this season, other than maybe on special teams and a few token snaps from scrimmage. Bottom third.
Jeremiah Mathis, TE, 2-star
He plays, especially around the goal line. He's not a big-time contributor, but he does at least pitch in. Middle third.
Hunter Steward, OL, 2-star
Yet another victim of attrition. Bottom third.
Connor McCartin, LB, 2-star
Attrition. Bottom third.
Cody Wallace, OL, 2-star
He's solidly on the two-deep and contributing to the effort. Middle third.
Perry Jones, RB, 2-star
Uhhh... yeah. Top third.
The 2009 Verdict:
- Top Third: 4/24, 17%
- Middle Third: 10/24, 42%
- Bottom Third: 10/24, 42%
The 2009 class is giving us a nice middle third, but basically stole from the top third in order to pump up the bottom third. Not a recipe for success. And when coupled with the terrible 2008 class' impact on the 2012 season, the picture of why exactly it is we suck starts to come into focus...
The 2010 Recruiting Class
Morgan Moses, OL, 4-star
You might not like him at tackle, but there's no debating the fact that he's one of our better players and has at least lived up to his billing. Top third.
Kevin Parks, RB, 3-star
KP, to me, is the very definition of a "solid contributor to the two-deep." He might even be an impact starter or a star if the blocking were better. But alas, the best I can give him here is middle third status.
Michael Strauss, QB, 3-star
Couldn't beat anyone out at the QB position, and transferred out. Probably not a big loss, but still... Bottom third.
Henry Coley, LB, 3-star
He's in that Snyder/Cascarano/Freedman/Urban group of low-impact starters. I like the guy, but he's just not making any game-changing plays. Middle third.
Conner Davis, OL, 3-star
I like that he's taken over the left guard job and is starting to kind of separate from the pack. Still, he's no better than a middle third player, given the struggles of the interior o-line in 2012.
Miles Gooch, WR, 3-star
In the spring, it really seemed like the staff was trying to fast-track him into the possession receiver role, but I guess it hasn't worked out, as we haven't seen him on the field this fall. Bottom third.
Zachary Swanson, FB, 3-star
I think he can be a nice little weapon as a move-type H-back. But he's not making a huge impact right now, despite his starting job. Middle third.
Pablo Alvarez, S, 3-star
Injuries upon injuries upon injuries. We could really use another warm body in the equation at safety, but Alvarez is apparently too fragile for college football. Bottom third.
Chris Brathwaite, DT, 3-star
Solidly on the two-deep, and showing some flashes of greatness. Middle third, with some hope for further development into an impact-type player.
Rijo Walker, S, 3-star
He's a two-deep guy, but the fact that he couldn't stave off freshmen at either cornerback or safety is a bit of an indictment of his abilities. Middle third.
Khalek Shepherd, RB, 3-star
I like his potential as a scatback and return specialist, but given his current role(s) and impact, he's just a middle third type of player.
E.J. Scott, WR, 3-star
He's coming on strong, but still not technically a starter (though he should be.) Middle third.
Cody Wallace, OL, 3-star
Two-deep, but maybe in over his head a little bit at this point. Still, middle third.
Ryan Cobb, FB, 2-star
Would probably be our starting fullback right now. If Cobb had stuck around, Swanson would not have needed to move from tight end. So Cobb's departure essentially weakened two positions. Grrrrrrrrr. Bottom third.
Mike Rocco, QB, 2-star
*Ahem* He's solidly on the two-deep. Middle third.
Jake McGee, TE, 2-star
I'm going to be generous here and grant him top third status, as he's one of our precious few offensive playmakers.
Stephen Lawe, DE, 2-star
You never even hear about this guy. Bottom third.
The 2010 Verdict:
- Top Third: 2/17, 12%
- Middle Third: 10/17, 59%
- Bottom Third: 5/17, 29%
The 2010 class is very heavy in the middle, with an acceptable amount of bottom third members, but a small amount of top third members. This looks like it could be a solid class overall, especially if a few of the middle third guys ascend to top third status -- Parks, Coley, Brathwaite, and Scott seem the most likely candidates. If all four of those players climb to that level, then this class will be delivering the goods. But it's not there yet, not in 2012, which is what we are looking at in this snapshot.
So there you have it. This is why we suck. Too much attrition, too few stars and impact starters, and too many middling-level starters among the upperclassmen on the 2012 team. The 2008 class was bad to begin with, and lost almost all of its quality to attrition and expired eligibility. The 2009 class is too skewed away from the top and toward the bottom, and the 2010 class isn't delivering enough playmakers --- yet. This is why we suck in 2012.