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Bowl Watch Week 1: Virginia needs a fast start

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Bowl games are fun! Here’s how Virginia can get back to another one and (hopefully) play better.

Military Bowl - Virginia v Navy Photo by Alessandra del Bene/Getty Images
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The Virginia Cavaliers football team finally returned to the postseason in 2017. Repeating that feat in 2018 won’t be easy if preseason predictions are correct. The Hoos, who open against Richmond on Saturday, have more questions on the roster than answers. And their schedule, while manageable, only contains two “surefire” wins.

Welcome to Bowl Watch. We’ll cover UVA’s journey to a bowl game every week in this space. We’ll run this column as long as the Cavaliers have a reasonable chance of making the postseason. If they clinch bowl eligibility, we’ll shift our focus to potential bowl destinations and opponents. If they get eliminated, we’ll turn off our computers until next season. Simple as that.

Let’s get started.

Where we are

As of today, here’s how Virginia stacks up against its opponents in the preseason Sagarin ratings. As you can see…it ain’t great, Bob. The Hoos start the season looking up at 9 of their 12 opponents.

16 – Miami
25 – @ Virginia Tech
26 – @ NC State
27 – Louisville
33 – @ Georgia Tech
38 – @ Duke
44 – North Carolina
45 – Pittsburgh
67 – @ Indiana
74 - Virginia
81 – Ohio
147 – Richmond
184 - Liberty

Fast Start Crucial

Virginia’s path to six wins is simple: collect home wins over Liberty, Richmond, Ohio, Pitt, and UNC, steal a win over Indiana on the road, and start planning a trip to Yankee Stadium for the Pinstripe Bowl.

But Virginia’s path to six wins won’t be easy. The Hoos will only be favored against Richmond and Liberty. Indiana and Ohio will be toss ups: UVA lost to the Hoosiers at home last year, and Ohio is predicted to make the MAC title game. Moreover, those teams appear early on the schedule, and UVA might take some time to settle into a new offensive scheme and find new stars on defense.

It’s clear that Virginia needs a fast start. The softest parts in the schedule are in early September and late October/early November. If the Hoos can’t go at least 2-1, they risk letting the season get away from them during a stretch against Louisville, NC State, and Miami. If we want to pack our parkas for the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit, we need the Hoos to get out of the blocks with a bang.

Grouping The Games

Here’s the schedule categorized into different difficulty buckets. If UVA can’t go 6-for-6 in the first three categories, they’ll (obviously) need to find a win somewhere else. Duke and Georgia Tech seem like potential targets given Bronco Mendenhall’s success against those two teams. But both of those games are on the road.

Must Wins

  • Richmond (September 1)
  • Liberty (November 10)

Toss Ups

  • at Indiana (September 8)
  • Ohio (September 15)

Winnable

  • UNC (October 27)
  • Pitt (November 2)

TBD

  • Louisville (September 22)
  • at Duke (October 20)
  • at Georgia Tech (November 17)

Longshots

  • at NC State (September 29)
  • Miami (October 13)
  • at Virginia Tech (November 23)

This Week

UVA’s task this week is merely to prevent a repeat of 2016. That year our bowl watch ended before it began when Richmond pummeled Virginia in the season opener. Beating the Spiders on Saturday won’t satisfy everyone, of course. Victories over FCS teams rarely do. But for the purposes of a bowl game all the Hoos need to do is win and keep Bryce Perkins healthy. Style points matter little when a potential trip to Shreveport or Charlotte is on the line.

We’ll be back next week, hopefully with the Hoos 1-0.