Virginia Football has a bye this weekend, and for the first time in a long time, I’m actually bummed out the Hoos don’t have a game. Last season, Virginia was riding a two-game win streak into the break, but lackluster losses against Richmond and UConn left me less than excited for the rest of the season.
This year? The Hoos are 3-1 to start the season for the first time in 10 years. It’s not just the record that has renewed my excitement, though, it’s how they’ve won. A win over William and Mary to start the season was a given (lol except when they beat UVA that time), but the utter dominance over UConn and Boise State was unexpected to say the least.
Sure, the win over W&M was a win over W&M. If fans were hesitant to get too overjoyed after the 38-18 victory over a Husky squad that just wasn’t that good, I understand. But the 42-23 drubbing of Boise State at Boise State? That was fun...and something that hasn’t been felt in connection to Virginia football in quite awhile.
Turns out, winning football games is SIGNIFICANTLY more fun than losing them.
I’ve been a Virginia fan since stepping on Grounds as a bright eyed first year back in [year redacted]. Ok, fine. The fall of 2003. In the 14 seasons of Virginia football I have lived through, I’ve seen three head coaches, some good wins, and a lot of losses.
In fact, in the last 14 seasons, Virginia has a 74-97 record, winning just 43% of their games and going to five bowl games (winning just two). In the same span, the Hoos have averaged a 5-7 record. Frankly, that’s a better winning percentage and average record than I would have guessed based on gut feeling, but that’s probably recency bias creeping in.
If you narrow the scope to 2011 and on (since Virginia last went to a bowl game), things get a little more bleak. Over the past five seasons, the Hoos have only won 28% of their games with a 17-43 record. Two seasons have resulted in 2-10 records.
How I feel about that?
Now, I’ve been vocal about my feelings on the rampant negativity surrounding the program (coming from the fans), but I get the frustration. It sucks losing, and it sucks more to average a losing season for the last 14+ years.
Hell, being a Virginia football fan has been tough. This is from late in the Boise State game:
You want to know what being a Virginia fan is? UVA is up 35-14 late in the 3rd and I am TERRIFIED.— Caroline Darney (@cwdarney) September 23, 2017
Frankly, I thought about deleting it because I thought maybe I was being too harsh, but soon, it started picking up likes and comments exclaiming that so many felt the way I did. Perhaps, perhaps, things are about to change.
The biggest noticeable difference between this year’s squad and those of the last few seasons (including last year) is that the team actually seems to be enjoying themselves. Coach Mendenhall noted after Virginia’s 2016 season-opening loss to Richmond that there was a lot more work to be done than even he had expected.
"I think they want to be resilient and I think they want to believe and have new habits...But there is some history, and so there was some reversion to that today ... But again, my job is to help them build great habits, and when things don't go as well as what you'd hoped and don't go according to plan, that's usually when some of that reversion comes back, and I pointed that out to them a number of times. But that's where we currently are and this is where we are launching from and I have clearer feedback now."
Virginia fans weren’t the only ones who felt that sense of doom and gloom. The players had the same dread when things didn’t go well. Mendenhall’s toughest task as a coach - even more so than recruiting or utilizing Mike London’s players in more aggressive offensive and defensive schemes - is to change the mentality around the program.
In their first two wins this season, Virginia never trailed. Against Boise State, the Broncos marched down the field and - quite easily, to be honest - scored a touchdown on the first possession of the game. How the Hoos responded speaks volumes about how far this team has come in just one year.
“The historical part is irrelevant to me at this point,” Mendenhall said after the Boise State win, continuing, “...this team thinks they can win whether on the road or at home.”
For reference into the historical part, Virginia’s win over Duke last season in Durham was the first road win by the Hoos since 2012. Some have complained that it doesn’t appear the Cavaliers have made any progress since Bronco Mendenhall has gotten to Charlottesville, but I’ve got to disagree, and hard. Results aren’t automatic, and whether you like it or not, change takes time. I’m encouraged. This team has a legitimate chance to make a bowl game this season with BC left on the schedule and UNC and Pitt looking significantly more beatable than anticipated. Overcoming that bowl hurdle would be momentous for the Hoos.
Next up, Virginia has the chance for a statement over a Duke team that has over-performed compared to a lot of preseason expectations. The game is in Charlottesville, and would be a GIGANTIC win for several reasons. Go to the game. Get loud. Stay the whole game. Tickets are available here, and Charlottesville will be hopping with all the buzz around the Bicentennial Celebration.
Sure, everything could collapse again, but for now, Virginia Football is fun again. Enjoy it.