Look, no one said it would be easy. Coming off of a season where a long-time dormant Virginia football team came out of the woodwork to come within one game of the ACC championship game, maybe expectations were too high. After all, this was a young squad heading into the season, and it still remains a mainly unexperienced group. And while most of Wahoo Nation remains sour following the heartbreaking defeat to a top 25 worthy Louisiana Tech team, its third consecutive loss, something tells me there is light at the end of the tunnel in this 2012 season. After Saturday's 44-38 loss to the Bulldogs, head coach Mike London stood in front of reporters and said, "To the fans: hang with us. I'll coach the guys harder; I'll coach the guys better. We'll be representatives of this University."
And you know what? I have faith in Mike London. When he stood fuming after the gut-wrenching illegal substitution penalty to seal the Hoos' fate, and then fired those bold words to the media, it reaffirmed in my mind that this is a team whose head coach will not settle for mediocrity (Al Groh, anyone?). This is a man so heavily invested in this program that he refuses to stand and watch this program lose the progress they built as a sleeper last season. As Virginia heads into a stretch of seven straight ACC contests, our bowl game status remains foggy. But despite every fan having justifiable reasons to be skeptical, there remains hope for the Hoos to potentially match the 8-4 record that the 2011 team posted. Here are some of the reasons why:
Paging Mr. Sims: Bottom line: I'd be utterly shocked if Mike London doesn't head into the Duke game without a change at the quarterback helm. Incumbent QB Michael Rocco has had every opportunity to prove his mettle as the shot-caller for the Hoos. But after another brutal showing against Louisiana Tech, in which he threw three INTs (and it could've been more if Tech's defensive backs didn't have the dropsies), it's finally time for the change that many fans have been calling for since before the first game. QB Phillip Sims has clearly showed he possesses far more play-making ability than Rocco, and the questions of whether he knows the offensive system are simply irrelevant at this point in the season. Was there a doubt in anyone's mind that if Virginia had gotten the ball back with just under two minutes to play, that Sims would have led the Cavalier's offense straight down the field to cap off the comeback? The offense is simply more electric when he is in the game, and the threat of a big-play quarterback certainly could help clear the box for struggling senior RB Perry Jones and the running game. However, there is some concern about a leg injury Sims sustained late in the game, but let's see if London follows through and makes the switch at quarterback. He won't regret it.
Our Remaining Schedule Isn't Exactly Daunting: It's sad to admit, but the ACC is simply having a down year. Despite the potent Florida State Seminoles, the rest of the conference has proven to be a crapshoot this season. Even Virginia Tech has lost to inferior non-conference opponents like Pitt and Cincinnati. Who's to say we can't pull off a string of three straight wins against a fairly weak (although improving) Duke team, and then Maryland and Wake Forest at home? Come on, people. The opportunity to turn things around are there. If the Hoos can finally improve their turnover margin (which ranks 118th nationally), there is no reason why they can't steamroll through a relatively soft conference schedule from this point on.
The Youth Can Be Our Strong Point: Critics will pin Virginia's problems on their inexperience, but the reality is some of our best playmakers are our underclassmen. I love what I've seen in recent weeks out of players like TE Jake McGee, WR Darius Jennings, and CB Demetrius Nicholson. As the season progress, I only see their performance improving. Balance that with a better second-half campaign from guys like Perry Jones, LB LaRoy Reynolds, and OT Morgan Moses, the wins are there for the taking.
So what do you think? Will London's promise of a turnaround come true? Or is this season simply a lost cause? Comment your predictions.