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UVA Football: Expectations, for the first time in forever

uva footballIt has been a while since UVA Football went into training camp with anything resembling expectations.

And no, writers and broadcasters picking you to finish last doesn’t qualify as expectations.

It’s not official yet, but there was a lot of feeling at this week’s ACC Kickoff that Virginia will be anointed the preseason favorite in the Coastal Division, which, wow.

It hasn’t been that long since Bronco Mendenhall was telling the UVA Board of Visitors about not having many ACC-caliber players.

(That was last summer, actually.)

If things work out the way folks who should know seem to think, Mendenhall and his team will be back in Charlotte in December for the ACC Championship Game.

Again, wow.

“Certainly it’s the goal. Any time you’re part of a conference, the goal is to win the conference championship. That’s some of the value added of being in a conference, is to win the conference championship,” said Mendenhall, who, you may remember, left BYU, a football independent, thinking at least a small bit as he made his way east that an ACC title might one day be in the cards, if he did his job right.

But the task ahead, he would soon come to realize, was going to be much harder than he had anticipated. Mike London, his predecessor, had left the cupboard bare, and the athletics administration had let the infrastructure flounder to the point that UVA football is still looking up at the likes of Wake Forest and Duke in terms of facilities.

Despite that, his team, in Year 2, went to a bowl, and in Year 3, UVA started November in first place in the Coastal.

It wasn’t meant to be, ultimately, but it was still just a pair of overtime losses, at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, that kept Virginia from a 10-win season.

“Those overtime losses weren’t accidental. We were outplayed, and we didn’t execute in the critical moments. But we did apply those learnings, we worked relentlessly and shut out an SEC opponent that was another indication of our capability,” Mendenhall said.

That win over South Carolina in the Belk Bowl sent UVA football into the offseason with a tailwind, and it’s now translating into expectations.

“We have as good a chance as anyone on our side of the division to win this league. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that,” Mendenhall said. “We have a returning quarterback. We have a strong defense. We have a culture of excellence. We have confidence. We have an expectation that that’s what we’re capable of.

“Now, doing that is the next part,” Mendenhall said. “So, we’re optimistic, we’re excited, but also acknowledge the challenge. As you said, it hasn’t been done for a while for UVA. That would make it that much more gratifying if we are the team to be able to do that.”

Story by Chris Graham