Virginia's 2012 season has not gone according to plan. The Cavaliers are 2-6, losing to conference powers Duke, Maryland and Wake Forest. A year removed from an 8 win season and Chick-Fil-A Bowl berth, the Hoos are struggling in all facets of the game, and many fans are calling for coaches' heads in Charlottesville. Whether that is an overreaction or not can be debated, but even the most pessimistic prognosticators didn't see this coming.
With losses mounting and fans showing up at Scott Stadium in smaller numbers by the week, one has to wonder whether or not the on-field struggles will have far reaching consequences for the program. Mike London and the Cavaliers' staff have recruited among the best in the country since arriving in late 2009. But after Virginia showed some signs of improvement a year ago, will recruits see this season as a bump in the road, or will they think that the Hoos' 2011 season was an anomaly?
Virginia's 2013 class is a really solid group of talent, with a few elite players and a bunch of above average prospects in the fold. None of the current class has decommitted, or even shown signs of leaning in that direction, at least not yet. From now until Signing Day, Virginia fans will sweat out Taquan Mizzell, UVA's first 5-star commit since the height of the Al Groh era. Mizzell though, is probably one of the more locked in commits in Virginia's class though. The Bayside running back has shown no signs of wanting to look elsewhere or take official visits before deciding whether to stick with Virginia or not in February. At this point, the Cavaliers' biggest prize is a pretty safe bet to stick with Virginia despite their on the field struggles.
One prospect that could end up wavering from his commitment to Virginia is Houston native defensive back Hipolito Corporan. Corporan chose Virginia in May, and he has yet to set foot on Grounds. The Texan cornerback will visit Charlottesville for the Miami game in November. If that visit goes well, Corporan could very well stick with the Hoos. If Virginia continues to lose games though, Corporan could take a second look at some local options that may emerge after this season. Woodbridge native Donta' Wilkins could end up taking visits to other schools, which will be troubling for Cavalier fans. Wilkins was expected to take visits to UNC and Penn State before making his decision this summer, but instead made a sudden commitment to Virginia during a visit to Grounds. Other than these two guys, both of whom will probably stick with UVa anyway, the rest of Virginia's class seems bound to end up in Charlottesville, barring a big reversal in their leanings.
The biggest impact for Virginia's struggles will be down the road, in 2014 and beyond. The 2014 recruiting class is a banner year for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Never before has the state had so much elite talent, and the Cavaliers hope to cash in on relationship building the UVa staff has been working on for three years. The state will have at least three 5-star prospects, defensive linemen Andrew Brown and DaShawn Hand and safety Quin Blanding, as well as a group of 4-star prospects as well. The 4-star prospects include wide receiver Jamil Kamara and defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi, both of whom are very high on the Cavaliers. All of these guys, and many more, have been on Virginia's radar for a long, long time. Brown and Blanding are probably UVa leans at this point. The question becomes, do these guys still value the relationships they've built with the Virginia staff and their friendship with players on the team, or do they start to look harder at some options further away from home, with a better chance to play on the big stage?
For now, Virginia fans should remain calm. Obviously if the Cavaliers could stop the bleeding on the field as soon as possible, that would be a big help. One thing that may work in Virginia's favor is that Virginia Tech has also struggled this year. The Hokies may end up around 6-6 this year, meaning that they can't really sell themselves as well to recruits who may be leaning towards Virginia. No matter what the Hoos do on the field, they still have guys like Eli Harold, Demetrious Nicholson and others in the locker room, that have been instrumental in reeling other commits for the program. Quin Blanding has been high school teammates with Nicholson, Anthony Cooper and Mizzell in Virginia Beach, and despite the on-field struggles in Charlottesville, those friendships and relationships simply can't be undone. Keep in mind that many recruits don't make their decision until after their senior season, so Virginia will have another opportunity to impress recruits in 2013 with a stronger performance on the field, showing that 2012 was a year of growing pains, and not the norm going forward.