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Bowl Watch Week 4: Virginia has a golden opportunity against Louisville

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Two wins down. Four to go. Is another coming this week?

NCAA Football: Virginia vs Ohio Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Well that was unexpected.

The Virginia Cavaliers brushed off ALL THE THINGS on Saturday, racing to a 35-7 lead and hanging on for a 45-31 victory against Ohio. In doing so, they pushed their record to 2-1 and remained on track in their quest for the postseason. They also made a number of fans (myself included) look a little silly for all of our fretting. There may have been a few nervous moments early in the fourth quarter Saturday, but the outcome was never really in doubt.

As a result, Virginia’s postseason picture looks pretty good at the moment. UVA broke well from the starting gate (that’s a horse racing reference because it’s Louisville week) and reached the clubhouse turn of the 2018 season (that’s another) having done what was needed: split games against Indiana and Ohio. The Hoos start down the backstretch Saturday (okay, I’ll stop) and will look to pad their record before a three-game homestand in late October and early November.

Up next is Louisville, and boy do the Cardinals look ripe for the picking.

Bobby Petrino’s squad needed a two-touchdown comeback to beat Western Kentucky at home Saturday night. That’s the same Western Kentucky who lost the week before to Maine. And it’s the same Louisville that darn near came up lame (sorry, I tried) the week prior against Indiana State. Not surprisingly, Virginia opened as a 3.5-point favorite.

Schedule assessment

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

At the moment, the Hoos are ranked higher than three of their remaining opponents in the Sagarin ratings (UNC, Pitt, Liberty), and four in the S&P+ ratings (Louisville). I’ve upgraded the Louisville game from “TBD” to winnable in light of the Cardinals’ lackluster performances the last two weeks. I’m tempted to change the Georgia Tech game and the Duke game to “winnable” and “longshot,” respectively, but I’ll hold off until we get closer to those dates.

Opponent Update

Two of UVA’s opponents posted impressive wins in Week 3. First, Pitt won at home against Georgia Tech. The Panthers jumped out to a 21-0 lead and held on in the second half. It’s still hard to make heads or tails out of this year’s Pitt team. After all, Pat Narduzzi’s charges gave up over 50 points to Penn State in Week 2. Across the field, it was the second road loss in a row for Paul Johnson’s squad, which continues to look more beatable than previously thought.

Elsewhere, Duke won at Baylor despite playing without a host of starters. David Cutcliffe’s squad should wrap up its out-of-conference schedule 4-0 this week. It will be interesting to see how the Blue Devils perform once they reach ACC play, but their early-season efforts have been darn impressive. Virginia has won three in a row in the series, but it could have a tough time making it four straight unless something changes.

Miami beat Toledo on the road. Like Virginia, the Canes raced to a big lead before letting their MAC opponent get back in it early in the second half. Finally, four of UVA’s future opponents (NC State, UNC, Liberty, Virginia Tech) had games postponed or cancelled due to Hurricane Florence.

Bowl Projections

Well look at that…Virginia has its first three bowl projections of the season!

The venerable and ever-intrepid Mitch Sherman of ESPN (Mitch Sherman?) has the Wahoos battling Houston in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa on December 20. And our good friends down at the Orlando Sentinel have UVA facing Memphis in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport on December 27. Not to be outdone, the Sporting News also has Virginia facing Memphis, but in the December 22 Birmingham Bowl.

Heady times, friends. Heady times.

This Week

At 2-1, Virginia’s bowl path is pretty simple. The Hoos need to sweep their UNC-Pitt-Liberty homestand and find one more win. Saturday’s game against Louisville looks like a great opportunity for said win. After two years with Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, the Cardinals have struggled quite a bit on offense. Louisville only produced 292 yards in its victory over Western Kentucky and they’ll turn to redshirt freshman Malik Cunningham for the start in Charlottesville.

Still, Virginia isn’t good enough to feel comfortable against any of its remaining opponents (outside of Liberty). You may recall the Hoos were 5-1 and 7-point home favorites about Boston College last season. The Eagles won 41-10. Hopefully they’ll remember that lesson. Louisville is beatable, but it’s far from a sure thing.

Around the ACC, we’re keeping a close Week 4 eye on Pitt’s game at Carolina and NC State’s game at Marshall. We’ve had the NC State game in the “longshot” category all season, but we haven’t seen that much of them yet.

As always, we’ll be back next week with more info. Looking forward to it!