Bottom line: Will UVA football turn it around in 2014?

mike-london-ndFew outside Bryant Hall expect UVA football to win more than two or three games in 2014. The writing is on the wall. After a 2-10 meltdown in 2013, Mike London is about to be done. It would take seven, maybe eight wins, to save his hide at this point, and with one of the nation’s toughest schedules, with two games against preseason Top 10 teams, with the uber-competitive Coastal Division not giving anybody any layups, it’s just not going to be possible.

But inside Bryant Hall, there is a quiet optimism, if not confidence, that 2014 is only going to look like 2013 in that the players on the field will largely be the same guys, but with 19 returning starters a year older, a year wiser, a year more experienced, they are ready to shock the world.

“What we want is for all of our players to go in every day with the mindset that we’re going to win football games. That’s all you can do at this level of college football. Everybody has to be confident in what they’re doing. We want everybody on the same page. Our mindset is to win,” said sophomore quarterback Greyson Lambert, a highly-touted recruit set as the starter for the Aug. 30 season opener with seventh-ranked UCLA.

I asked junior defensive tackle David Dean if he thinks 2014 can be a turnaround year.

“I truly believe it is,” Dean said. “The leadership is that much better. We’ve all tuned in and learned our offense, learned our defense, our special teams. We’ve focused in the weight room. We’ve all made great strides and become better football players. Now we’ve just got to put the pieces together in the field, and I think we can have a great season.”

The talent base is that much deeper. Last year’s roster featured just six seniors, four of whom were major contributors, but the 2014 ‘Hoos have 22 seniors, most of whom will be on the two-deep for UCLA.

The experience in the two-deep, along with the comfort and familiarity that players have with London’s top assistants, offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild, defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta and special-teams coordinator Larry Lewis, all entering their second season at their jobs, should translate into a sort of new-look Virginia football.

“We may not have all the athletes that Alabama has or UCLA has, but we have enough to win,” said junior defensive end Eli Harold.

“As far as we can take it, as far as our seniors can take it, as far as our leaders can take it,” senior defensive back Demetrious Nicholson said of the team’s expectations for 2014. “We have a chance to set a tone early and bring the young guys along, bring them into our culture that we’re trying to embrace here, that we’re trying to win, that we’re trying to do whatever it takes to win, and just go from there.”

There are three weeks of hard work getting ready for UCLA to get there. Those three weeks will come, said Darius Jennings, invoking the time-tested sports cliché, one day at a time.

“We’re really not looking ahead right now, because we went 2-10. We’re looking at today,” Jennings said. “For today, we’ve got to get better and correct our mistakes. We’re not worried about tomorrow, we’re not worried about what happened in the past. We’re focused on the now, and right now, we’ve got to just put our heads down and just grind it.”

– Column by Chris Graham



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Team of Destiny: Inside UVA Basketball's improbable run

Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.

The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.



 
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