Virginia Football: What should expectations be for 2020?
Bryce Perkins isn’t back.
No more Joe Reed or Hasise Dubois.
No Bryce Hall. No Jordan Mack.
You’re going to be missing five key guys, and even though you could tell the people trying to get you to feel bad about 2020 that, OK, but we played the back half of 2019 without Hall and Mack, and a diminished Reed, you get the point.
Perkins, in particular, will be hard to replace.
Bronco Mendenhall has made clear for two years that Virginia Football wouldn’t have gone 8-5 with a Belk Bowl win last year and 9-5 with an ACC Coastal title and Orange Bowl invite this year without Perkins.
But, news flash, a football team isn’t one guy.
Mendenhall listed 50 guys on the two-deep for offense and defense for the Orange Bowl.
Guess how many of them are returning?
In addition to the five mentioned, Virginia also loses wideouts Terrell Chatman and Dejon Brissett; tight end Tanner Cowley; running back Chris Sharp; and defensive ends Richard Burney and Eli Hanback.
Hall wasn’t on the two-deep for the Orange Bowl, so throw him in, and you lose 11 of your top 51 guys.
The other way to look at it, again, 40 guys who got time in the Orange Bowl are coming back.
With an offseason and a spring to get bigger, faster, more knowledgeable.
Able to build off the improvements made just between the loss to Clemson and the loss to Florida.
The ceiling for 2020 seems a lot higher than it was for 2019.
You have your entire offensive line back.
Five of your six running backs.
You lose Reed and Dubois at wideout, but you have to like having Terrell Jana, Billy Kemp and Tavares Kelly back.
Five of your seven D-linemen, seven of your eight linebackers, everybody in the two-deep in the secondary, plus Brenton Nelson, another guy who was out to injury in the back half of 2019.
And at quarterback: Brennan Armstrong, who will be a redshirt sophomore when camp starts in July.
Go ahead, tell me he’s not Perkins, and you won’t get an argument from me, because, he’s not.
One thing he has on Perkins, and Perkins’ predecessor, Kurt Benkert, now a backup in the NFL: he’s been in the system for two years.
Mendenhall and offensive coordinator Robert Anae had to get lucky, twice, first with Benkert, who transferred in from ECU, then Perkins, a JUCO transfer.
Both were handed the keys to the offense with no prep and had to learn on the fly.
It worked out, incredibly well with Perkins, but you don’t build a consistent winning program with lucky finds at the most important position on the field.
Armstrong has had two fall camps, one spring, with a second spring forthcoming, to learn Anae’s offense from the inside out.
And he’s had live game action each of the past two years: hell, he’s thrown 25 passes, and not all of them in mop-up duty.
Armstrong will be the most prepared quarterback of the Mendenhall era when he takes the first snap in Atlanta against Georgia on Labor Day Night.
He’ll have a line that got better and better as 2019 played out in front of him.
Three legit wideouts, five running backs battling each other for carries.
A defense that is basically back intact.
The schedule is tough. The game in Atlanta against Georgia, a road game at Clemson, Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
Virginia should still be the favorite in the Coastal to repeat.
Who else would be?
Virginia Tech was 6-5 against FBS teams in 2019.
North Carolina was a couple plays away from going 10-3, and a couple plays away from going 3-9.
Miami continues to recruit great, and not figure out ways to use those recruits to win games.
Pitt? Duke? Georgia Tech?
No. No. No.
Get used to it, Virginia. You’re a football school now.
Story by Chris Graham