You won’t find many people predicting a postseason appearance for the Virginia Cavaliers in 2018. Consider:
- The Hoos were ranked last in the ACC Coastal division media poll.
- SB Nation’s Bill Connelly picked them to win 5 games.
- Odds Shark set their over/under win total at 5.5 and took the under.
- Jerry Palm left them out of his preseason bowl projections.
- Even we at Streaking The Lawn pointed to this season’s “fresh uncertainty” in our bowl watch preview.
There’s been one notable agent of optimism, however. Brad Franklin, the publisher of CavsCorner.com, predicted last spring that Virginia would go bowling once again. His reason for hope is the arrival of Bryce Perkins: Virginia’s new dual-threat quarterback and its most intriguing new player in ages.
“After watching Bryce in the spring and so far this summer as well as watching this offense with a dual-threat quarterback, I think they are really going to surprise a lot of people,” Franklin said in an email. “You can’t watch Perkins for more than a few minutes and not come away impressed.”
I can’t remember the last time I was as curious about a Virginia football player as I am about Perkins. A potential X-factor, we haven’t seen the likes of Perkins since Vic Hall trotted out at quarterback against Virginia Tech in 2008. No pressure…but Virginia’s hopes of returning to the postseason will undoubtedly rest on his shoulders.
A junior college transfer, Perkins won the starting job during spring practice. His ascension coincides with a shift in UVA’s offensive philosophy: after two seasons of drop-back passing with Kurt Benkert, Perkins will allow Virginia to run more a more modern read-pass-option and quick-hitting attack. I’m most interested to see what happens when Perkins tucks the ball and takes off. I remember the queasy feeling I got when watching guys like Tyrod Taylor and Lamar Jackson dance away from Virginia defenders, so I’m excited to see the Hoos turn the tables.
Here’s Perkins showing off his wheels during a recent practice:
Per Franklin: “[Perkins] is an elite athlete. The thing people need to understand is that he doesn’t run like an athletic quarterback; he runs like a running back. I didn’t need to see much of Perkins to know he’s the type of kid that turns perceptions on their heads.”
But can Perkins change the perception of Virginia football? The Hoos have begun a slow march back to respectability under third-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall, but lots of work remains to bring fans back into the fold. Having a dynamic quarterback can help accelerate that process.
In addition to posting nine losing records in the last 10 years, UVA has featured offenses that were downright boring for the most part. Over the years, fans were forced to suffer through the Mike Groh, Gregg Brandon, and Steve Fairchild eras. And the first two years of Robert Anae’s tenure haven’t brought much joy either. With Perkins, Anae finally has a quarterback who fits his system.
“With Zaccheaus and Reed back plus some of the young kids at receiver—along with a solid stable of backs as well—this offense has potential to be really good,” Franklin said.
The last time Virginia had a compelling offense was during the Marques Hagans era. It’s not a coincidence that Hagans was the last legitimate dual-threat Virginia had under center. Want a crazy stat? Perkins rushed for 353 yards in 2017 at Arizona Western Community College. Hagans averaged 352 rushing yards per year as Virginia’s starting QB in 2004 and 2005 (according to Sports-Reference.com).
I’m interested to see how fans will respond if Perkins plays well and Virginia starts winning. UVA didn’t see much of a bump in ticket sales last year even after the team started 5-1. I think there’d be a more enthusiastic reaction if the Hoos start fast this year while featuring a true playmaker at quarterback.
Fans can be drawn to individual talent even when the rest of the team or show needs improvement. Sean Singletary still thrilled crowds as the hoops team faltered his senior year. Kobe Bryant packed houses across the NBA even though his final Lakers teams stunk. Eddie Murphy single-handedly carried SNL for years. Perkins could do the same for Virginia football.
There’s no guarantee he’ll succeed. But it’s clear to me that Perkins gives UVA the headline attraction that it has sorely missed. And maybe he gives any fence-sitting Virginia fans a different reason to return to Scott Stadium. We’ll find out what he can do soon enough. Until then, consider Franklin’s warning:
”Doubt [Perkins] at your own peril.”