NCAA Football Preview - Virginia Cavaliers

2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: Things couldn't have gone much worse for Virginia in 2013, as Mike London's fourth season at the helm resulted in a mere 2-10 record that saw the Cavaliers go winless in the ACC for the first time since 1981.

Things started well enough for the Cavs, who won two of their first three games, all in Charlottesville. The team sandwiched victories over BYU (19-16) and VMI (49-0) around a humbling loss to national powerhouse Oregon (49-0), but the rout at the hands of the Ducks was expected.

However, the victory over the Keydets on Sept. 21 was the last time the team tasted victory in 2013, with Virginia losing nine straight the rest of the way.

There were some games the team was competitive and could have broken the skein, including a heart-breaking 27-26 setback at Maryland on Oct. 12, but there were also blowout losses to the likes of Ball State (48-27), Clemson (59-10), North Carolina (45-14) and Miami-Florida (45-26) that showed just how far down the league ladder Virginia has fallen.


OFFENSE: With seven starters returning on the offensive side of the football, improving on last year's numbers is likely for the Cavaliers. Virginia's top offensive weapon last year was tailback Kevin Parks, who rushed for 1.031 yards and 11 touchdowns, returns to once again pace the offense. Parks earned second-team All-ACC honors in 2013.

The quarterback position has some depth with junior David Watford (6-2, 205) and sophomore Greyson Lambert (6-5, 225). In his first season as a starter, Watford completed just over 57 percent of his passes last year, for 2,202 yards and eight TDs. Lambert played sparingly, but had a strong spring and has moved into the top spot for the job as the season is set to begin.

"Lambert is representative of what a player should be," London said. "I'm not saying anything against David, because David, again, is a young man that's very bright and very much a part of this team's success. But Greyson has taken the reins, and he's gone full steam ahead with them."

Senior wideout Darius Jennings (5-11, 175) is the top returning receiver after grabbing 38 balls, for 340 yards and three TDs last year. Parks (38 receptions, 329 yards, one TD) is also a capable pass catcher coming out of the backfield

Virginia returns three starters along the offensive line, including guards Connor Davis (6-5, 300) and Jay Whitmire (6-6, 310). Although, Whitmire is likely to make the transition to left tackle in 2014. He will be flanked by sophomore Eric Smith (6-5, 295), who got eight starts at right tackle as a freshman.

DEFENSE: The Cavaliers are even more experienced on the defensive side of things, with nine starters returning. The best of the group is All-American safety Anthony Harris (6-1, 190), who is among the best at his position in the country. Harris racked up 80 tackles in 2013 and tied for the national lead in interceptions with eight. Harris will be joined in the secondary by fellow seniors Brandon Phelps (44 tackles) and Demetrious Nicholson. who missed half of last year due to injury.

The linebacking corps is well represented with the team's top two tacklers from last year returning in seniors Henry Coley (91 tackles, 9.0 TFL, one sack) and Daquan Romero (89 tackles, 6.5 TFL).

Up front, junior rush end Eli Harold is the centerpiece. As a sophomore in 2013, the 6-4, 235-pounder racked up 15 TFL and 8.5 sacks to pace the team in both categories.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Alec Vozenilek handled a lot of the kicking duties in 2013, handling all the punting (41.2 yards per attempt on school-record 85 punts) and most of the place kicking. The 5-10, 200-pound senior was 12-of-15 on field-goal tries last season, with a long of 40 yards. He was forced into duty thanks to an injury that sidelined Ian Frye. The 6-6, Frye seems poised to reprise his role as a junior in 2014.

OUTLOOK: London is on the hot seat in 2014 thanks to back-to-back losing seasons, but with a ton of returning starters and a strong recruiting class, there is nowhere to go but up.

Don't expect another fast start this time around, as Virginia gets right to it with UCLA coming to Charlottesville in the season-opener. A date with Richmond follows and that never seems to be easy either. The rest of the non-conference slate consists of BYU on the road and Kent State at home.

Just like the regular-season opener, the Cavs are thrown right into the fire in the ACC, opening against newcomer Louisville. Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Miami-Florida also make trips to Scott Stadium and will provide tough obstacles for Virginia as well.

The ACC road seems unlikely to produce many wins either, with scheduled trips to Duke, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Virginia Tech on the docket.

London addressed last season at the ACC Kickoff in July.

"First of all, the acknowledgment that we have to play better," said London. "We have to execute and perform better. But my focus is 100 percent on this year's team, on this year's process. You learn to be -- you learned how to be humble last season, 2013, and the process of moving forward, we're hungry in the 2014 season."

Despite what looks to be a much improved team overall this year, it may not be too reflective in the win column. Doubling up on its win total from 2013 is probable. Much more than that isn't likely though.