University of Virginia
Location: Charlottesville, Virginia
Conference: Atlantic Coast
Series: first meeting
Coach: Al Groh (9th season, 56-44)
Indiana and Virginia face on the football field for the first time on October 10 in Charlottesville. I'm not at a point in my life where I can just get away for the weekend at my leisure, but if I were, I would be heading to this game. Charlottesville is considered one of the nicest college towns in America and UVa one of the most picturesque campuses. If my quick research is correct, IU will be only the second Big Ten team to make the trip to Charlottesville (Penn State played there as an independent in 1988 and as a Big Ten school in 2001).
It's hard to believe that former New York Jets coach Al Groh is entering his ninth season as head coach at his alma mater. Groh has a respectable record and has led the Cavaliers to five bowl games in his first eight seasons, but has never had a breaktrhough season. Groh's best season was 2007, when the Cavaliers went 9-3 in the regular season and played in the Gator Bowl, but Virginia slipped to 5-7 in 2008.
Most of the coaching "hot seat" lists that feature Bill Lynch also list Al Groh. After last season, Groh shook up his staff, and even his son, former offensive coordinator Mike Groh, did not survive. Despite the family tie, that's not terribly surprising. The Virginia offense was horrible last season. The Cavaliers #105 in yards per game (299), #108 with only 23 offensive touchdowns, and #95 with 3.4 yards per rushing attempt. Virginia's passing numbers were superficially respectable (61 percent of passes completed, but despite 36 passes per game, the Cavaliers scored only 9 touchdowns in the air. Fortunately, the UVa defense was above average overall, but not good enough to cancel out the offense.
The most suspenseful storyline involving the Cavaliers this preseason is the three-way quarterback competition between Marc Verica, Vic Hall, and Jameel Sewell. Verica was the starter last year, Sewell led the 2007 Gator Bowl team but injuries and academics caused him to miss the 2008 season, and Hall has spent most of his career as a defensive back but topped the depth chart during spring practice. According to this ESPN blog entry by IU alum Heather Dinich, new UVa offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon is installing an exciting, fast-paced no huddle offense. Sound familiar? Maybe Virginia will install the pistol in 2010. In any event, it's not at all clear which quarterback will play in week one, let alone against IU, although the new offense apparently favors a quarterback who can run, and Hall and Sewell apparently fit that mold better. Verica's statistics for 2008 were odd. He completed over 63 percent of his passes and averaged over 200 yards per game, but he threw only 8 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. UVa will be starting over with a new system, possibly a new quarterbakc, and with most of the leading receivers and rushers from 2008 gone. Running back Mikell Simpson and receiver Cary Koch return the most production at their respective positions. On defense, UVa returns most of its offensive line, but loses most linebackers and has decent experience in the defensive backfield.
Virginia will be an interesting team to watch. For all of the optimism surrounding the new system, UVa loses lots of top players on both sides of the ball. If IU can return to 2007 form, this could be an interesting game, but that's the constant caveat.