Virginia hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2011 and with a 2015 schedule featuring UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State before ACC play even begins, getting to six victories this year isn’t going to be easy.
But the Cavaliers have pumped out a steady stream of NFL talent since Mike London took over. So how did a program that was a game away from the ACC Championship game in London’s second season fall so hard?
The quarterback situation was botched repeatedly. In the past four years four different quarterbacks have thrown at least 200 passes in a season. They all transferred out of Virginia.
Let’s go back to 2011, when UVa had won just one ACC game a year earlier. London chose sophomore Michael Rocco as his quarterback, and despite some early struggles, Rocco settled into the role nicely.
He completed better than 60 percent of his passes for 2,671 yards and led the Cavs to an 8-5 record and an appearance in the Chik-fil-A Bowl. But tabbing Rocco as the starter in 2011 may turn out to be last solid decision London made at the position.
London might have been content with an incumbent quarterback returning, but he added Alabama transfer Phillip Sims, who was once the No. 1 QB recruit in the country.
Trying to keep both happy, Rocco and Sims spilt time in all 12 games in 2012, but neither ever got in sync with the rest of the offense and Virginia went 4-8.
Rocco decided to transfer saying Virginia was “an unhealthy environment for any quarterback.” He wound up at Richmond and his departure was soon followed by academic troubles for Sims, who left for Winston-Salem State.
That paved the way for David Watford in 2013, but threw 15 interceptions to just eight touchdowns as the Cavaliers lost their final nine games.
Watford fell to third string behind Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns in 2014 and decided to transfer to Hampton. But that was far from the only turmoil coming out of last season, which in many ways seemed like a replay of 2012.
London and his staff couldn’t settle on a quarterback with Lambert and Johns splitting time and finishing 5-7.
Johns came out of spring No. 1 on the depth chart, but comments from London and offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild made it appear the coaches were not on the same page as to how close a race it really was.
So Lambert declared his intention to transfer and was quickly snapped up by Georgia.
That leaves Virginia with Matt Johns, a former three-star recruit who completed 55 percent of his passes last year, as the only QB on the roster with any significant experience.
Some of it has been bad luck, but for the most part London dug a hole he might never climb out of. Since London took over for Al Groh before the 2010 season, Virginia’s recruiting has improved greatly, routinely signing classes ranked in the Top 30. He’s landed the kind of players in-state that used to locks to go play for Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech.
But it hasn’t translated into victories. No matter how much talent the Cavaliers have had in the defensive backfield or offensive line, there’s continually been problems with the most important position on the field. Perhaps this is the year to end the cycle. Maybe London and Co. will give Johns a long enough leash to play through mistakes and eventually get comfortable leading an ACC team.
Maybe. But history doesn’t suggest it’s likely.