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Aug 16, 2018

ACC Coastal Preview

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ACC Atlantic


(SU - Straight Up, ATS - Against the Spread, O/U - Over/Under)

Here's a look at the Coastal half of the ACC. As usual, teams are listed in their predicted order of finish, with 2017 straight-up, against the spread, and over/under records included.

We’ll take a look at the Atlantic half of the league in our next update.

Looking for a “super sleeper” this fall? Try Georgia Tech (2017 SU 5-6, ATS 7-3-1, O/U 4-6-1). Maybe the Yellow Jackets are a bit of a hard sell as a title contender, but this is exactly the sort of situation in which shrewd HC Paul Johnson has succeeded before. Rewind to 2014, when Tech was off of a lackluster 7-6 campaign; Johnson, with a similar team to what he will have this fall, surged to 11 wins and an Orange Bowl romp past Dak Prescott and Mississippi State. After things went pear-shaped in 2015, and Tech lost almost every close decision in a 3-9 skid, Johnson bounced back with a 9-win season capped by another bowl win over an SEC rep (this time Kentucky in the Taxslayer Bowl). Last year’s 5-6 mark might have been one of the most-deceiving in the country, with the Jackets blowing at least three games they should have won, including bitter 1-point losses vs. Tennessee and Miami. A mid-September date vs. UCF was also cancelled due to Hurricane Irma. Considering that Johnson beat top Coastal contender Virginia Tech and narrowly missed vs. the Canes, the gap between the Ramblin’ Wreck and the Coastal favorites is negligible...if at all.

Johnson’s option offense returns its catalyst in sr. QB Taquon Marshall, who might be the best runner Johnson has ever fielded at that position after rushing for 1146 yards and 17 TDs last season. Unfortunately, the pass-averse Army QBs were among the few less effective in the air as Marshall could complete only 43 passes all season (though 10 went for TDs) and just 37% of his throws. While the pass has mostly been a sneaky diversions for Johnson offenses since his days at Georgia Southern and Navy, Marshall didn’t even provide that much last season. Still, Johnson is confident in his QB, and isn’t asking much. “If he’s over 50 (percent completions) he’s going to be pretty good,” says the coach. There isn’t a lot experience in the receiving corps after the departure of Ricky Jones, who caught 58% of GT’s completions last fall, but from a school that has produced Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas, there are usually a couple of long striders in the mix. A homerun hitter also usually emerges among the RB platoon which already features slamming 5-9, 211-lb. “B-back” KirVonte Benson (1053 TR LY, giving Tech a pair of 1000-yard rushers). Add in Marshall as the ultimate option QB run threat, and Johnson’s offense should again keep most foes off balance.

It’s on defense, however, where Tech might be able to upgrade itself into contention. Johnson has replaced veteran coordinator Ted Roof (who moved to NC State) with Nate Woody, hired from App State and tasked with implementing a simpler, more-aggressive scheme more easily deployed from his 3-4 base than the 4-2-5 looks preferred by Roof. The new alignment will hopefully make it easier to feature speedy types such as edge pass rushers Anree Saint-Amour and Victor Alexander, the latter now more of a stand-up OLB. Johnson hopes the new style better camouflages a smaller DL that was often pushed around too much under Roof. The concern is in the secondary, where three new starters must be plugged in around sr. FS A.J. Gray. RS frosh Tre Swilling, a highly-rated recruit in 2017 and son of Tech great Pat Swilling, might make an immediate impact at a CB spot, while spring work suggested that touted true frosh Charlie Thomas, a hybrid OLB/S, should find a role somewhere in Woody’s new-look stop unit.

The Jackets will get to work out a few kinks in the opener vs. Alcorn State before a two-game road test at South Florida and Pitt that should indicate whether or not Johnson has the sleeper we envision this fall. A trap could thus be set for Clemson at Atlanta the following week. The ACC schedule presents the usual challenges, but Johnson has mostly stayed a step ahead of the league, which is still trying to figure out how to slow the quirky Johnson option after ten years. Getting to the BCS looks a bit of a longshot because Clemson likely awaits if Tech can get to  the ACC title game, but the Coastal appears within reach.

Spread-wise, Johnson has often proven formidable in his career, and enters 2018 on an 11-3-1 spread run (6-2-1 last eight as a dog). Note that the visiting team is 13-1-1 vs. the spread the last 15 in the traditional regular-season ender vs. Georgia; good news for the Jackets, as this year’s game is in Athens.

