The only thing certain as we head into this 2020 College Football season is that nothing is certain. While the Big Ten and Pac 12 have postponed their fall sports seasons (although the Big Ten may be walking that back), the ACC trudges on. So, while we still have a glimmer of hope for football in a the fall, here’s a glimpse at Virginia’s schedule as we know it.
Non-Conference Opponent - Friday, September 11th: This was supposed to be a home game against VMI until the Southern Conference (SoCon) The announcement leaves Virginia with another open date on the schedule, or an opportunity to find an opponent to round out their 11 game schedule.
@Virginia Tech Hokies - Saturday, September 19th: Though Virginia was supposed to open against VMI, the Southern Conference cancelled all fall sports, which in turn eliminated Virginia’s non-conference opponent on September 11 the week before. UVA is the only ACC school that hasn’t announced a non-conference opponent yet, which means that the first game of the season will actually be at Virginia Tech. The schedule makers didn’t do Virginia any favors. Or did they? In a game generally held Thanksgiving weekend, we get an early season treat. I actually like the spot for Virginia. Despite VaTech returning nine starters on defense (after the loss of Caleb Farley who opted out for the season) as well starting quarterback Hendon Hooker and a solid offensive line, you can’t ignore the offseason turmoil that seems to surround the Hokie program each year. VaTech lost its share of players to the transfer portal and will have to replace legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Then there were issues surrounding Farley, who voiced concerns over VaTech’s COVID-19 testing procedures on his way out. All that adds up to a team that may not be as sharp in September as they would be in November. Don’t get me wrong, the Hokies are still very talented, but the timing of the game with both teams opening their seasons against each other may not be the worst thing for the Hoos.
@Clemson Tigers - Saturday, October 3rd: Limited fans likely and coming off a BYE, I’m not sure you could come up with a more advantageous scenario for a Virginia team to have to travel to Death Valley and take on the National Title-Favorite Clemson Tigers. Clemson is loaded once again with all-world quarterback Trevor Lawrence back and stud running back Travis Etienne eschewing the NFL Draft and returning for his senior season. Then there’s the defense anchored by Nyles Pinkney and Tyler Davis as well as a slew of four and five-star talents ready to step in after the departures of Isaiah Simmons and AJ Terrell. Don’t expect a win by the Hoos, but just like in last year’s ACC title game, it’s always good to test yourself against the best.
N.C. State Wolfpack - Saturday, Oct 10th: This team will be a far cry from the squad that beat the Cavaliers 35-21 two seasons ago. Something just felt a little off about NC State last year, and I don’t foresee that changing in 2020. It all starts with quarterback Devin Leary. Sure, he was only a freshman last year, but he didn’t really flash much to be excited about coming into his sophomore year. He’ll have some decent weapons around him including a multi-headed running attack and solid receivers, but nothing that really wows you. Even on defense, all the units are good, but none really jump off the page. I could be very wrong, but the ‘Pack looks like one of the bottom teams from the ACC Atlantic.
@Wake Forest Demon Deacons - Saturday, Oct 17th: In the first game of a four game stretch that will likely define Virginia’s season, the Hoos head to Winston-Salem to face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. A matchup with Wake Forest wasn’t on Virginia’s original schedule so it’s a nice opportunity see the Cavalier defense square off against Wake Forest’s high octane offense. Unfortunately that offense took a hit this week when one of the best receivers in the country, Sage Surratt decided to opt out of the 2020 season. Additionally, Jamie Newman is gone, but quarterback Sam Hartman should keep the Demon Deacon offense humming. It will be a game of contrasting styles as Wake will want to get up and down the field after ranking 2nd in the ACC in passing yards a year ago, while Virginia will do everything they can to slow them down and control the game. If the Hoos can steal this one on the road, they could be set up for a nice October run.
