2019 Virginia Cavaliers Football Predictions and Odds to Win National Championship
Bronco Mendenhall took over a mess of a program when he left BYU for Virginia after Mike London has driven the Cavalier program into the ground. London took the job in 2010, made his only bowl appearance in 2011, and then won a total of just 15 games in the next four seasons. It was ugly. Mendenhall was helpless in his first year facing too many challenges to overcome, and he went 2-10 in 2016. It was the school's ninth losing season in 11 years. But Mendenhall went 6-6 the next year before losing the Military Bowl, and then went 8-5 and last year with a win in the Belk Bowl. This is the first stretch of consecutive bowl appearances for the program since 2004 and 2005. Mendenhall ran a BYU program that was the mark of consistency - 11 straight bowl appearances - and that program has struggled without him. He wants to establish the same tradition here, and he's in good shape to stretch the bowl streak to three.
2018 in a Nutshell
The team started last year off by beating up on Richmond - the team that Mike London won a national title with before coming to Virginia. Then they had a loss at Indiana that was both regrettable and somewhat incomprehensible. They bounced back to beat Ohio in Nashville and Louisville at home. A loss at NC State wasn't particularly inspiring, but then they won three straight - Miami, at Duke, and North Carolina. They lost to Pitt and then beat Liberty. That led into the most frustrating section of the schedule. They lost at both Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, but both games were in overtime, and in both cases they failed to score in the extra period and lost by a field goal. They took their frustrations over the missed opportunities out on South Carolina, winning the Belk Bowl 28-0 in an impressively dominant performance.
Key Additions and Departures
Virginia has to deal with the loss of their two most productive offensive players. Running back Jordan Ellis ran for 1,026 yards and 10 scores, and receiver Olamide Zaccheaus had 1,058 yards - more than the next two receivers combined - and nine touchdowns. Both players graduated. Bryce Perkins is back at QB, though, and he rushed for 923 yards while throwing for 2,680 - he was third in the ACC is total offense. But they have questions at running back and receiver and have lost two key linemen. This offense is a work in progress. The good news is that this is not an offense-driven league - they ranked 10th in the conference in yards, scoring, passing and rushing.
The defensive side of the ball saw the only two players drafted from the team - safety Juan Thornhill in the second round, and corner Tim Harris in the sixth. Despite those losses, the team is still in very good shape in both the secondary and at linebacker. Corner Bryce Hall was widely expected to declare for the draft, but he returned for his senior year, which is a big boost. The defensive line isn't strong, but that was the case last year, too. This is a solid defense driven from the back end.
The recruiting class ranks 39th nationally and seventh in the ACC, which is a big jump from 55th and 11th, respectively, the prior year. By far the prize of the class is DT Jowon Briggs. He was the consensus 75 th-ranked player, and the next highest-ranked guy in the class was at 515th. Given his position, though, it could take him a while to see the field.
Biggest Area of Concern
Last year, the offense was effective in part because they had a strong running back to go alongside Perkins. It's tough to defend a multi-faceted run attack like that. It is not clear at this point who will step up and be the guy to be the primary back this year. If they can't establish the run, then the offense - already only ranked 68th nationally last year in scoring - could struggle.
Virginia Cavaliers Schedule Analysis
They open with a manageable conference road game at Pitt that will tell us a fair bit about this team. Then they have a breather against William & Mary before hosting a Florida State team that should be better but probably not good. Then they host Dominion. They really need to be 4-0 through that stretch if they are serious about shining this year. Then comes a tough trip to Notre Dame, followed by a somewhat less tough trip to Miami. A split in those games would really help. From there out they have manageable games that they need to win far more of than they lose - Duke, at Louisville, at North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Liberty, Virginia Tech. Any time you play an ACC schedule that doesn't include Clemson, you are in good shape, and the slate of nonconference games is far from brutal. This is a favorable schedule.
2019-20 Virginia Cavaliers Betting Odds and Trends
BetOnline has 27 teams listed with odds to win the national title, and Virginia is not among them - a combination of not having a viable chance, and not being popular enough among public bettors to draw dumb money anyway. Bovada has them as the sixth choice to win the ACC at +2500. With Clemson at -375, though, oddsmakers don't see this as an open race in any way.
2019-20 Virginia Cavaliers Predictions and College Football Picks
I like the direction that Mendenhall is going in, and I like this schedule a lot. They have some questions to answer for sure, but the defense is in good shape, and they should be ready for action. Perkins is a special player, and that really helps. I like the chances for Mendenhall and company to improve a little on last year's eight-win high water mark. Nine feels like a good number to me. They aren't likely to beat Notre Dame and perhaps Miami, but the rest of the games are in play.
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