Pump the brakes! Egged on by ESPN and others, one could be forgiven for believing that it was the glory days of the ‘80s all over again for Miami-Fla. (2017 SU 10-3; ATS 5-8; O/U 3-10) after the Canes blitzed Notre Dame, 41-8, in a battle of unbeatens last November 11. The Howard Schnellenger/Jimmy Johnson era had returned! Only it hadn’t; the Canes were never that good, and had been more than fortunate to previously survive miracle finishes vs. Florida State and Georgia Tech, while barely outscoring suspect ACC also-rans Syracuse and North Carolina. No surprise, then, that Miami would eventually be unmasked as a national title pretender, flat in a regular-season ending loss at double-digit dog Pitt, steamrollered by Clemson in the ACC title game, and then outclassed by Big Ten Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl. Sure, progress has been made the past two seasons under alum and former Georgia HC Mark Richt, but it was a bit presumptuous to put the Canes among the nation’s elite.

The great Miami teams of the past always had stellar QB play, but we are hardly sure that sr. Malik Rosier or any of the other untested newcomers who likely challenge him this fall are the next comings of Bernie Kosar or Vinny Testaverde. Out of spring, Rosier appeared to remain in the pilot‘s chair, but tenuously so after completing just 40 of 89 passes in the final three games of 2017, all losses. Pay attention to well-regarded RS frosh N-Kosi Perry and Cade Weldon, and ballyhooed true frosh Jarren Williams, as any could supplant Rosier if the senior, who has been streaky his entire career, slumps again. There are plenty of speedy targets, including exciting jr. Ahmmon Richards, who missed most of 2017 with injuries but broke Michael Irvin’s frosh receiving yardage record (934) in 2016. At RB, jr. Travis Homer (966 YR last fall) has run with some flair, but the OL was inconsistent at times a year ago, and will be flipping soph G Navaughn Donaldson from a guard to a tackle spot. A new PK must also emerge after school career FG leader Michael Badgley’s graduation.

Perhaps nowhere more than the defense did LY’s Canes pretend they were their 1980s predecessors, with their swagger and "turnover chains" impressing the likes of Michelle Beadle and various others in the media, but in crunch time down the stretch they proved more bluster than substance, especially a secondary that struggled in coverage and allowed better than 70% completions (with just one pick) over the last four games. Still, well-traveled d.c. Manny Diaz has credentials, and there remains plenty of foot speed and disruptive elements on a platoon that returns seven starters. DEs Joe (Joseph!) Jackson and Jonathan Garvin have high-round NFL potential, and the Miami “havoc rate” (combined tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and passed defenses divided by number of defensive plays) ranked fourth in FBS last season. Moreover, LBs Shaq Quartermann, Michael Pinckney, and Zach McCloud will be in their third seasons together as starters. McCloud’s absence in spring prompted Diaz to experiment with some 4-2-5 looks that might transfer into the fall.

After hanging in the Final Four race into December last season, the Canes risk potential elimination early this term if they can’t beat LSU at Jerry Jones AT&T Stadium in the September 2 opener. A bit later, after facing the revenge-minded Seminoles on Oct. 7, Miami plays four of five on the road. On the plus side, the Canes miss Clemson (unless Miami reaches the ACC title game, where the Tigers likely wait for a rematch). Whatever, getting back into the BCS discussion looks like it will be a challenge for Richt.

Spread-wise, Miami became overvalued very early last season and ended up dropping 7 of its last 9 vs. the spread. Worth noting that Richt teams at Georgia and Miami are only 6-15-1 as an underdog since 2008 (1-3 since 2016 with the Canes).

They’re pretty pleased at Virginia Tech (2017 SU 9-4; ATS 6-7; O/U 2-8-3), which was fretting for what seemed a decade about what might happen to the program after Frank Beamer’s eventual retirement. In just two seasons since Beamer hung ‘em up, however, Justin Fuente (19-8 SU since 2016) has quelled most of those fears, as the former Memphis HC has proven not only a proper fit, but perhaps an upgrade from the last few Beamer years, when the offense went stale and the Hokies barely kept alive a bowl streak that has now reached 25 in a row. Moreover, sources say Fuente hasn’t even bothered to pay attention to a few high-profile openings elsewhere in which his name was mentioned. Insiders know that a good ACC job can be hard to top, and since Beamer opened up and successfully mined the talent-rich Tidewater area (from where Michael Vick and countless other Hokies have hailed) in the ‘90s, a steady stream of in-state talent has been finding its way to Blacksburg. Fuente has a good thing going, and he knows it.

