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Bowl Watch Week 8: The Miami win could change everything

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The 2018 Virginia football season looks a lot different than it did last week.

NCAA Football: Miami at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

As I drove back (very late) from Charlottesville Saturday night, I thought through the big-picture significance of the Virginia Cavaliers football team’s win over Miami:

First win over a ranked opponent during the Bronco era…first win over a top 15 team since 2011…national television…big recruiting and alumni weekend…timed perfectly at the start of a fundraising campaign…etc.

Give me enough time and I could spin you a boundless yarn about the 16-13 triumph and wax philosophic about what it means for the program’s trajectory.

But I’d rather discuss why it was a big moment for this season. Because in addition to what it might do for the program’s future, Virginia’s win over Miami put this season onto a new plane.

The Hoos sit 4-2 and 2-1 in ACC. They’re ahead of schedule in terms of bowl eligibility. They control their own destiny in the ACC Coastal race. And they’re about to wrap up the hardest part of their schedule. Their progress so far has exceeded even the most optimistic predictions.

Of course, UVA’s fortunes could turn sour. If the basketball team’s dramatic exit last March taught us anything, it’s that expectations for the future can turn into castles in the air in an instant.

So let’s relish the moment. For the first time in too long, Virginia football in is position to achieve more than just a 6-6 record and bowl eligibility. And that’s worth celebrating.

Opponent Update

Back to business. Here’s a look at how Virginia’s upcoming opponents fared in week 7:

Liberty used a late touchdown pass to beat Troy 22-16. It was easily the best win of the season for the Flames. Troy is a likely bowl team that boasts wins over Nebraska and Louisiana-Monroe.

Duke beat Georgia Tech 28-14 on the road. The Blue Devils continue to roll despite all the injuries they’ve had this season. The Yellow Jackets, meanwhile, will likely need to sweep Virginia, UNC, and Miami to go bowling. Could Paul Johnson soon find himself fighting for his job?

Speaking of UNC, the Tar Heels snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in a 22-19 home loss to Virginia Tech. Carolina led the whole game, nearly took a two score lead with six minutes remaining, and managed to lose in the final seconds. Somewhere Mike London is reading this and making a chef’s kiss motion.

Finally, Notre Dame scored a late touchdown to beat Pittsburgh 19-14 at home. The Panthers were excruciatingly close to getting a statement win of their own. Now they’ll have to win three out of their last five to go bowling. It won’t be easy. Four of those games will come against Duke, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Miami.

Schedule assessment

Our UVA schedule ratings remain the same, though I’m tempted to push the Pittsburgh game back to a “toss-up.” The Panthers have steadied themselves after a rough start and look to be the toughest opponent during UVA’s upcoming home stand. I’m interested to see how they handle Duke in Week 9.

Here’s how Virginia’s schedule stacks up currently:

For context, UVA is ranked higher than three of its remaining opponents in the Sagarin ratings (UNC, Pitt, Liberty) and five in the S&P+ ratings (UNC, Pitt, Liberty, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech). As of this week, SB Nation’s Bill Connelly gives Virginia a 98% chance of winning six or more games.

Bowl projections

Virginia’s win over Miami certainly made its bowl projections more interesting. The Independence Bowl still seems to be the most popular choice among the pundits. CBS Sports, College Football News, Brett McMurphy, USA Today, and ESPN’s Mitch Sherman have the Hoos headed there to face Louisiana Monroe, UAB, Southern Miss, Stanford or…

BYU!

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl - Brigham Young v Utah Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

You might remember BYU as being the previous coaching gig for Bronco Mendenhall and most of his staff. Pitting Bronco against his old team would make for great drama and add a side of sauce to a showdown in Shreveport.

Speaking of sauce, SB Nation projects Virginia to the Belk Bowl (Charlotte, December 29) to face Auburn. The Belk Bowl is the descendant of the old Continental Tire Bowl, which Virginia won twice. Charlotte is an easy drive for much of the Wahoo faithful, and a bowl game against an SEC team would be quite a draw.

Another intriguing projection comes from Sports Illustrated, The Orlando Sentinel, and The Sporting News. They all have Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl (New York, December 27) against former ACC foe Maryland. The Terps have had a great start to their season considering all the offseason turmoil in College Park. A Bronx battle between two former rivals would be a fun one.

Elsewhere, Bleacher Report has Virginia against Illinois in the Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit, December 26) and the ESPN’s Kyle Bocanegra has the Hoos against Cincinnati in the Military Bowl (Annapolis, December 31).

This week and the path forward

Virginia’s road to bowl eligibility got a lot easier with the upset over Miami. The Hoos now just need to beat Liberty on November 10 and pick up one more win to get back to the postseason. If UVA can sweep its three-game stretch of UNC, Pitt, and Liberty, it would hit the seven-win mark for the first time since 2011 and could put itself in position for a Belk or Pinstripe Bowl invite.

This week’s game against Duke, while not crucial for the purposes of a bowl game, nonetheless gives Virginia an important opportunity. If the Hoos win in Durham and beat both Carolina and Pitt, they could turn their post-Thanksgiving matchup against Virginia Tech as a de facto Coastal division title game.

Beating Duke won’t be easy. Quarterback Daniel Jones has struggled against UVA over the years, but he projects as a high NFL draft pick in 2019. David Cutcliffe’s teams are always well-coached and this year’s version appears to fit that mold. Here’s hoping the Hoos can pull it off.

Till next week!