What gets UVA to a winning season?

There's been a lot said about Virginia football this year, both good and bad. The homers are talking bowl games and a winning season; the doubters are giving respect to Coach London for rebuilding the program, but scoffing at Virginia's chances to make any sort of measurable gain. Heck, Heather Dinich of ESPN's ACC Blog thinks this is Duke's year to shine and make it to a bowl game- she speculated the only two teams that won't be Bowl eligible this year are Wake Forest and Virginia- and that Virginia's liable to be the only FBS team in the ACC to get beat by an FCS team.

Ouch. That hurts. Someone cue up Rodney Dangerfield- "I can't get no respect!"

But, y'know, I can't blame 'em too much. We've got to prove that we deserve that respect. Yeah, we're a team that spent an almost unheard of amount of regular season time at #1- especially in this day and age- but that was twenty years ago. We haven't been ranked, or had a winning season, since 2007.

But for Duke beating us out in contention for a bowl game? Ooof. Yeah, they have the most experienced quarterback in the ACC right now- heh- but really, I think the issue here is people forgetting the lessons that I imagine Coach London and the rest of the coaching staff here haven't forgotten.

We could've had a seven or eight win season last year- it was within our grasp. The only ones who prevented us from doing that... was us. And that was on, in my opinion, three different fronts- namely penalties, interceptions, and spirit.

Follow me below the jump for more.

1) Penalties

In 2010, UVA ranked 117th out of 120 FBS teams in penalty yardage per game (75.91). What?!? Seventy-five yards a game? That's like kicking a touchback and then saying to the opposing team, "Y'know what, how about we just spot you on our own four-yard line, guys?"

We only lost by three points to Boston College and USC; by seven to Duke. Georgia Tech was 12. I mean, really. And a lot of those penalties were stupid, rookie mistakes- and contributed to the loss of spirit I'll discuss later on.

However, we had lots of bad penalties called against us- how about that charlie-foxtrot of a call the PAC-10 officiating crew made against us at USC? Heh, at least they had the decency to apologize for it at half-time. Nobody can say what would've happened if that pass Jimmy Howell threw would've counted, but it had touchdown drive written all over it. But you can't bank on "maybes" and "shouldda".

But the Boston College game, we absolutely had a touchdown. No question about it. Replay showed it extensively- remember, this ain't the NFL, folks, Dontrelle Inman only had to get that one hand in bounds before he went out- and he did. Alas.

There were a slew of other bad calls- most memorable to me is the call in the opening kickoff of the UVA/VT game, the personal foul called on Cain, who was standing on the sideline as the Virginia Tech kick returner plowed into him. I have the replay called up here from the ACC Network- I'd link it if I could- he's standing there, hands crossed on his chest, as the kid from Tech plows into him, and... personal foul? Heh, the look on his face is priceless. He even points to himself as if to say to the referee "Wait... ME?!?"

But whining about bad calls is just that- whining, and nothing more. You can't do anything about the bad calls, and they could go against your team just as easily. More important to me is the preventable penalties, the ones that there were innumerously more of, the ones that put us at the third worst team in college football for. Take those away, even by half... and our last season starts looking better.

2) Interceptions

Marc Verica is a classy guy. I was pissed he didn't get to hang around with the Redskins. But he reminds me a lot of Brett Favre, minus the whole texting pictures of his junk to people bit. Brett Favre can be a great quarterback- watch the highlights of the 1996 or 2007 seasons, where he dissected defenses with an aerial attack that would make an F-22 envious. When he's good, he's good. When he's bad... wow. It's like "Hmmm, yeah, that wide receiver is triple covered... eh, fuck it, I'll go for it anyway."

INTs are what sealed the Duke and Maryland games, for sure. Perhaps even the Georgia Tech one. Even when they didn't result in a pick-six or excellent field position for the opposing team, they oftentimes sucked the life out of our offense (and defense) and turned a setback into a blowout.

Oh, and let me elaborate- the other difference between Marc Verica and Brett Favre is that Marc Verica has some actual friggin' class. When things went wrong, he never blamed anyone else- and he was a Hoo, first and foremost, no matter how much flack he got. He never let it get him down- not sure I could've done the same.

But that leads me to the next item...

3) Spirit

It was almost inevitable- something would happen, and the Hoos would collapse. After Reynolds' facemask call at the very end of the third quarter of the Maryland game. Verica's INT after holding them for a whole quarter at the Virginia Tech game. Something would go wrong, and it would just snowball from there. I know that it's tough, and that momentum and morale are as important as strategy sometimes- but that's the difference between a good team and a great team. An amateur team and a professional team. You don't let those setbacks impact you beyond the play they occurred on.

If all of those three things had been improved by even half last year, I could easily have seen us going at least 6-6, if not 8-4, if not 9-3. Only the FSU, UNC, and VT games did we get blown out at; we had a fighting chance at all the other games. And we did! Look at the first quarter of the Virginia Tech game. Look at the Miami game.

Only time will tell if Coach London has been able to make the necessary adjustments in the off season, and if the players have picked it up. Personally, I'm "okay" with another season if it means long-term success in the future. Look at Frank Beamer! It took him six years and a steady diet of cupcakes to turn Virginia Tech into the football powerhouse today, and no matter your personal feelings about our erstwhile comrades in Blacksburg, you can't deny their success.

Another thirteen days, and we'll find out just how the season will start to pan out.

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