Still, it was a troubling and uncharacteristic offseason for VPI, as assistant coach Galen Scott, recently promoted to a co-d.c. spot to take some of the load off of veteran Bud Foster, resigned in the spring due to an off-field controversy (ahem!). Starting CB Adonis Alexander was declared academically ineligible for the fall, and soph QB Josh Jackson was in danger of meeting the same fate, though it appears he has satisfied some of his academic shortcomings. Then, in early July, first-string nickel-back Mook Alexander was dismissed from the team. Definitely not business as usual in Blacksburg.

Even before Jackson’s classroom troubles, some ACC sources believed Fuente was going to open up the QB competition this fall, with RS frosh Hendon Hooker (thought at this time last year to be the frontrunner for the job Jackson eventually won) and ballyhooed true frosh Quincy Patterson II in the mix. Jackson passed for nearly 3000 yards and 20 TDs while starting all 13 games last fall, but his efforts became more erratic down the stretch as the Hokies didn’t score more than 24 points in any of their last six games. Moreover, two of last year’s key supporting weapons, WR Cam Phillips (all-time leading Gobbler pass catcher; Buffalo Bills camp) and RB Travon McMillan (transfer to Colorado), are no longer in the fold. Fuente will be looking toward Ball State transfer WR Damon Hazelton (51 catches for the Cards in 2016) as a potential deep threat, while hoping that once-touted jr. RB Deshawn McClease (530 YR LY) can shake nagging injuries that have slowed his career.

After his hire, Fuente proved sage when persuading Beamer’s longtime sidekick, the aforementioned d.c. Bud Foster, to stick around. The respected Foster enters his 32nd year on the job but also is confronted with some unexpected rebuilding due to the late personnel losses in his secondary on top of some of the early defections from his platoon to the NFL including LB Tremaine Edmunds (Bills 1st round), S Terrell Edmunds (Steelers 1st round), and DT Tim Settle (Redskins 5th round). Now Foster looks at replacing seven starters, though as usual VPI begins from a higher plateau after ranking 4th in scoring (14.8 ppg) and 13th overall in defense last fall. The cupboard is not bare; three starters are back along the line, and sr. DT Ricky Walker could be next VPI NFL first-round pick. But even with a familiar supply of talent, the LB corps and now the secondary are areas without much experience, creating a few more areas of concern than usual for Foster.

The tenor for the entire season could be set in the high-profile, Labor Day-night opener at Florida State in Willie Taggart’s HC debut for the Seminoles. A win there and VPI could be 5-0 when it treks to Notre Dame in early October. But the schedule has its share of ACC banana peels, and Fuente lost three of those games last season. Given some of the offseason developments, he might be doing well to fare similarly this fall.

Spread-wise, VPI did not punch above its weight too well last season, dropping all three as a dog. Fuente, however, has made sure to continue the VPI dominance vs. in-state Virginia, having won and covered both of his tries vs. the Cavs, whose losing streak against the Hokies now stands at 14 (last Wahoo win in series back in 2003). The mere two “overs” in 2017 was mostly a result of the offensive downturn the second half of the season.

They measure football success a bit differently at Duke (2017 SU 7-6; ATS 8-5; O/U 4-9), with the variable being at what point the locals tune out the pigskin action and start to count the days until the beginning of basketball season. If things are really going bad on the gridiron, the start of Coach K’s hoop practices in October becomes the measurable. Last year, it landed somewhere in between, as there was plenty of excitement in Durham after David Cutcliffe’s team jumped to a 4-0 break from the gate. By the time the Blue Devils notched their next win, however, it was November 18 (vs. stumbling Georgia Tech), and full attention was being paid to Grayson Allen and his frosh teammates on the hardwood. That Duke actually closed pretty well with that win vs. the Yellow Jackets and subsequent vs. Wake Forest, plus throttling Northern Illinois in Detroit’s Quick Lane Bowl, went almost unnoticed on Tobacco Road. Such is life for Blue Devil football.

