Virginia eyes bowl in second year with Mike London

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — Kris Burd’s career at Virginia stretches back far enough for him to retain vivid memories of a month full of bowl practices and the chance for a season to end on New Year’s Day.

He hopes the rest of his teammates — few of whom enjoyed the Cavaliers’ trip to the Gator Bowl after the 2007 season — can savor something similar when this season is through.

“I told some of the young guys that you’re not really experienced in college football unless you play in the postseason,” said the wide receiver, who redshirted during Virginia’s last winning season. “Going through the season, you want to play for something at the end.”

Unlike the past couple of years, it’s a plausible outcome as the Cavaliers enter coach Mike London’s second season.

Virginia, which slogged through a 4-8 season last fall as London installed a revamped defense, finally can claim a measure of stability. The terminology, concepts and teaching methods remained the same year over year.

Then there’s London, who came into the gig with experience as both an assistant at Virginia and a resume as a head coach (two seasons at Richmond). Still, there’s little doubt he’s settled in after a full cycle of camp, a season, recruiting and spring practice, with a better sense of how to manage all the responsibilities that pop up over the course of a year.

“It’s easier from the standpoint of how you feel about playing the game and after going through the issues that guys may have academically or socially, scheme-wise, there’s so many different things as the head coach that you have to pay attention to,” London said Wednesday during the team’s media day. “Going into Year 2, understanding those things and when the timetable of those things may occur, that’s been much better.”

Whether it translates to wins remains is to be determined.

The Cavaliers possess minimal experience at quarterback, with Michael Rocco (25 career passes) Ross Metheny (17 career passes) listed as co-starters entering the start of camp Friday. They’re also down tailback Keith Payne, who accounted for 16 touchdowns a year ago.

Still, eight starters are back on both sides of the ball, and the Cavaliers also return all of their kicking specialists.

“There’s a tremendous amount of things that can be accomplished with continuity,” London said. “I think going into the second year, we’ve experienced that and we have an opportunity to capitalize on it.”

Virginia plays three nonconference games at home, faces just one lower-division team (which means six wins rather than seven will make it eligible for the postseason) and has two of its first three conference games at Scott Stadium. Though picked fifth in ACC’s Coastal Division, the Cavaliers could plausibly snap the conference’s second-longest bowl drought this fall.

That, for many Cavaliers, qualifies as the team’s standard for success in 2011. It also would double as obvious validation for London’s program-building two years removed from a 3-9 season that cost former coach Al Groh his job.

“Just to get the guys there and see that this is what winning’s all about would be awesome,” senior safety Corey Mosley said. “That’s what we’re going to try to do, just get the team there. It’s not an individual goal, just a team goal that everybody can enjoy.”

Alternately, not reaching the six-win plateau and the bowl invitation likely to accompany it would be a harsh conclusion for seniors who don’t shy away from their aim to extend their careers into at least December.

“That’s what I really want for the seniors that are in my class and the true seniors,” cornerback Chase Minnifield said. “I really want them to expect that, and if we can’t get there, it will be a devastating season [and] a disappointing season.”

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