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VIRGINIA faces challenges in ACC, ranks No. 125 in COUNTDOWN Today at No. 125: VIRGINIA Coach: Mike London (23-38, entering sixth season, 47-43 overall)...

college football winning picksVIRGINIA faces challenges in ACC, ranks No. 125 in COUNTDOWN

Today at No. 125: VIRGINIA

Coach: Mike London (23-38, entering sixth season, 47-43 overall)

2014 record: 5-7, 3-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, seventh place in Coastal Division

Look back: The season began promising enough. Virginia nearly upset No. 7 UCLA in September and then promptly defeated No. 21 Louisville en route to a 4-2 start. But the same issues that have plagued Virginia during most of Mike London’s tenure — most notably, inconsistent play at quarterback — inevitably caused the Cavaliers to fall apart. Virginia dropped five of its final six games, including a 24-20 loss to rival Virginia Tech in the season finale that kept the Cavaliers from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2011l.

Offensive starters returning: 5

Offensive starters lost: 6

Defensive starters returning: 5

Defensive starters lost: 6

Key losses: DB Anthony Harris, DE Eli Harold, LB Max Valles, LB Daquan Romero, LB Henry Coley, RB Kevin Parks, RB Khalek Shepherd, WR Darius Jennings, WR Miles Gooch

Top returnees: WR Canaan Severin, DB Quin Blanding, DL David Dean, QB Matt Johns, RB Taquan Mizzell, DL Mike Moore, DB Maurice Canady, OL Jay Whitmire, OL Ross Burbank

Strengths: Virginia’s offense has ranked in the bottom half of the ACC for nearly a decade now, but the Cavaliers appear to have some firepower to work with. WR Canaan Severin impressed during the spring with his ability to routinely make athletic catches downfield. North Carolina transfer T.J. Thorpe should complement Severin and give Virginia a nice one-two punch. RB Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell has shown glimpses of being a potent playmaker, averaging 6.8 yards per play last season, but the depth behind him is lacking.

Sophomore safety Quin Blanding (123 tackles, 3 INTs) is being asked to become a leader on defense after a sensational freshman campaign and will spearhead a talented secondary that includes cornerback Maurice Canady (3 INTs, 12 PBU) and promising safety Kelvin Rainey.

Weaknesses: Quarterback is again unsettled, although there is some clarity at the position heading into the preseason. Junior Matt Johns split first-team reps throughout the spring, but it was Johns who was placed atop the depth chart after 15 practices. Johns (1,109 passing yards, 8 TDs, 5 INTs) provides a little more athleticism (1,632 passing yards, 10 TDs, 11 INTs), which could help as the Cavaliers look to find solidity along an offensive line that was depleted with injuries last year.

Virginia’s defense (353.2 YPG) carried the team for most of last season, but the strength of the unit — linebackers — has been depleted after the departure of senior starters Henry Coley and Daquan Romero, and sophomore Max Valles. Throw in defensive end Eli Harold’s decision to leave early for the NFL as well and the Cavaliers’ once formidable front seven is expected to take a step back.

Outlook: London’s squad showed just enough progress to allow him to keep his job, but the coach is still on the hot seat entering the 2015 season. Virginia has pieces in position to make a run at becoming bowl eligible, but the Cavaliers will likely need the offense to carry the team, a scary proposition given the unit’s lack of success in recent years.

2015 schedule

Sept. 5 at UCLA

Sept. 12 vs. Notre Dame

Sept. 19 vs. William & Mary

Sept. 25 vs. Boise State

Oct. 10 at Pittsburgh

Oct. 17 vs. Syracuse

Oct. 24 at North Carolina

Oct. 31 vs. Georgia Tech

Nov. 7 at Miami

Nov. 14 at Louisville

Nov. 21 vs. Duke

Nov. 28 vs. Virginia Tech

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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