Cutcliffe, however, has done what seemed nearly impossible when he took the job a decade ago, stabilizing Duke as a competitive ACC entry that is expected to qualify for a bowl each season. Not since the era of HC Bill Murray in the 50s and early 60s has Duke sustained in a similar manner (the Steve Spurrier era lasted just three seasons from 1987-89). Still, it was odd to see the Cutcliffe offense fluctuate as it did a year ago; after scoring a robust 41 ppg in their first four wins, the “O” sagged and barely scored 12 ppg in the 6-game skid, before reappearing to salvage the bowl bid and score 37 ppg over the last three outings. Pass protection inconsistencies and lack of a homerun threat WR contributed to an uneven season for now-jr. QB Daniel Jones, who passed for 2691 yards but only 14 TDP (plus 11 picks). For what it’s worth, Cutcliffe believes his OL will be improved, enough so that soph Brittain Brown (701 YR LY) can become a true feature RB, and the modern Duke offense has balance. Cutcliffe will also be looking for sr. WR T.J. Rahming (65 catches LY) to convert a few more of those receptions into scores after notching just 2 TDs last season.

That Duke has not been roadkill on defense for years might be the real secret to Cutcliffe stabilizing the program over the past decade. The Blue Devils ranked a respectable 21st in both total and scoring “D” last season and return almost the entirety of their front seven, featuring MLB jr. Joe Giles-Harris, an acknowledged destroyer and potential A-A candidate. The secondary was pretty airtight last season, too (pass “D” ranked 16th nationally), though co-d.c.’s Ben Albert & Matt Guerreri must work in three new starters if S Jeremy McDuffie can’t return in time from a serious knee injury last November.

The schedule is not a picnic, with Army, Northwestern, and a potentially-revived Baylor (the latter two on the road) out of the chute, and Virginia Tech also on the slate before September is complete. Oddly, for a Cutcliffe Duke team, the questions are more on offense, though the program has progressed to the point where a bowl miss would be a disappointment.

Spread-wise, note that Cutcliffe has covered six openers in a row (Army has been forewarned!), and has not had a losing mark vs. the number the past five seasons, a span in which the Blue Devils are 41-23-1 vs. the number. Cutcliffe is also 22-10 as a dog over that span.

What’s up with Pittsburgh (2017 SU 5-7; ATS 7-5; O/U 3-9)? Wins over Penn State, Clemson, and Miami suggest there hasn’t been a better giant-killer in the country over the past two years than the Panthers. But Pitt was also bad enough to miss out on the bowl process entirely last season despite membership in the lesser (Coastal) half of the ACC. Entering its fourth season, the regime of HC Pat Narduzzi has been one of schizophrenia. Moreover, the recurring slip-ups along with the occasional eye-openers have not helped the program develop much consistency or an identity, the latter something various boosters feared when the program left on-campus Pitt Stadium almost 20 years ago to take up residence at Heinz Field with the Steelers. Rather than some of the latter’s prestige rubbing off, the Panthers, even with their move to the ACC, have seen their profile lessen the past two decades, with the hometown NFL team inhaling most of the gridiron oxygen at the confluence of the three rivers.

There is some encouragement for 2018, however, spawned mostly from the season-ending shocker over the Hurricanes that knocked Miami from the unbeaten ranks. Now-soph QB Kenny Pickett, who came off the bench to nearly lead an upset vs. Virginia Tech the previous week, was at the helm the whole way vs. Mark Richt’s bunch and was more than serviceable, passing for 193 yards and a TD (with no picks) and rushing for another 60 yards with 2 TDs. Ben DiNucci, who had taken over at QB (with mixed results) for USC transfer Max Browne at midseason, has subsequently transferred to James Madison, leaving to job to Pickett. Improvement, however, is needed along an OL that was inconsistent a season ago and now breaks in three new starters. After gaining 1121 YR as a frosh in 2015 but battling injuries since, sr. QB Quadree Ollison is back for one more spin, and will probably split carries with fellow-sr. Darrin Hall (628 YR LY). Narduzzi will also be looking for a deep-treat wideout to emerge opposite sure-handed sr. Rafael Araujo-Lopes (43 catches LY) and will hope that his aerial game can produce more than a paltry 12 TDP as a year ago. More consistency from soph PK Alex Kessman (just 11 of 19 FGs in 2017) would also be a plus.

