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Since the addition of Bronco Mendenhall as head coach (from BYU), things have been a bit different for Virginia. No one had a guaranteed spot in the lineup in the spring and that included the competition at quarterback. The Cavaliers fell apart last year en route to just four wins and a spot near the bottom of the Coastal standings. Mendenhall would like to reach a bowl game in his first season.
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The battle for quarterback will go into the fall between three guys even though Matt Johns (61.3% completion, 20 TDs, 17 INTs) returns to the roster after starting all of last season. Johns is getting competition from Connor Brewer as well as East Carolina transfer Kurt Benkert.
Running back Taquan Mizzell was used a ton last year rushing and receiving (163 rushes, 75 receptions), but Mendenhall may change his plan with this year's group. Guys like Albert Reid, Olamide Zaccheaus and Daniel Hamm all return to the backfield, as well. But the best news for Virginia comes on the offensive line where they have nine players with experience to work with. From a group that struggled to run the ball a year ago, that should be a huge help. An issue for the quarterback will be who to throw to with a couple top options gone. Virginia used RBs a ton in the passing game last year, but they'll likely approach things differently with a new staff.
To improve on the other side of the ball, Ruffin McNeill comes in as the new coordinator, former coach at East Carolina. He'll implement a new 3-4 scheme so getting starters back won't be a huge deal. But one thing the Hoos lack across the board is depth. This was a group that gave up chunks of points a year ago and need to improve to reach more than four wins.
The secondary is the best part of the defense, most notably at safety where All-American Quin Blanding, only a sophomore, returns with Kelvin Rainey. However, they still need to find a couple new corners. McNeill has a tall task ahead of him, especially with how the early schedule shapes up.
Virginia has to travel to Oregon in just its second game of the season, similar to how the Cavaliers went to UCLA in their first game a year ago. But the good news is that Notre Dame and Boise State are gone from the schedule, which means a couple more non-conference wins is possible. In addition, their road game from the Atlantic division is Wake Forest, which should help. Getting UNC, Pittsburgh and Miami all at home leaves possibilities for an upset or two.
The schedule is there for Virginia to reach six wins and a bowl game, but they have to find a quarterback first. Mendenhall is changing the mindset of the Cavaliers and that could be seen if they get out of the gates with three non-conference wins.
2016 Virginia Cavaliers Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. Richmond
Sept. 10 at Oregon
Sept. 17 at Connecticut
Sept. 24 vs. Central Michigan
Oct. 1 at Duke
Oct. 15 vs. Pittsburgh
Oct. 22 vs. North Carolina
Oct. 29 vs. Louisville
Nov. 5 at Wake Forest
Nov. 12 vs. Miami (FL)
Nov. 19 at Georgia Tech
Nov. 26 at Virginia Tech
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