Home Virginia has some winnable games on its 2023 schedule: Can the ‘Hoos get to five wins?

Virginia has some winnable games on its 2023 schedule: Can the ‘Hoos get to five wins?

Chris Graham
tony elliott
Photo: UVA Athletics

What if I told you there was a decent chance that Virginia could get to five wins in 2023?

No, it’s morning as I’m writing this; it’s not the Fireball talking.

(I did skip my morning coffee in favor of a bowl of fruit, so that could be a factor.)

I’m putting on my orange- and blue-colored glasses here to make the point that, when you look at this game by game, it’s doable – get to 3-3 after the first six, then steal a couple down the stretch, to get to five.

That said, Carla Williams didn’t do any favors for her handpicked guy, second-year coach Tony Elliott, giving him an opener down in Nashville against #10 Tennessee.

The Vols will be favored by a million points going into this one.

The goal for Virginia down in Music City will be to just keep it as close as possible as long as possible, and get home with everybody in one piece.

Given that it’s the opener, I think this is something that can happen.

Tennessee is breaking in a new starting QB, it’s going to be a hot day down South, so you can expect heavy substitutions in the Week 1 game from Vols’ third-year coach Josh Heupel, who is going to want to get looks at as many of his guys as he can even on top of that.

I think, based on all of that, that Virginia can keep this one borderline respectable.

Week 2 brings JMU to Charlottesville for the home opener.

The JMU program has had this one circled on the schedule since the schedule came out; this is a chance for a signature win for a program entering Year 2 in FBS.

But the Dukes are also breaking in a new starting QB, and they’ll be coming off an opener with an FCS opponent, Bucknell, so they won’t really know what they’ve got coming into this one.

It’ll be a slugfest, but Virginia can win this one.

I’m almost of the mindset to say, Virginia should win this one.

(Again, no coffee for me this morning.)

Week 3, at Maryland, on a Friday night. This one will be tough, to say the least.

Not because Maryland is the Maryland of the Bobby Ross era or the Ralph Friedgen era, but the Terps are improving under fifth-year coach Mike Locksley, who has led the program to back-to-back winning seasons and consecutive bowl wins, and Maryland was 8-5 last year, with a win over Michigan State and respectable efforts in losses to Michigan and Ohio State.

The ‘Hoos will do well to hang around as long as possible in this one, but for the sake of our exercise here, let’s chalk this one up as an L, to get the record to 1-2.

This gets us to Week 4, back at home, another Friday night, this time against NC State, which features, as its new starting QB, Brennan Armstrong – yes, that Brennan Armstrong – who is under the tutelage of his former offensive coordinator at UVA, Robert Anae.

The media at the ACC Football Kickoff pegged State to finish fourth in the 14-team ACC in 2023, and I’ve got the Pack as having an outside shot at playing their way into the ACC Championship Game, if the chips fall the right way.

Assume Virginia is up for this one, with Armstrong back in town, but also assume that State leaves with the W.

This gets us to 1-3 going into Week 5, on the road at Boston College.

BC, like Virginia, was picked to finish down near the bottom of the ACC standings, and fourth-year coach Jeff Hafley could be feeling his seat getting warmer after a 3-9 record in 2022, a big step back from back-to-back six-win seasons his first two years.

This one is key to Virginia’s first-half schedule. It’s a winnable game on the road, and a chance, with an FCS opponent at home the next week, to play back toward .500.

Let’s pencil in the W just to get a look at that one.

William & Mary is the aforementioned FCS opponent, at home on Oct. 7.

W&M is coming off an 11-2 season that ended in the FCS quarterfinals in 2022, so the Tribe, under fifth-year coach Mike London – yes, that Mike London – will be no pushover.

This will be another home slugfest, and I wish this one was on the schedule earlier, on a hotter day, so that the FBS scholarship number advantage could be an extra wind in the sails, but I’m still putting this one down as a win.

There’s your 3-3 start.

It ain’t pretty – a blowout loss in the opener, slugfest wins over in-state, lower-division opponents, back-to-back losses on national TV on Friday nights, a narrow win over another ACC doormat.

Virginia, if it were to get to 3-3 against this schedule, would be, without a doubt, the worst 3-3 team in America.

But then, 3-3 is 3-3.

To borrow from Bill Parcells, you are what your record says you are.

The second half of the schedule offers some hope for a couple more Ws.

Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech both come to Charlottesville, and both are as lightly regarded as Virginia is going into the 2023 season.

The other home game down the stretch is Duke, which won nine games last year, but you know Tony Elliott wants to have his team up for Mike Elko, who got the job down there in Durham only after Elliott, the school’s first choice, passed them up to take the job in Charlottesville.

I’m serving out the Wahoo-flavored Kool-Aid here, which I know is a departure for me.

I still am of the mindset that the Vegas over/under for wins, which is at 3.5, is probably generous.

Looking at the UVA roster – only one QB with any college experience, that being 23 games in FCS, another brand-new offensive line, a wideout corps that was slapdashed together, a defense that should be good, but might be on the field too much because the offense struggles – it’s going to be an uphill climb to get even a couple of wins.

And if Year 2 ends for Elliott on the under of the over/under, three wins or less, the coach and the AD both go into 2024 with some pressure on their backs – not exactly hot seat, but 2024 comes with the expectation that Elliott had better get his team to at least six wins and a bad-weather bowl, or 2025 becomes a hot-seat year.

If he’s able to cobble together four or five wins out of this team, against this schedule, in 2023, though, well, things get interesting.

That should give at least a slight boost to recruiting, which hasn’t been anywhere near where it needs to be to this stage, and it might get some more fans interested in buying season tickets, which is always a plus, being able to play games in front of more home fans than empty seats.

I think the 3-3 start is key here.

Get this 2023 team to 3-3, beat one or both of the Techs, maybe sneak another one – Louisville on the road, Duke at home seem ripe for the picking – and there could be something to build on.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].