Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall
2018 Record: 8-5, 4-4 Conference
Bowl: 28-0 Win over South Carolina at Belk Bowl
Over/under 7.5 wins (O -145; U +115)
To Make 4 Team Playoff: +10000
The Virginia Cavaliers are coming off its best season since 2011, and it made its first back-to-back Bowl appearance since 2004-05. The Cavaliers defense should be stacked this season, and it led the ACC last season in holding opponents to just 20.1 points per game. The offense loses some key pieces, but QB Bryce Perkins returns to guide a still talented offensive unit this year. Mendenhall is continuing the success he had at BYU where he guided the program to 11-straight Bowl appearances, and he is hoping to win the ACC Coastal Division this year.
Virginia was in the title running last year until its loss to Virginia Tech, which was its 15th straight loss to its rival. A costly fumble saw the Hokies go on to win by three in OT, and Virginia is aiming to defeat Tech finally this year while hoping to better its eight wins from last season.
UVA loses both Jordan Ellis and Olamide Zaccheus, and replacing a 1000+ yard rusher and an All-ACC receiver is no small task. The good news is Perkins returns, and he ranked No. 3 in the ACC in total offense last year, as UVA averaged 277.2 yards per game. Perkins was responsible for 34 TDs, 25 of which he threw and the other nine rushed for. He is coming off a finger injury, but that does not figure to be much of a factor. UVA will try to put enough talent around him to repeat what it did last season, and senior Joe Reed should be part of that as a quick pass-catcher who is also a good kick returner.
Hasise Dubois enters his senior season and was solid last year. Terrell Jana, Tavares Kelly, and Billy Kemp all should be seeing larger roles in the offense this year. In the backfield, the Cavaliers are going to roll with junior PK Kier and hope he can do some of what Ellis did the past two seasons. Sophomore Wayne Taulapapa is the No. 2 back and will make his push to be the primary ball carrier.
The offensive line has to be figured out still. Marcus Applefield and Jake Fieler are both departed, and junior guard RJ Proctor left the program. The Cavaliers are going to rely on some young talent in Dillon Reinkensmeyer, Chris Glaser, and Ryan Nelson. All have a little bit of experience but are going to be counted on quite heavily in 2019.
Virginia is loaded at linebacker and strong in its secondary, but the defensive line is a little weak. The losses of linebacker Chris Peace and safety Juan Thornhill are significant, but UVA should have talent ready to step into those roles. OLB Charles Snowden enters his junior year, and Jordan Mack is a senior. Both should be key parts of this defense. Zane Zandier and Robert Snyder are good on the inside, and junior Elliot Brown and Noah Taylor are going to be solid on the outside.
The secondary got a big boost when Bryce Hall opted to return. Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson are great as a safety duo, and the Cavaliers only really need to worry about its second corner position opposite of Hall. The overall defensive effort should be strong in 2019, despite losing those key aforementioned performers.
Virginia has one of the best kick returners with Joe Reed still in that role. Teams almost will not kick to him. He averaged 27.2 yards per return and returned one 90 yards for a TD. UVA has to replace its punter as Lester Coleman departed. Juniors Brian Delaney and AJ Mejia will vie for that role. Delaney knocked down 12 of 16 field goals last year.
Virginia has made a quick ascent under Mendenhall, and that is expected to continue, but several key holes may take it out of Conference title contention. It is rebuilding its OL and DL, and while the Coastal division is wide open, that is still a task. The non-conference schedule is particularly soft, though, and this team will again be making a Bowl appearance this season.
Prediction: 8 wins (over)