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Bowl Watch Week 3: The stakes are high for Virginia’s surprise trip to Nashville

Virginia can’t afford a loss to Ohio…no matter where they play.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

“For some strange reason it had to be…it was all a dream about Tennessee.” —Arrested Development

For a program that is desperately trying to regain its footing, there is something friggin’ perfect about the situation in which the Virginia football team finds itself. The Virginia Cavaliers fought tooth and nail in a driving rainstorm and came within inches of an inspiring road victory against Indiana last Saturday. Had Bryce Perkins’ last-second end zone heave resulted in a touchdown, UVA would boast a legit chance to go 4-0 in its out-of-conference schedule and need only two ACC wins to get to a bowl game.

Instead, Virginia’s receivers couldn’t make the catch, the Hoos sank to 1-1, and a hurricane forced the athletic department to move a crucial home game to a neutral site. I don’t know who wrote this script, but it’s probably the same person who brought you DeAndre Hunter’s hand, Justin Anderson’s appendix, JR Reynolds’ ankle, and the ice hockey rink at the Richmond Coliseum. Like I said…friggin’ perfect.

Make no mistake…UVA’s chances to return to the postseason took a big hit with the Indiana loss. The Hoosiers were beatable. And sadly, they could end up being one of Virginia’s easier opponents this season. As my man Pete Campbell once said:

A potential silver lining

While the loss to Indiana was disappointing, Wahoo fans can take solace in the fact that many of UVA’s opponents struggled in Week 2.

Most notably, North Carolina got run off the field by East Carolina a week after ECU lost at home to North Carolina A&T. The Heels gave up over 500 yards of offense and went scoreless in the second half. What’s worse…they entered the game as 16.5 point favorites. They’ve now lost 14 of their last 16 games against FBS opponents.

Woof.

It’s possible that UNC will improve by the time it visits Charlottesville in late October. Long the paragon of academic and athletic integrity (that was sarcasm), Carolina is still suffering from multiple player suspensions due to a shoe-selling incident over the summer. Quarterback Chaz Surratt, who’s serving a 4-game suspension, should be back by October. Still, the loss to ECU was bad enough that I’ve upgraded Virginia’s chances against the Heels from “winnable” to “toss-up.”

Elsewhere:

  • Georgia Tech lost on the road to South Florida and looked vulnerable on defense.
  • Pitt gave up half a hundred points to Penn State at home.
  • Duke beat Northwestern, lost all-ACC corner Mark Gilbert (hip) for the season in the process. The Blue Devils also lost starting quarterback Daniel Jones indefinitely. Jones had surgery to repair his collarbone on Sunday.
  • Liberty got smoked by Army.

Misery loves company…and there was a lot of it among UVA’s opponents last week.

Schedule assessment

Here’s a current look at how UVA’s schedule stacks up:

Virginia’s simplest path to a bowl game would have been to run the table among the games we categorized as “Must Wins,” “Toss Ups,” and “Winnables” in our preseason column. That’s no longer possible, which means the Hoos must pick up a win somewhere else. At the moment, they’re ranked higher than four of their opponents in the Sagarin ratings (Ohio, UNC, Pitt, Liberty), and five in the S&P+ ratings (Louisville).

This Week

At the beginning of the year, I said Virginia needed to start at least 2-1 to make it to a bowl game. The Ohio game now looms even larger. Virginia would torpedo nearly all of its program “momentum” with a loss to the Bobcats. This is the type of game that good programs win regularly. It’s the type of game the Hoos lost repeatedly during the Mike London era. Bronco Mendenhall can’t afford to follow suit.

It’s tough to know what to make of Ohio. On one hand, the Bobcats gave up 600 yards and needed a second-half comeback to beat Howard in Week 1. On the other hand, they went 9-4 in 2017 and finished 16th in the country with 244 rushing yards per game. If UVA can stop Ohio on the ground, it’ll probably win easily. If not, it could be in for a long afternoon.

Then there’s the weather wild card. With Hurricane Florence threatening to drop buckets of rain on the southeast, Virginia moved its game against Ohio to Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville. The move makes sense from a bowl standpoint (and, more importantly, from a safety standpoint). Virginia couldn’t afford to have the game cancelled and risk not making it up. With Ohio one of the weaker remaining opponents on UVA’s schedule, a cancellation would have been almost as bad as a loss.

“Every game we can play benefits our program,” Mendenhall said on his Tuesday night coaches show.

It’s hard to predict how the move to Nashville will affect the outcome. Virginia technically gives up its home field advantage, but it’s unlikely it would have attracted a massive crowd against a MAC team in the rain. Game conditions won’t be as wet, which could allow the UVA offense to get back on track.

Around the league, we’ll keep a close eye on Duke (at Baylor), Louisville (vs. Western Kentucky) and the Georgia Tech matchup against Pitt. Each of those four teams will have a major say in how UVA’s postseason hopes evolve.

Week 3 is shaping up to be much more intriguing than previously expected. We can’t wait to see how it shakes out!