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NCAA Football Preview - Virginia Cavaliers

2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: 2012 was a step in the wrong direction for Mike London and the Virginia Cavaliers. After posting eight wins in 2011, the Cavaliers managed just half that total last season, finishing a disappointing 4-8 overall. The conference slate was equally frustrating at a mere 2-6, last place in the Coastal Division.

The season began strong with back-to-back wins over Richmond (43-19) and Penn State (17-16), but wins were obviously hard to come by after that. Following the narrow win over the Nittany Lions, Virginia lost six straight games, falling to Georgia Tech (56-20), TCU (27-7), Louisiana Tech (44-38), Duke (42-17), Maryland (27-20) and Wake Forest (16-10) in succession.

The Cavs were able to end the skein with back-to-back wins over NC State (33-6) and Miami-Florida (41-40) to begin November, but closed out the season with setbacks to North Carolina (37-13) and arch-rival Virginia Tech (17-14).

Poor offense and a lack of ball security plagued Virginia all season long, yet the record could have been much better, as the Cavaliers lost four games by a combined 22 points.

2013 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: Settling on a starting quarterback was London's first priority, as Michael Rocco moved on. The team has some talent under center in the form of athletic dual-threat David Watford (6-2 sophomore) and drop-back passer Greyson Lambert (6-5 redshirt freshman).

The trend of athletic signal-callers producing in the FBS ranks may have swayed the pendulum in favor of Watford, a sentiment perhaps offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild hinted to at Virginia's recent media day.

"The preference is the most productive guy," Fairchild said, "and they come in all different shapes and sizes and skill sets. Guys that can run in the college game, it appears more and more, can bail you out of bad play calls or bad situations. They tend to be able to minimize those more so than a guy that can't move. Obviously the ability to move at that spot's becoming more and more important."

Watford did in fact win the starting position in fall camp.

"It's hard to ignore the fact that he's played in a college football game, and at the quarterback spot that is important," Fairchild said. "Yes, that was a factor."

Whoever lines up under center will benefit from a solid offensive front that returns four of last year's five starters. The anchor up front will be mammoth left tackle Morgan Moses (6-6, 330), who has earned all-conference honors in each of the last two seasons, while being tabbed a Freshman All-American in 2010.

Also aiding the new quarterback will be the return of the team's top three receivers from last year, including junior WR Darius Jennings (48 receptions, 568 yards, five TDs) and senior WR Tim Smith (20 receptions, for 405 yards, four TDs).

The ground game will also benefit from its top performer back in junior tailback Kevin Parks. As a sophomore, the 5-8, 200-pounder paced the Cavaliers with 734 yards and five TDs on 4.6 yards per carry.

DEFENSE: The Cavaliers had games when they played stellar defense, but the problem was consistency. With seven starters back in 2013 on the defensive side of the football, the hope is that familiarity breeds consistency.

Rushing the passer was an issue in 2012, with only 17 sacks on the year. Exactly who steps up in that regard for Virginia remains to be seen. The likely candidates are senior end Jake Snyder (44 tackles, 2.5 sacks) on the outside and senior tackle Brent Urban (20 tackles, 2.0 sacks) inside.

The strength of the defense will be found in secondary depth. Five players with starting experience return, including junior cornerback Demetrious Nicholson (56 tackles), who earned All-ACC honorable mention a year ago. Junior safeties Anthony Harris (87 tackles) and Brandon Phelps (48 tackles) are reliable as well.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Place kicker Drew Jarrett wasn't used often in 2012 (8-of-12) in terms of field goal attempts, so his departure isn't exactly a huge loss. Sophomore Ian Frye handled kickoffs last season and should slide into the role of place kicker this year. The punting job securely belongs to junior Alec Vozenilek, who averaged 40.6 yards per punt in 2012, putting a third (22) of his 66 punts inside the 20-yard line.

OUTLOOK: Not many teams have as murderous two-game slate to begin the 2013 campaign than the Cavaliers, who host both BYU and Oregon to kick things off. The remainder of the non-conference slate features both VMI and Ball State coming to Charlottesville as well.

Virginia gets its toughest conference games at home as well, with Duke, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Virginia Tech set to invade Scott Stadium. Road tilts in the ACC are at Pittsburgh, Maryland, North Carolina and Miami- Florida.

An improvement on their four wins from last year is likely, but a winning record would certainly be an ambitious endeavor indeed.