Preview 2017: Virginia Is Still A Big Challenge For Bronco Mendenhall
Virginia should be better, but it’ll still be a big challenge for Bronco Mendenhall to make it a winner.
If Bronco Mendenhall wanted to come up with a challenge, he certainly picked one.
Just as the ACC was in the midst of turning the corner and becoming fantastic, he took over a program that was in the biggest need of an overhaul.
Duke and Wake Forest are always going to be Duke and Wake Forest – they’ll always have their size and academic limitations – and while no one will ever expect Syracuse, Boston College and Georgia Tech to be Florida State-level superpowers on a yearly basis, they all have a solid histories and are proven winners.
Virginia isn’t a massive school, but it is the University of Virginia – it’s had its decent football moments over the years. It hasn’t had them lately, though.
The Cavaliers have had to deal with the rest of the ACC picking off top local talents left and right, along with the SEC and Big Ten swooping in for stars. Virginia needs the right scheme and a whole lot of luck to rise up and rock. It needs the player development to be top-notch, and it needs the coaching to be strong enough to overcome a talent gap issue until the right recruiting classes can kick in.
Mendenhall came from a comfortable situation at BYU, where he helped make/keep the program a regular on the bowl circuit, going 11-for-11 with 99 victories during an excellent run. But it was time to try something different, and when the Virginia opportunity came around, he turned into one of the more interesting hires of the 2016 offseason.
But after a 2-10 season, he’s still going to have to fight through the growing pains for a program that hasn’t known a winning season since 2011 and has just two since 2005. It’s going to take a little longer, though.
The offense was among the least effective and efficient in the nation, and the defense that had a few terrific stars couldn’t slow down anyone’s passing game and struggled way too often to come up with big plays, sacks and key stops.
Fortunately, the D returns two of the best players in the country in LB Micah Kiser and S Quin Blanding, but the playmakers and depth have to emerge around them.
The 3-4 alignment has just enough beef up front to potentially hold up a bit better against the power-running teams, while Kiser is a brilliant one in the middle to work everything through. Now the young outside linebackers have to be stronger pass rushers.
The offensive line has to come up with a far stronger season in all phases, and if the pass protection can be better, Kurt Benkert and Missouri transfer Marvin Zanders should make the offense more explosive. The receiving corps is good, the running backs are fine, and the upside is there for a big Year Two improvement under Mendenhall – if everyone gets time to operate.
Mendenhall is better than 2-10. He’s more than good enough to hold his own with any coach in the ACC, but he needs the talent to work with, and he needs the momentum of a strong start he didn’t have last season.
It’ll still be a challenge, and it’ll take a little time, but this year, Virginia won’t be the league’s free space again.