August 20, 2002
The Big Picture
Virginia was one of the most consistent teams in the country for nearly 15 years, winning at least seven games every season from 1987-1999. At the time the streak ended, when the Cavaliers went 6-6 in 2000, only three other teams in Division I-A had accomplished the same feat over the same period. The program suffered its first losing season since 1986 when it dropped to 5-7 in Al Groh's debut. This year, Virginia was a preseason choice for eighth place by the ACC media. If that's where the Cavs end up, it will be their lowest finish since 1970. Despite the promising newcomers, UVa remains far from being an ACC contender.
Groh recruited a class that was ranked among the top 10 in the country by many analysts, and as many as a dozen true freshmen could play this fall. Some, including Parade All-American defensive lineman Kwakou Robinson, could start in the first game. The class lost some of its luster when four signees failed to meet eligibility requirements. Virginia's top recruit, All-American linebacker Ahmad Brooks, enrolled at Hargrave Military Academy (his original choice was Fork Union) with hopes of making his test score in the fall and enrolling at UVa for the spring semester. Another linebacker and top prospect, Kai Parham, has a back injury that may force him to redshirt.
Done For Me Lately
|1993||5-3 (3)||7-5||Carquest Bowl (L)|
|1994||5-3 (3)||9-3||Independence (W)|
|1995||7-1 (1)||9-4||Peach Bowl (W)|
|1996||5-3 (4)||7-5||Carquest Bowl (L)|
|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)|
ACC: 50-30 (.625); No. 2 in ACC
All: 73-46 (.613); No. 3 in ACC
Fortunately for Virginia, it was not essential that Brooks and Parham play right away. The Cavaliers boast one of the underrated players in the country in linebacker Angelo Crowell, who set a school record last year with 144 tackles while missing fewer than 10 defensive snaps all season. He will be joined on the inside by Merrill Robertson, scheduled to be Crowell's partner last year before suffering a dislocated ankle in the first game. The back seven defensively is solid, with mirror images in senior safeties Jerton Evans, Chris Williams and Shernard Newby. Billy McMullen, coming off an 83-catch season, is a potential All-American at wide receiver. The team's best underclassman might be 6-6, 294-pound Kevin Bailey, a starting tackle before becoming the full-time center for the last month of the 2001 season.
Coming On Strong
Groh responded to a 24-0 loss at N.C. State by benching two senior starters on his offensive line, moving Bailey to center and installing true freshman Elton Brown (6-6, 324) and then-junior Mike Mullins (6-8, 292) at guard and tackle, respectively. Now, Mullins is the only senior on the line, and Brown looks like a four-year fixture. Two of Brown's contemporaries in the Cavaliers' 2001 recruiting class, Patrick Estes and Heath Miller, will share time at tight end and hope to replace UVa's highest-drafted player, fourth-round Jacksonville pick Chris Luzar.
Cause For Concern?
Virginia had only 70 scholarship players before Groh gave grants to six walk-ons at the end of preseason practice. Clearly, the Cavs can't afford many injuries, such as the broken leg that felled sophomore defensive end Chris Canty in the spring. Canty has been in uniform but has been ruled out of the opening game. It will not be a deep team, and it will not be an experienced team, with close to 30 freshmen or redshirt freshmen representing almost half of the scholarship roster. The kicking game is totally untested.
The Whole Truth
"(The freshmen) better have a big impact, or we'll be noncompetitive. Three months ago, they were getting ready for their senior prom."
Virginia coach Al Groh
CHART BY: THE UVA INSIDER