Don't forget to catch Tim Brant's College Football Preview this Friday night at 9 on ABC7.
Head coach: Mike London, 2nd year at Virginia
2010 record: 4-8 overall, 1-7 in the ACC, 6th in the ACC Coastal
2010 bowl game: Did not qualify
2011 returning starters: 8 offensive, 10 defensive
2011 ACC media poll prediction: 5th in the ACC Coastal
(AP, WJLA) The departure of senior quarterback Mark Verica and his 2,800 passing yards left a big void at quarterback for the struggling Virginia Cavaliers, who haven’t made a bowl appearance since 2007.
However, after a heated competition throughout the spring and fall, a sophomore who threw just 25 passes in 2010 seems ready to take on the challenge.
Virginia coach Mike London says sophomore Michael Rocco will start at quarterback when the Cavaliers open their season at home against William & Mary on Saturday night.
London says Rocco has taken most of the snaps with the first team in recent weeks. He says freshman David Watford, who enrolled last January, also will see playing time as the team looks to find playmakers.
Watford and sophomore Ross Metheny are listed as co-backups on the latest Cavaliers depth chart.
Rocco and Watford emerged as the frontrunners in a four-way battle for the job that started last spring and carried over into the preseason.
Rocco saw limited action in six games last season in a backup role behind Marc Verica. He completed 13 of 25 passes for 143 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
One place the Cavaliers will need to find some offensive pop is through their ground game. Virginia boasts only one 1,000-yard rusher in the past decade – Alvin Pearman rushed for 1,037 in 2004 – and Perry Jones, a spry junior who rushed for 680 yards while splitting carries in 2010, will be looked at as the featured back this season.
An improved, experienced offensive line will also help matters. Last year’s line assisted in the Cavaliers rushing for an average of 139 yards per game, their highest average since 2007, when the Wahoos went 9-4.
Verica’s targets are fairly young across the board, as senior receivers Kris Burd and Matt Snyder are joined by speedy freshmen Dominique Terrell and Darius Jennings.
Defensive coordinator Jim Reid will lead the Cavaliers’ defense into the second year of a 4-3 scheme and must improve from last year, when the unit allowed nearly 400 yards of offense per game to their opponents and surrendered more than 30 points in six games.
That improvement starts with a more experienced secondary, led by senior safety Corey Mosely (52 tackles) and 2010 All-ACC cornerback Chase Minnifield (six interceptions).
Up front, the experienced defensive line is anchored by end Cam Johnson, who registered six sacks last season. Three of the four starters on the Cavaliers’ defensive front are seniors, and an improvement on their 5.1 yards per carry allowed statistic from 2010 will be necessary.
One thing to keep an eye on for Virginia is the rate at which injuries rack up. The Wahoos saw their starters miss a combined 34 games between them last season.
After the jump, check out Virginia’s 2011 schedule and its projected starters.
2011 Schedule (All home games played at Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.)
Sept. 3: vs. William & Mary
Sept. 10: at Indiana
Sept. 17: at North Carolina
Sept. 24: vs. Southern Mississippi
Oct. 1: vs. Idaho
Oct. 15: vs. Georgia Tech
Oct. 22: North Carolina State
Oct. 27: at Miami
Nov. 5: at Maryland
Nov. 12: vs. Duke
Nov. 19: at Florida State
Nov. 26: vs. Virginia Tech
Projected offensive starters
Quarterback: Michael Rocco, sophomore
Running back: Perry Jones, junior
Wide receivers: Kris Burd, senior, and Matt Snyder, senior
Tight end: Colter Phillips, junior
Left tackle: Oday Aboushi, junior
Left guard: Austin Pasztor, senior
Center: Anthony Mihota, senior
Right guard: Luke Bowanko, sophomore
Right tackle: Morgan Moses, sophomore
Projected defensive starters
Defensive ends: Jake Snyder, sophomore, and Cam Johnson, senior
Defensive tackles: Matt Conrath, senior, and Nick Jennings, senior
Linebackers: Aaron Taliaferro, senior, Steve Gree, junior and LaRoy Reynolds, junior
Cornerbacks: Demetrious Nicholson, freshman, and Chase Minnifield, senior
Safeties: Corey Mosley, senior, and Rodney McLeod, senior
Kicker: Robert Randolph, senior
Punter: Jimmy Howell, senior
Punt returner: Dominique Terrell, freshman
Kick returner: Darius Jennings, freshman