THE GATOR BOWL
Virginia (9-3) vs. Texas Tech (8-4), Jan. 1, 1 p.m., CBS
By Doug Doughty
Roanoke (Va.) Times
December 18, 2007
CHARLOTTESVILLE A regular season that began with calls for Al Groh's dismissal ended with Groh traveling to Jacksonville, Fla., to receive the ACC coach of the year award.
Groh will return to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl, where Virginia will face an explosive Texas Tech team that is favored by almost a touchdown, but what else is new?
Virginia has been beating the odds all season.
Surprise 23-3 losers at Wyoming in their opener, the Cavaliers had not touched down in Charlottesville before one of UVa's most famous landmarks, Beta Bridge, had been painted over with the four-foot-high, 50-foot-long message "Groh Must Go!" On one of the borders, there was an additional message "$1.7 Million," in reference to Groh's compensation.
Actually, cost-of-living increases already had boosted Groh's package to approximately $1.87 million, and he'll approach $2 million next year, following an announcement that UVa would exercise a rollover clause in his contract, which now has been extended through 2011.
There was considerable talk this spring and summer about what it would take for Groh to return for an eighth season in 2008. In the event of another 5-7 record, it was thought he would be in trouble. At 6-6, he probably would have been safe, depending on the damage inflicted by Virginia Tech in the season finale at Scott Stadium.
No one was speculating on the impact of 9-3.
Even now, nobody would dare compare this Virginia outfit to the elite teams in school history, but it was only the third UVa squad ever to win nine games in the regular season. A victory over Texas Tech would allow these Cavs to join the 1989 ACC co-champions as the only UVa teams to win 10 games.
This team was not blown out one time, except maybe at Wyoming, but that game was 13-3 well into the fourth quarter. Much has been made of Virginia's narrow victories a Division I-record five wins by one or two points but, even in defeat, UVa's games were not decided early.
Virginia had the lead in the fourth quarter before losing to N.C. State 29-24, and the Cavaliers trailed Virginia Tech 23-21 after three quarters. A win there would have given UVa the Coastal Division title and a spot in the ACC championship game.
Groh was a landslide choice for ACC coach of the year, the second time in his seven seasons that he received that award. The news was embargoed for Nov. 27 at 3 p.m., but Groh was given special dispensation to discuss the selection and his new contract at a 12:15 p.m. press conference. In a wink-and-nod arrangement, reporters agreed not to put the news on their websites.
"When a team is fortunate enough to win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, they get a trophy symbolic of that achievement," Groh said. "We're not going to get that trophy this year, but when a coach is cited in this way, it's always when his team had an outstanding season. So this is our team trophy this year."
Groh frequently speaks in a manner that opens him up to criticism from fan and foe, but in person the message isn't always as twisted as it is in print. On the occasion of his coach of the year selection, he spoke of two ACC brethren Duke's Ted Roof and Georgia Tech's Chan Gailey who had been fired.
"It shows the treachery of the landscape," Groh said. "I've thought a lot more about those coaches in the last 24 hours than I have any personal security for me. Ted's a young guy starting out. Chan's a guy with pretty good credentials. (Gailey) had his team in the ACC championship game last year."
Groh is coaching at his alma mater, in a city to which his family moved during his playing days and where his son played quarterback for some excellent teams. He knows the traditions of the school, and it had to hurt when nobody painted over Beta Bridge for almost 48 hours after the "Groh Must Go" message went up. If it did hurt, he never let on.
"It's rare that a team goes through a season without some bumps that it has to deal with," Groh said. "Ours just happened to materialize a little early and cause quite a few people to fall into their Chicken Little mode."
Virginia did not undergo a tremendous amount of misfortune, but the Cavaliers did lose the ACC's rushing leader, Cedric Peerman, in the sixth game. By that point, Peerman already had posted three consecutive 100-yard rushing games. Peerman's season-ending foot injury followed the offseason loss of wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, who had caught more than 50 passes in 2006.
Virginia entered the postseason ranked 100th in Division I-A in total offense, which was nothing to brag about but represented an improvement over last season's 114th-place finish. For the second straight year, the Cavs' defense was ranked among the top 25 in the country (17th this year). It also boasted the ACC defensive player of the year in end Chris Long.
