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Virginia Bowl Tracker: Week One sets out a clear path

Making a bowl game is as easy as 2-2-2.

Virginia Media Relations

Bronco Mendenhall has never missed on a bowl game as a head coach. But UVA hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2011. Only one of those streaks will remain intact this season.

This article isn’t an opinion on whether I think Virginia will make it to a bowl game in 2016 or not. That’s a debate that Virginia fans and our merry band of Streaking The Lawn writers have had all summer long. Our staff remains almost evenly split.

The point here is to outline Virginia’s easiest path to the post-season. Week by week, we’ll chart the ebbs and flows of UVA’s bowl chances.

To get started, there’s a simple way to remember what UVA needs to do to make a bowl game in 2016: it’s as easy as 2-2-2.

The 2-2-2 Path To the Postseason

For UVA to make a bowl game, it needs to win:

2 of its 2 out-of-conference home games

2 of its 4 in-conference home games

2 of its 6 road games

Let’s break these down a bit.

Virginia, which starts the season with a Sagarin rank of 60, plays two out-of-conference home games this season:

  • Richmond (Sagarin rank: 103) - September 3
  • Central Michigan (Sagarin rank: 105) - September 24

These are the easiest games on UVA’s schedule. Richmond is a national title contender in the FCS, and Central Michigan went 7-6 last season. But the Hoos should be double-digit favorites in both of these, and they need to win ‘em both.

Virginia plays four conference opponents at Scott Stadium this season:

  • Pitt (Sagarin rank: 36) - October 15
  • North Carolina (Sagarin rank: 27) - October 22
  • Louisville (Sagarin rank: 26) - October 29
  • Miami (Sagarin rank: 33) - November 12

UVA’s home conference schedule is considerably harder. At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be a weak opponent among the group. Miami might be the ripest for the picking. The Canes are 2-4 in Charlottesville since joining the ACC and just kicked two of their top defenders out of the program for improper use of benefits. Virginia will have a bye week before it plays Pittsburgh.

Finally, Virginia plays 6 road games this season.

  • At Oregon (Sagarin rank: 22) - September 10
  • At UConn (Sagarin rank: 90) - September 17
  • At Duke (Sagarin rank: 49) - October 1
  • At Wake Forest (Sagarin rank: 85) - November 5
  • At Georgia Tech (Sagarin rank: 43) - November 19
  • At Virginia Tech (Sagarin rank: 38) - November 26

UVA fans should circle September 17 on the calendar. Virginia’s road game at UConn might be its most pivotal of the season. The Cavaliers haven’t won a road game since 2012, but the trip to Connecticut gives them a great chance to break that drought.

If Virginia can stay healthy, road games at Duke, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech in also look relatively benign. The Jackets are coming off a disastrous 2015 campaign, and Bronco Mendenhall has proven effective at beating triple option offenses in the past. Duke just lost its starting quarterback. And Wake was picked last in the ACC Atlantic.

The Bottom Line

There will be plenty of ways fans can measure Virginia’s success (or lack thereof) on the field this season. Will the team look more prepared under Mendenhall than it did under the previous staff? Will it “try harder” and execute better? Will it win a greater share of close games? Will the Hoos finally beat the Hokies? All of these will be fair questions to ask.

But with nearly 40 bowl games in existence, bowl eligibility has become the Mendoza line of college football. So at the end of 2016, part of the grade for Mendenhall and his staff will come down to whether they can guide UVA to a bowl game or not.

Let the games begin!