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ESPN’s Football Power Index projects another bowl season for Virginia in 2019

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UVA ranked 43rd overall, fifth in ACC

NCAA Football: Belk Bowl-South Carolina vs Virginia Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

If preseason analytics are any indication, the Virginia Cavaliers should be in for another postseason berth at the end of the 2019 season.

ESPN released its preseason Football Power Index (FPI) ratings and rankings this week, and the Hoos clock in at #43. Clemson is ranked #1 overall, and Florida State (#21), Miami (#27), and VPISU (#32) are the other ACC teams ahead of Virginia. Notre Dame is ranked seventh nationally, as well.

Going game by game through UVA’s schedule, ESPN projects roughly a 7-5 season.

ESPN

Tallying up the good results vs. the bad puts the Hoos at 8-4. But it’s better to approach these kinds of projections by tallying the win percentages: every 100 equals one win.

William & Mary and Old Dominion are over 90 percent each, so there’s two wins (1.95 expected wins, to be precise). If you total up Pitt, Florida State, and Notre Dame, that’s one expected win (1.03) from the three games combined. There’s another expected win from adding up Miami and Duke (1.04).

Going into the Louisville game on October 26th, FPI projects Virginia to stand with a 4-3 record, with the Liberty game remaining afterward as close to a guarantee. The trip to UNC-Chapel Hill and hosting VaTech are each essentially coin flips, leading to one more expected win between the two. Georgia Tech and Louisville should both be wins; the FPI projections say there’s basically a 75 percent chance of winning both (1.45 expected wins).

Bottom line: seven wins is safe to expect, eight wins is very possible, and—if all the coins flip in UVA’s favor—10 wins wouldn’t be a total shock.

ESPN’s rankings and projections correlate pretty closely with Bill Connelly’s S&P+ metrics, which we covered when Bill released his 2019 Virginia preview back in May. S&P+ ranks UVA 41st, with 7.6 expected wins. Bill rates Virginia slightly stronger against Pitt and Notre Dame, but slightly weaker against VPISU, Duke, and Georgia Tech.

Off-season analytics are particularly tricky since they rely on the previous season’s data, with best guesses for returning production, contributions from transfers, and recent recruiting strength. For Virginia in 2019 in particular, this uncertainty leads down two very different paths:

  • Yes, Please: Bryce Perkins continues to improve upon his stellar 2018 season. Improved recruiting along the offensive line plays out on the field as players enter their third season in the program, and the various complementary utility pieces at the speed positions grow into leading roles in the offense. Jowon Briggs and Ben Smiley are ready to play significant minutes, adding an injection of health and talent to the defensive line. Charles Snowden wreaks havoc off the edge and one of the nation’s top returning defensive backfields capitalizes on lots of rushed throws from quarterbacks under pressure. The kicking game stabilizes and Seneca Milledge adds a dynamic threat in the return game. Virginia’s run of school-wide national championships continues through the fall: 15-0, #WeWantBama.
  • No, Thank You: Losing Jordan Ellis and Olamide Zaccheaus stagnates the offense, with last season’s role players not ready for this season’s primetime. A patchwork offensive line can’t keep Perkins upright and healthy all season, and the tight end position fails to materialize as even a tertiary weapon in the passing game. The young defensive linemen are still a year away from really contributing and a lack of depth becomes apparent by late in the season. No linebacker aside from Snowden steps up. The defensive backfield is still really good, but opposing QBs have all day to pick them apart. Inconsistency plagues the special teams units. The Hoos go 0-fer on the road, drop the ACC home opener against FSU, and fail to get the Hokie off their back for a sixteenth straight season: 5-7, #WeWantElon.

Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but the disaster scenario seems more unrealistic than the rainbows-and-puppy-dogs point of view. A run to the College Football Playoff may be taking it a bit too far, I’ll grant you. But a program that—under Bronco Mendenhall—has played above its recruiting strength is one that I would favor to exceed preseason projections that rely on relative recruiting strength.

Buckle up, Virginia fans. The 2019 season could be a fun ride.