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2013 ACC Previews: Virginia

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Demetrious Nicholson and the Virginia pass defense should spearhead the team's efforts this season. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.
Demetrious Nicholson and the Virginia pass defense should spearhead the team's efforts this season. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.

As the college football season draws closer it is time to take a look at each team in the ACC and their outlook for 2013. We will look at what to expect from your favorite team and what it will take for 2013 to be a success. We will follow the predicted finishing order released during ACC media day, alternating between the Coastal and Atlantic Division. Next up is the Virginia Cavaliers.  

Head Coach: Mike London (fourth season)  

Last Season: Coming of a 2011 season (8-5) that saw London win ACC coach of the year, the Cavaliers failed miserably in 2012 posting a 4-8 record. Although Virginia fell in one-possession games to Louisiana Tech, Wake Forest, Maryland and Virginia Tech, it was very fortunate to claim victories over Penn State and Miami. Contrast that record in one-possession games (2-4) with the 5-1 mark in such contests in 2011 and you have the difference in records. With only 12 games on the schedule, each one is that much more important.  

Key Losses: Most of the press involves the pair of quarterbacks that split time last season. Phillip Sims, the former Alabama quarterback, spent a year in Charlottesville before leaving school. He posted decent numbers last year, but was not the game-changer most had hoped for. He is now playing for Winston-Salem State. Michael Rocco was nothing more than a manager who had a penchant for throwing bad interceptions.  

Also gone is running back Perry Jones, who had outstanding sophomore and junior seasons before floundering as a senior (463 yards on 137 attempts) In total, Virginia figures to bring back at least 14 starters from last year's; losses are at a minimum.  

What To Expect On Offense: A pair of inexperienced quarterbacks vie for the starting role in sophomore David Watford and freshman Greyson Lambert (freshman). London has insisted that there will be no two-quarterback season this year, but whoever wins the job has to be on a relative short leash. Neither has a pedigree, and Watford has not looked good on the field. They may have fans yearning or the days of Rocco and Sims.  

Aside from the changes at quarterback, most of the rest of the offense should be the same. Receivers Tim Smith, Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell are all back in the fold, as well as tight end Jake McGee. All have flashed playmaking ability in the past and it will be up to Watford and Lambert to get them more involved than their predecessors did.  

Kevin Parks has more than 1,400 rushing yards in two seasons and will be an excellent pillar in the running game.  

However the quarterbacks won't have time to throw or Parks won't have lanes to run if the offensive line doesn't improve. The group has experience but position switches leaves it in flux and continuity will be necessary for success in 2013.  

What To Expect On Defense: The Virginia defense held its own last year despite not having much help from the other side of the ball, and this trend should continue in spades this fall. Seven of 11 starters return for a team ranked 28th in total defense. What's more impressive is that there is a lot of youth in many areas — particularly the defensive line — and room to grow. Run defense was a weakness last season, but defending the pass is so much more important in the modern game that it shouldn't cause too much worry to fans in Charlottesville.  

The secondary figures to be the main strength of the defense. Junior Demetrious Nicholson is on Phil Steele's All-ACC preseason second team and juniors Anthony Harris and Brandon Phelps are both solid starters at safety with plenty of experience.  

Breakout Star: Eli Harold.Harold showed plenty of potential as a freshman — registering 7 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks (1.5 vs. Maryland) — and was a four-star recruit and according to Rivals was the No. 1 player from Virginia coming out of high school in 2012. The Cavaliers have a good history of producing excellent lineman on both sides of the ball and Harold could be another one that goes down that pipeline.   '

Big Games: The Cavaliers have dropped eight straight games to Virginia Tech and last year (17-14) was the first time in five meetings the game was decided by less than four touchdowns. The Hokies were ripe for the picking last term and might be again this year. Beating Tech would make the season a success regardless of how the rest of the results go.  

Outlook: London overhauled his coaching staff after last season's disappointment, bringing in former North Carolina State and Boston College coach Tom O'Brien to help coach the offense. Former Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild will be the offensive coordinator.  

London is one of the best coaches in the conference, and the Cavaliers are always prepared for games. They face a number of high-powered offenses in the ACC and their defense should keep them in touch. Virginia always springs an in-conference upset and that combined with a weak out-of-conference slate could see an improvement from last year's win total. I'm a little higher than most, but the changes on offense should help lift the Cavaliers out of the ACC basement and back into respectability.  

Predicted Record: 6-6