Long truly had a dream season. He began his senior year as a respected player, but he had accumulated only seven career sacks and had never made first-team All-ACC. By the end of the year, he had won the Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end, collecting more than 60 percent of the vote in a field of eight. He made every All-American team, finished 10th in the Heisman Trophy balloting, and was the only unanimous choice for first-team All-ACC.
Some eyebrows were raised when Virginia retired his jersey in ceremonies before his final home game, but seldom has a UVa football player been more decorated, at least for one season.
Virginia's defense will be tested by Texas Tech, which will see from tape that the Cavaliers' secondary is vulnerable. Just judging from Groh's 3-1 bowl record, however, UVa's staff has benefited in the past from the extra practice time that is available prior to a bowl and should be able to come up with a plan for the Red Raiders' pass-happy attack.
UVa had a schedule this year that was set up for success. The Cavaliers did not play Boston College, Clemson or Florida State, but they did play six road games. Wyoming represented their 10th loss in a span of 11 road games, but they rallied to win four of their next five road games, no small feat given their history.
Who knows what the future will bring? Certainly, Virginia lived on the edge this year and won't have a large margin for error next year, but this team always will have the satisfaction of getting the most out of what it had.
NT Allen Billyk, RG Ian-Yates Cunningham, LB Jermaine Dias, PK Chris Gould, OC Jordy Lipsey, DE Chris Long, S Nate Lyles, TE Jonathan Stupar, P Ryan Weigand
WR Chris Gorham, S Jamaal Jackson, OG Gordie Sammis, TE Tom Santi, FB Josh Zidenberg
2008 RETURNING STARTERS^
Pos. Name Ht./Wt. 2008 Class
QB Jameel Sewell 6-3/226 Jr.
RB Cedric Peerman 5-10/205 Sr.
WR Maurice Covington 6-4/218 Sr.
WR Staton Jobe 6-0/181 So.
TE John Phillips 6-6/255 Sr.
LT Eugene Monroe 6-6/310 Sr.
LG Branden Albert 6-7/310 Sr.
RT Will Barker 6-7/305 Jr.
DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald 6-3/280 Jr.
LB Antonio Appleby 6-4/248 Sr.
LB Jon Copper 6-0/230 Sr.
LB Clint Sintim 6-3/248 Sr.
S Byron Glaspy 5-11/196 Sr.
CB Chris Cook 6-2/201 Sr.
CB Vic Hall 5-9/181 *Jr.
Special Teams (0)
- has utilized redshirt season
^ - six/more 2007 regular-season starts
- has utilized redshirt season
OTHER TESTED RETURNEES
WR Dontrelle Inman, FB Rashawn Jackson, WR Cary Koch, QB Peter Lalich, RB Keith Payne, WR/KR Andrew Pearman, RB Mikell Simpson
DS Danny Aiken, LB Denzel Burrell, LB Aaron Clark, NT Nate Collins, CB Ras-I Dowling, DE Alex Field, DE Sean Gottschalk, CB Mike Parker, CB Trey Womack
Year ACC Overall Postseason
1998 6-2 (3) 9-3 Peach Bowl (L)
1999 5-3 (2) 7-5 MicronPC Bowl (L)
2000 5-3 (4) 6-6 Oahu Bowl (L)
2001 3-5 (7) 5-7 None
2002 6-2 (2) 9-5 Continental Tire (W)
2003 4-4 (4) 8-5 Continental Tire (W)
2004 5-3 (3) 8-4 MPC Bowl (L)
2005 3-5 (5C) 7-5 Music City Bowl (W)
2006 4-4 (3C) 5-7 None
2007 6-2 (2C) 9-3 Gator Bowl
ACC: 47-33 (.588)
Overall: 73-50 (.593)
Team 2007 Record^
Clemson 9-3 (5-3)
Maryland 6-6 (3-5)
Miami 5-7 (2-6)
North Carolina 4-8 (3-5)
East Carolina 7-5 (6-2)
Richmond 11-3 (7-1)
Southern California 10-2 (7-2)
Duke 1-11 (0-8)
Georgia Tech 7-5 (4-4)
Virginia Tech 11-2 (7-1)
Wake Forest 8-4 (5-3)
Connecticut 9-3 (5-2)
^ - before bowl games (conference)
Note: Finalized times/dates TBA.