This Time, Cavaliers Will Try to Overachieve
Foldesy, Jody, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
When you assess what Virginia's football team failed to accomplish last season, when it packed more power than Pepco, the 1997 outlook looks downright questionable.
Virginia showed flashes of brawn and blunder last year while plodding to a 7-5 record. When playing their best, the Cavaliers embarrassed No. 13 Texas, which ultimately played in an alliance bowl, and upset No. 6 North Carolina, a front-runner for an alliance bid before losing in Charlottesville. But at their worst, they were simply disappointing - to impartial observers, to fans, to themselves.
"Seven wins don't satisfy me," says redshirt junior Anthony Poindexter, a first-team All-ACC safety last season and an All-American candidate this year. "We had all the tools and all the players. It was like a waste of the time we had."
Indeed. NFL teams certainly thought plenty of Virginia's talent, taking two defensive players in the first round of the 1997 draft and drafting six Cavaliers overall.
Now Virginia must turn last season's underachievement into this fall's overachievement, and attempt to prolong its decade-long streak of winning at least seven games.
Because the Cavaliers enter the season with more variables than an algebra textbook, they'll get an immediate indication of their potential tonight when they play No. 16 Auburn at Scott Stadium. A win could erase all thoughts of a "rebuilding year." A bad loss, however, could spell the start of a long season.
"I don't feel good about anything with this team right now," said George Welsh, the winningest coach in ACC history (105-68-3 in 15 years at Virginia). "I'm concerned about everything. The kicking game's a concern, the defense is a concern, the passing game's a concern. There's a lot of question marks. There's a lot of holes."
To say the least, the offense enters the season in a state of flux. Four of five assistant coaches on that side of the ball are in the first year at their positions, including coordinator Sparky Woods, who replaced first-year Boston College coach Tom O'Brien.
The offense's biggest loss is tailback Tiki Barber, the school's all-time leading rusher, who now plays for the New York Giants. Thomas Jones, one of the top prospects in the state and perhaps the nation two years ago, takes over as the primary ball-carrier.
Junior Aaron Brooks will start at quarterback, hoping to repeat the versatility he showed in the Cavaliers' loss to Miami in last year's Carquest Bowl. Brooks threw for one touchdown and ran for another that day, averaging 11.8 yards per completion and 5.5 per rush. But although Brooks played in all 12 games in 1996, he threw for just 517 yards with one touchdown and seven interceptions.
Hence, it appears the offense may provide as many questions as answers in the first few weeks. …