If there has been a real downer to the current coaching regime it has been a succession of middling defenses, which most in the Steel City figured would be a strength of Narduzzi’s teams, considering his long run as Mark Dantonio’s defensive mastermind at Cincinnati and Michigan State. Randy Bates comes over from Pat Fitzgerald’s Northwestern staff as the new d.c. after last year’s rebuilt platoon took some lumps. By late November, however, the “D” had progressed, and most of the front 7 returns, including the LB trio of Saleem Brightwell, Oluwaseun Idowu, and Elijah Zeise who combined for 216 tackles last fall. Among Bates’ first tasks will be to juice a pass rush that recording only 23 sacks and inconsistent pressure a year ago. The secondary was also a bit of a disappointment, and there is room for touted RS frosh Paris Ford to make an immediate impact at one of the corners.

Pitt usually doesn’t duck anybody in its non-conference slate and this year is no different; after an opener against the FCS Albany Great Danes (a game the Panthers won’t overlook after being pushed into OT by the Youngstown State Penguins in the 2017 opener), the old rivalry with Penn State resurfaces for another year, while last year’s BCS sensation UCF and Notre Dame are also on the schedule by midseason. The slate eases a bit before the finale vs. Miami, but unless Pickett proves his late-November work from last season is no fluke, Narduzzi could miss the bowl party again, which would ramp up the pressure for 2019.

Narduzzi’s Pitt has developed a few noteworthy spread trends the past few years, most notably as a big underacheiver at chalk (5-12) and, related, at home (just 5-14 vs. the line at Heinz since 2015), but value-laden as a visiting dog, covering 10 of 14 in that role.

Is HC Larry Fedora on the hot seat at North Carolina (2017 SU 3-9; ATS 5-7; O/U 6-6)? Perhaps. To be fair, Fedora didn't ask for some of the distractions he found once hired at Chapel Hill from Southern Miss after the 2011 campaign. Though he was asked to clean up the mess from the aborted regime of Butch Davis (who had already been sacrificed before interim Everett Withers succeeded him), the academic fraud scandal, bubbling beneath the surface before Fedora was hired, caused unexpected distractions for several years before the Tar Heels finally wriggled free (controversially so) last autumn. Whatever, it has left a cloud layer over Kenan Stadium that has yet to lift. After a slow start to his Chapel Hill tenure, Fedora forged a modest breakthrough, capped by the 2015 Coastal winners and the Mitchell Trubisky team of 2016, but slipped back to 3-9 last season. Then Fedora dug a deeper hole for himself at ACC Media Days by sounding downright foolish when downplaying the CTE situation.  Not good.  Combined with last year's skid, Fedora might be painting himself into a box if the Heels are anything close to resembling last season’s nosedive.

Fedora, originally hired for his offensive acumen, saw that rep take a hit last year in the wake of the departure of Trubisky to the NFL. Injuries were a problem on the attack end, but no reliable successor to Trubisky emerged, either. Back for another crack is now-soph Chazz Surratt, who performed with a bit of flair when in the lineup last season, though consistency could improve. Junior southpaw Nathan Elliott lacks Surratt’s mobility, but arguably performed better when installed by Fedora in the last month of the campaign, and winning two of four starts in the process. Whoever takes snaps will be relying on a bevy of frosh wideouts led by blue-chip prospects Jordyn Adams and Dyami Brown (both in-state products), hoping to complement big-play jr. wideout Anthony Ratliff-Williams (18 yards per catch LY). The 1-2 TB punch of Jordon Brown and Michael Carter returns after combining for 1171 YR a year ago, but questions abound up front on a rebuilt OL.

Even in Fedora’s three bowl seasons at Chapel Hill, his defenses have often leaked alarmingly, exacerbated, perhaps, by a merry-go-round of defensive coordinators. John Papuchis, in his second year on the job after several years on Bo Pelini’s Nebraska staff, is looking to provide some stability, but an acute problem has been rush defense; the Heels have ranked last in that category in the conference each of the past five years. Papuchis does return 8 of his top 9 linemen, as sr. DE Malik Carney looks to lead the platoon in sacks for a third straight year. Also back is sr. OLB Cole Holcomb, who has led the team in tackles the past two seasons. A newcomer to watch could be frosh OLB Matthew Flint, who originally committed to Tennessee before the coaching change in Knoxville. The Heels could also use a few playmakers to emerge in their secondary after recording only 7 picks all of 2017.

