The Virginia football team wrapped up its spring football season this past weekend. While not much stock should be taken in a scrimmage that did not feature several likely starters on both lines, the spring game did provide a few snapshots of how the team performed during the 15 off season practices. On Thursday morning, head coach Mike London released the post-spring depth chart. The DT featured a few key story lines (Malcolm Cook at OLB, Smoke Mizzell OR Daniel Hamm at starting TB, Tim Harris OR Tre Nicholson at starting CB), but the most noteworthy item came from the quarterback position. Redshirt junior Matt Johns was listed at the teams starter under center, ousting former team captain Grayson Lambert.
Obviously the post-spring depth chart does not always translate to what will happen in the fall, and the team will not dress in full pads until August, but it is clear that Johns has established himself as the number one option at QB for the time being. If Johns does start under center for the UCLA game on September 3rd, it will mark the 10th time in the last 11 years that Virginia will have had a different opening day starter at quarterback.
Since we won't learn anything new about the 2015 quarterback hierarchy for several months, we thought that we would take a look back at Virginia's opening day starters from the last decade. The Wahoos have only been to two bowl games in the last nine years, and their struggles finding a consistent starter under center is a major reason why.
Pay attention because this sad story features plenty of twists and turns.
2005: Marques Hagans earned the starting job for the second straight year by a wide margin. The Hoos lost five regular season games, but Hagans turned in one of the best individual performances in Virginia football history in the Cavaliers' win over fifth-ranked Florida State. Hagans had a productive year under center, and led the Wahoos to a thrilling victory over Minnesota in the 2005 Music City Bowl.
2006: Virginia football fans had become accustomed to success from the quarterback position. The Wahoos went from Matt Schaub to Hagans between 2002-2005, and the program enjoyed four straight bowl bids as a result. The 2006 campaign was the beginning of a long run of futility at the quarterback position. Former Notre Dame transfer Christian Olson started the season opener against Pitt, but was promptly yanked the following week in favor of Kevin McCabe. The McCabe era lasted less than one game, as Jameel Sewell took over in week 3, and finished out the season. Sewell showed flashes, but the Virginia offense was shutout in two of its last three games. UVa finished that 2006 season with a record of 5-7.
2007: Sewell reprised his role as the team's number one QB, and started Virginia's 2007 opener against Wyoming. The offense failed to score a touchdown in that game, falling to the Cowboys 23-3. Minus the 48-0 beat down of Miami to close out the Orange Bowl, the offense was pretty pedestrian in 2007. Luckily for Sewell, the Wahoos were blessed with one of the top defenses in the country, which made his job much easier. Sewell leaned heavily on the defense, and came up with several clutch plays to help lead the Cavaliers to a nine-win season and a berth in the Gator Bowl. The sophomore started every game, but prized freshman Peter Lalich made several appearances through the season.
2008: A tumultuous offseason led to several one-year bans from the program, and Sewell was one of the unfortunate Wahoos to spend the 2008 season away from the team. In Sewell's absence, Lalcih ascended to the top of the depth chart, and started UVa's 52-7 season opening loss to Southern California. Lalich's tenure lasted just one more week, before the former blue chip QB was booted from the program. Lalich's dismissal paved the way for reserve Marc Verica to grab the starting position. Though Verica led UVa to a perfect 4-0 mark in the month of October, his knack for throwing untimely picks finally caught up with him the following month. Verica and the Hoos went 0-4 in the month of November, and finished the campaign with a 5-7 record. Verica concluded the season with eight touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
2009: Here's where the "fun" began. Defensive back Vic Hall made his long-awaited return to the offensive side of the ball, and was named starter for Virginia's season opener against William and Mary. Though Hall got the start, Virginia also sprinkled in a little bit of Sewell and Verica against W&M. The result? A 26-14 loss at the hands of the FCS Tribe. An injury forced Hall to miss several games, and he eventually moved to wide receiver. Sewell assumed the starting role for most of the season, throwing seven touchdowns and seven picks. The Wahoos finished with a record of 3-9, and Al Groh was fired.
2010: With Hall and Sewell gone, Verica was the only quarterback with any game experience remaining on the 2010 roster. The senior started the season opener against Richmond, and 1st-year coach London stuck with him for the next 11 contests. Unfortunately, the Hoos did not have any other options. Oddly enough, the one year that fans would not have minded a quarterback carousel, it wasn't even on the table. Verica upped his touchdown-total to 14, but also tossed 14 picks in his final year in the program. UVa finished the 2010 season with a record of 4-8.
2011: While Virginia fans were excited about a fresh start at quarterback, the Wahoos did not have a single quarterback on the roster with any meaningful game experience. London's desire to ride it out wit Verica the year before did not yield many reps for returning QBs Michael Rocco and Ross Metheny. Rocco would win the starting job for the opener against Richmond, and handle the quarterback duties for the 2011 season. While Rocco was not perfect, he proved himself to be more than capable, and had the luxury of playing behind a stout offensive line. Despite having a clear starter in Rocco, true freshman David Watford found his way onto the field throughout the season. Sitting at 4-3 in late October, London finally settled on one quarterback, Rocco, and the Hoos won four games in a row. UVa finished the season with a record of 8-5, and a berth in the Chick Fil A Bowl.
2012: In 2012, Rocco became the first UVa quarterback since Hagans (04-05) to start the season opener in consecutive years. Rocco led UVa to a convincing win against Richmond in week one, and then a thrilling triumph over Penn State the following Saturday. Everything is just great right? Wrong. Very wrong. Alabama transfer Phillip Simms arrived in the offseason to great fanfare, and Cavalier Nation could not wait to get a glimpse of the former five-star recruit. Unfortunately, Rocco regressed and Simms never lived up to the hype. The two would split time throughout the season, in almost a comedic manner. Heck, sometimes the series' were scripted, and other times, members of staff didn't even know who was going in next. The Wahoos endured a brutal six-game losing streak midseason, and finished the year with a record of 4-8. Rocco and Simms both ended up leaving the program, but for different reasons.
2013: With Rocco and Simms gone, Watford was the only quarterback on the roster left with any game experience, so he got the job by default. Watford started the 2013 opener against BYU: he won. The junior would also start the next 11 games: he lost 10 of them. Watford threw for just eight touchdowns, but tossed 15 picks, as the Wahoos finished with a dubious record of 2-10.
2014: After winning just six games since the 2011 season, it was clear that Virginia needed a change at quarterback, and many hoped that sophomore Grayson Lambert would be the answer. Lambert started the season opener against UCLA, but the offense turned the ball over three times before intermission and he was yanked in favor of Matt Johns. Both Lambert and Johns showed flashes of brilliance in 2014, but each displayed glaring weaknesses. After a promising start, UVa finished with a record of 5-7, and still had more questions than answers regarding the quarterback position.
As we draw closer to the 2015 season, all eyes are once again under center. Will Matt Johns remain the starter, or will Grayson Lambert re-emerge at the top of the depth chart?
One thing is for sure, the coaching staff cannot afford to mishandle the position yet again.