@Miami Hurricanes - Saturday, Oct 24th: How did Virginia lose to Miami a year ago? That game still has me baffled. Sure, the Hurricanes are talented, but they were just awful as a team. Fast forward to this season, and can you say anything has changed? Miami always has talent, but Manny Diaz hasn’t shown the ability to do anything with it. And what will happen this season given several key players have already opted out instead focusing on playing professionally (most notably Gregory Rousseau). The only way Miami returns to prominence is if Houston transfer D’Eriq King pulls a Bryce Perkins and does it all for the ‘Canes, instantly giving them life. Outside of that, it’s another down year in Coral Gables.
North Carolina Tar Heels - Saturday, Oct 31st: This is the game I have circled on my calendar. UNC surprised a lot of people last year, and Sam Howell was as good as advertised. They could be even better this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this game determines who stays in the mix to face off against Clemson in the ACC Championship. Howell, has a loaded receiving corps led by Dymani Brown. The line is good, not great, and the backs, Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, continue in a long line of really good North Carolina runners. Once again, the ‘Heels will put up points. The key will be can they stop teams when they need to. For as good as North Carolina appeared and as much as they surprised, they only beat one team with a winning record all season (in their Military Bowl win over Temple) and got a lot of traction by almost beating Clemson. That will have to change if Mack Brown and his squad want to prove last year was more than just a one year blip.
Louisville Cardinals - Saturday, Nov 7th: Coming off the heels (no pun intended) of a matchup with North Carolina, the Hoos host Louisville in another game I’m really looking forward to this season. A season ago, I was really impressed with what Coach Scott Satterfield was able to accomplish. It was clear that his players bought in and they vastly improved from the team that quit on Bobby Petrino the season before. Still, the Cardinals won the games they were supposed to win and lost the games they were supposed to lose. The question remains, was that a product of talent that just needed to care or is this program back on the rise after a couple down years? In order to do that, they’ll have to get better on the defensive side of the ball. The Cardinals ranked dead last in scoring defense in the ACC and even with a high powered offense led by Micale Cunningham, being able to get a stop is the difference between winning and losing. Most of the starters are back, but does experience in and of itself warrant improvement? If it does, Louisville can be one of the best teams in the ACC. Despite being at home, this is a game where Virginia could struggle and once again a win would signal this Virginia team is one of the best in the ACC.
Duke Blue Devils - Saturday, Nov 14th: It’s Duke. David Cutcliffe is the coach. They’ll be solid yet unspectacular. However, one major difference will be that the defense could carry the Blue Devils. Chase Brice transfers in from Clemson and will be good, but he doesn’t have much around him in terms of weapons. The defense however, will be good with a nice pass rush and really good front seven. Coming off two big-time home games, the Blue Devils could catch Virginia napping, but I do like them getting the win ahead of a late-season bye.
@Florida State Seminoles - Saturday, Nov 28th: Call me crazy, but I’m just not that worried about this game. Not only will it be played in front of fewer fans, Florida State falls into the same category of Miami and VaTech. They’re a talented team, but have had some off the field turmoil around their dealing with COVID-19. Add to that Mike Norvell coming to Tallahassee and the early disconnect he had with team in the wake of protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd. Norvell comes in as an offensive genius, but if this line can’t protect James Blackman and create running lanes for Jashaun Corbin, no scheme will matter. I’m going to predict growing pains for Norvell and the ‘Noles and like for the Hoos to win in Tallahassee for just the second time.
Boston College Eagles - Saturday, Dec 5th: In the regular season finale, the Hoos will welcome the Boston College Eagles to Charlottesville. AJ Dillon is gone, but the Eagles can still come at the Hoos with a formidable running game led by David Bailey. The question is will they? New head coach Jeff Hafley brings a defensive lean which may indicate a willingness to continue pounding the football, but new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti may look to be a bit more pass heavy. Regardless of how they look offensively, the defense will likely again be their undoing. After coming in last in the ACC in yards per game allowed, it doesn’t look like much is going to change. Unless Hafley can perform a miracle, it could be another long year in Chestnut Hill.