Simple math dictates that Virginia is now one game closer to a bowl eligibility this week. The Cavaliers, having topped William & Mary, now sit only 5 wins away from their first bowl since 2011. That's the good news. But that's where the good news ends.
While squeaking by the Tribe, Virginia exposed the biggest obstacle it faces as it looks to end its bowl drought: the team, and those who coach it, lack discipline. A defense doesn't give up 20 points to William and Mary in the first half if it shows up ready to play. Coaches don’t send 10 men out on the field for two plays in a row if they're paying close attention. Kick returners don’t consistently bring the ball out of the end zone only to make it to the 15-yard-line if they're in control of their emotions. And a team doesn’t get caught sleeping on an onside kick…again…if it respects the opponent.
Throughout the London Era, fans have seen Virginia play inspired football against top-notch opponents, only to watch it play sloppy, unfocused football against opponents of similar and lesser talent. If I had to guess, I’d suggest that Mike London is better at motivating his players to take on Goliath than he is at preparing them to play the everyday Davids.
Therein lies the main reason Virginia will struggle to make a bowl game in 2015. There are few Goliaths left on the schedule. The Wahoos must beat teams that are slightly better or slightly worse than they are. And heretofore, the Mike London-led Cavaliers haven’t shown the mental discipline or wherewithal to do that consistently.
Games against Syracuse, Pittsburgh, UNC, Duke, and the like won’t be played in front of raucous crowds. They won’t feature potential Heisman candidates. They won't grab the national spotlight. They won’t provide much external motivation. London and his guys will have to motivate themselves to grind out wins. And then, they'll have to execute with more precision than they have for most of the last 6 years.
At the beginning of the year, I said Virginia’s easiest path to a bowl game would include wins over W&M, Pitt, Syracuse, UNC, Miami, and Duke. Little has happened to change my thinking. The most significant shift is that the Boise State game looks more winnable. The Broncos will come to Scott Stadium Friday night with two back-up quarterbacks, neither of whom have played against an FBS team. They'll give Virginia a great chance for a signature victory.
Virginia can still make it to a bowl game if it loses to the Boise State, but the margin for error becomes much thinner. UVA is now in the most important stretch of the season, in my opinion. Beating Boise State would be huge with games against Pitt, Syracuse, and UNC looming. Here's hoping the Cavaliers can seize the opportunity and execute at a higher level.