The schedule is front-loaded, with two road games (at Cal and East Carolina, though the Pirates are very beatable) out of the chute, then the home opener vs. UCF, the same Golden Knights who finished unbeaten last season and beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl. By midseason, UNC will also have faced Coastal heavyweights Miami (on the road) and VPI (at home). Fedora will be doing well to split those first six which would increase the chances to get to a bowl, as the slate would appear to ease up a bit down the stretch. After last fall’s various struggles, however, being cautiously optimistic is about as far as we’ll go with the Heels.

Spread-wise, UNC did fare better down the stretch last season when covering its last four, all with Elliott at QB. Note that Fedora has also failed to cover his last five openers. Series trends of interest include covers in five straight for the visitor in the Tobacco Road rivalry with nearby NC State.

When last seen, Virginia (2017 SU 6-7, ATS 6-7; O/U 6-7) looked like a candidate for witness protection after a disappearing act in the second half of the 2017 campaign. For a while last season, they were dreaming big in Charlottesville, as the Cavs had bolted to a 5-1 mark by mid-October, seeming to have turned the corner for second-year HC Bronco Mendenhall. A bowl berth seemed a mere formality at that point. But the season would quickly go sideways, and only a desperate early-November win over a snakebit Georgia Tech would salvage a postseason berth. Barely bowl-eligible, Virginia would have been better not to show up in Annapolis for the Military Bowl, where on its home field, Navy torpedoed the Cavs, 49-7. About the only eventual consolation for the UVa gridders was that the top-ranked hoops team would slink out of March Madness in even-more humiliating fashion, becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed when UMBC romped in March. Comparing humiliations between sports, however, is not what Wahoo alums like Brit Hume and Fred Barnes would care to be doing each year.

While Mendenhall’s qualifications are still considered sturdy, especially after his former BYU took only two years to collapse without his presence, the manner in which last season unraveled has Hume and others a bit concerned. Every one of the six losses in the last seven games was by a double-digit margin. Though in the end it was all much better than the 2-win fiasco of Mendenhall’s first season in 2016, there are fair questions to ask about the immediate trajectory of the program that will be scrambling to replace several key contributors and leaders from a year ago.

The offense stalled down the stretch last season, managing only a combined 7 points in the last two games (bitter, and ugly, losses to Virginia Tech and in the bowl vs. Navy). Mendenhall and his sidekick from the Provo years, o.c. Robert Anae, would ideally like a QB with more mobility than the departed Kurt Benkert, who took most of the snaps the last two seasons. Enter juco Bryce Perkins, a former Arizona State recruit who seems to fit the mobile mold that Mendenhall and Anae prefer. Anything to goose a dormant infantry that barely gained 93 ypg a year ago and ranked an anemic 128th nationally would be a plus. The OL, which played well for the first month of last season, again looms as a question mark as it tries to open holes for LY’s leading rusher, Jordan Ellis (836 YR but less than 4 ypc). It would also be nice for a deep threat to emerge in the receiving corps after Benkert was mostly throwing short and intermediate last season; leading returning receiver Olamide Zaccheaus caught 85 passes a year ago, but at barely 10 yards per reception.

Mendenhall, a disciple of Rocky Long, has always been considered a defensive specialist, but will be mostly hoping his stop unit doesn’t have to carry too much of the load this fall. The platoon loses a key component at each level from a year ago, with the majority of questions up front in Mendenhall’s 3-4 after the ‘Hoos leaked a bit too much vs. the run (199.3 ypg ranked 102nd) in 2017. Three of the top five on the DL from last season have departed, including DE Andrew Brown, drafted by the Bengals, while LB Micah Kiser was tabbed by the Rams. More experienced depth is present in the back seven, especially the secondary, where sr. Juan Thornhill has moved from a corner to a FS spot.

The schedule should provide Virginia with a shot to get back to a bowl, with winnable dates vs. Indiana and Ohio U appearing the toughest non-ACC challenges, while Richmond and FBS newcomer Liberty round out the intersectional slate. The natives, however, are getting very restless in regard to in-state rival Virginia Tech, which hasn’t lost to the ‘Hoos since 2003. Eventually, if Mendenhall wants to have a lengthy run in Charlottesville, he is going to have to beat the Hokies, after predecessors Al Groh and Mike London were partially undermined by failures vs. the big Commonwealth rival.

Spread-wise, note that Mendenhall, once a considerable force in an underdog role back to his BYU days, has now dropped 10 of his last 14 getting points with the Cavaliers since midway in the 2016 campaign.

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