Mike London can still save his job: All he has to do is beat FSU

London_1The conventional wisdom is that Mike London came into the 2014 season knowing that there was a magic number that would keep him employed at the University of Virginia.

The rest of us don’t know what that reputed magic number is, though we’ve all been guessing at least six, as in six wins, which would put UVA football in position to earn a bowl bid.

At 4-5 in 2014 with three games to go – at #2 Florida State, Miami at home, at Virginia Tech – the stakes would seem to be clear: win two of three, or London is done.

But then consider that we don’t know what the magic number is, even if there was one relayed to him by athletics director Craig Littlepage, who stressed at the end of the 2013 season, a 2-10 debacle that ended with the ‘Hoos dropping their last nine, that he expected to see progress from the football program in 2014, without defining what form that progress needed to take.

Progress. Undefined, it could have been argued before last week’s 35-10 beatdown at Georgia Tech that Virginia football had already made significant progress over 2013, if only because the team had been competitive all season long, getting nice wins over Louisville and Pitt, taking tough losses against UCLA and BYU, putting in yeoman’s efforts in losses against Duke and UNC.

Georgia Tech changed that narrative. UVA was woefully unprepared schematically and listless from an effort perspective, changing the tone from what had been a turnaround season from where it seemed that the Cavs were a play or two away from getting it all figured out to looking like the teams in 2012 and 2013 that looked completely and totally overmatched.

An overmatched team is not one showing progress. One, though, that can do something so bold as to knock off the defending national champ on its home turf, now, that’s a team making progress, right?

And so it is that Mike London enters yet another must-win game in 2014. A win on Saturday against #2 Florida State, a 19-point favorite, and you’d have to assume that Littlepage, having demanded progress, will decide that he’s seen enough in that regard, and quietly make the call internally that London and his regime will live to coach another year in Charlottesville.

This is just a guess on my part, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn later that Littlepage continues to see this situation differently than those of us on the outside do.

So, win on Saturday in Tallahassee, and London can breathe a little easy, and honestly, if his team, still young, but gaining experience, can compete on an even footing with a program that is very much there in the form of Florida State, then, yeah, the staff that would have led things to that dramatic accomplishment would have earned the right to try to build on that into next year.

That said, it’s not all that likely that we will see Virginia be competitive for more than a quarter with the ‘Noles, who have nonetheless left the door open for a string of overmatched opponents, most recently Louisville, which led FSU 24-7 early in the third quarter before Florida State rallied to win, 42-31.

Virginia, you might remember, beat that same Louisville team, 23-21, in September in Charlottesville, so there is some vague hope for Cavaliers fans that their team has a shot at being competitive in the Sunshine State this weekend.

If they’re not, and the record on the trip back home is 4-6, with four straight losses, we then turn to what would be the final must-win game of 2014 for London and his staff. A 4-6 Virginia team absolutely could not endure a fifth straight defeat with London having any hope thereafter of keeping his job. By any measure, either the concept of magic number or the vague progress thesis, London would have failed to keep up his end of the bargain by virtue of being granted a fifth year that he had otherwise not earned due to performance.

– Column by Chris Graham