2) Smoke Mizzell has a good season, but not as good as last season, statistically speaking. Topping 1444 total yards (723 rushing, 721 receiving) is a lofty goal. I'm guessing it's somewhere closer to 1200 this season, with Albert Reid (375 / 47), Olamide Zaccheaus (275 / 216), Daniel Hamm (254 / 174), and Jordan Ellis (84 / 0) each improving on their yardage totals.
3) Speaking of Jordan Ellis, he's my pick for biggest leap forward among the running backs. He's my pick for short yardage / goal line specialist. If we end up needing or wanting a true hammer, Jellis is going to be the guy.
4) But yeah, those five (four and a half?) backs are all going to play a lot. Fresh legs, baby.
5) We'll leave the 2016 season feeling better about our receiving weapons than we have at any point in the last decade. Yeahbuddy. I am BULLISH on these guys. Dowling, Oz, Eldridge, Levrone, Craft, and the truefrosh trio of Reed, Dubois, and Blackman... man... man oh man... All eight (plus Cowley and the tight ends / h-backs) offer intriguing upside as pass catchers, and all return for the 2017 season after dipping wicks in 2016. Let's not think about the o-line right now, and instead focus on what 2017 might look like, with these guys spreading the field for an established QB (Benkert) to enjoy. I do, by the way, fully subscribe to the Colin Cowherdism that QB + weapons = wins, and that formula could be in place for this season.
6) Dowling paces the receiving corps with over 750 yards and 6 TDs. He's ready to be our #1.
7) But David Eldridge is the breakout star. He'll match Doni's stat line, tit for tat, and he'll do it with much bigger, more explosive, and more glamorous plays down the field.
8) Denying all odds, our o-line holds up. Simple, dumb probability suggests that we'll have to deal with a couple of injuries along the way, but I have faith that Tujague can hold together a thin unit and pull it through the season.
9) Unfortunately, turnovers plague the offense in 2016. We'll produce yardage and big plays, and we'll often score enough points to win games, but losing the turnover battle will happen more often than not.
10) Donte Wilkins is our defensive MVP. Quin Blanding and Micah Kiser say 'what's up?' But truly, MOST VALUABLE PLAYER should really be MOST INDISPENSABLE PLAYER, meaning the player you can least afford to lose. With Wilkins, our defense is pretty good. Without him, disaster of biblical proportions.
11) Andrew Brown continues his invisibility act. Just a hunch here, sorry guys. I'm looking for Jack Powers to take the starting role by midseason, in an attempt to improve the run-stopping ability of the front three. Just a hunch!
12) Micah Kiser is first team All-ACC, but the linebacker everyone ends up talking about is Malcolm Cook. Like any good chess player, Bronco Mendenhall excels at doing damage with his rook. In Cook, Bronco has his do-everything playmaking OLB/SS hybrid.
13) Our pass rush, or lack thereof, is the weakness of the defense. Bronco has ways to scheme it up, and that will work to some extent... but when we lose, it'll be because of our inability to pressure the opposing QB.
14) Our safeties are exploited in coverage. As good as Blanding and Rainey are - and they are VERY good - attacking the middle of the field via intermediate and deep throws is going to be the book on how to beat the Virginia defense in 2016.
15) Meanwhile, a star is born in Juan Thornhill at corner. Major good vibes surrounding that kid right now.
16) We struggle with the kicking operation. None of Dylan Sims, Nash Griffin, or Alex Furbank emerge as reliable placekicking options, and Bronco (and special teams coordinator Kelly Poppinga) rotate through the three of them, trying to find the answer.
17) The rest of the special teams, however, are light years better than what we saw under Mike London. Nicholas Conte is a great punter, the coverage units will be above-average to quite good, and even the return game shows some spark. Hoofans will begin to see the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel of special teams suckitude,
18) Here's how the season plays out...
- Virginia 30, Richmond 13
- Oregon 42, Virginia 20
- Virginia 19, UConn 17
- Virginia 27, Central Michigan 14
- Virginia 30, Duke 20
- Pittsburgh 26, Virginia 17
- North Carolina 33, Virginia 10
- Virginia 38, Louisville 31
- Virginia 44, Wake Forest 14
- Miami 28, Virginia 14
- Virginia 38, Georgia Tech 20
- Virginia Tech 25, Virginia 22
Holy shit, I just predicted a 7-5 season.
Yep, must be mid August.