Fans can learn a great deal by listening to preseason prognostications. Why, just last year I learned never to trust preseason prognosticators!
That epiphany came from personal experience. My Washington Nationals 2013 World Series Champions back tattoo can’t be washed away by a long shower (thanks, Sports Illustrated) and no, Clemson was not the clear-cut football power in the ACC last season (some say national champion Florida State was better). One schlub named Daniel Weltz even predicted the Virginia football team would finish 6-6 last year. That’s the last time I trust him.
But I return to you in 2014 older and wiser. Even with Virginia football’s season-opener against powerhouse UCLA mere days away, I will refrain from making any “fearless predictions” in this column (I do that on page 4, for those who are interested). Frankly, I have no idea how the Cavaliers will fare this season. No one does. But I have developed enough humility, honed from years of horrible hunches and ill-fated wagers (you’re welcome, brother), to admit when my crystal ball is a little hazy.
Admittedly, there’s a certain allure to proffering absurd possibilities: nobody knows you’re wrong until they’ve stopped caring about what you originally said. And in the improbable scenario that your asinine forecast comes true, nobody calls you a lucky idiot. They call you a mad genius.
A lesser sports writer would exploit that seemingly irresistible payoff schedule and write in this space that Anthony Harris will finish with 37 interceptions and Greyson Lambert will win the Heisman. A lesser person would steal your attention for a few minutes with the bold, underlined and italicized headline: “Ten totally ridiculous things that could happen to the Cavaliers this year (but probably won’t).”
I will not do this. I refuse to pander to those with an overactive imagination and an under-active connection to reality. Instead, I will deliver a true service to Virginia football fans and also help tilt the scales of sports journalism back toward accuracy in reporting on the future.
Here, I will make three predictions that I feel very confident will not come true for your 2014 Cavaliers.
Virginia will fare worse this season than last
If the Cavaliers’ woeful 2013 season — its worst since 1981 — has any silver lining, it is that Virginia will be a program on the rise in 2014. The question that will be answered during the next few months is not if the team will improve, but by how much and how quickly.
Yes, the upcoming schedule is daunting. Yes, the Cavaliers have question marks at quarterback; a patchwork offensive line; a dearth of proven receivers; a laundry list of injury concerns; and a coach that has drawn plenty of criticism in the past two seasons. But Virginia will win at least three games this season, and could even climb out of the ACC Coastal cellar.
The fear that the Cavaliers could repeat their historically awful 2013 showing stems from two concerns: schedule challenges and roster issues. Ten of Virginia’s 2014 opponents played in a bowl game last year and the 12 teams on the docket combined to win 65 percent of their games, the second highest mark in the country. Factor in that the Cavaliers will rely on many of the same playmakers from 2013 — sans star tight end Jake McGee, who transferred to Florida during the offseason — and critics see all the makings of disaster 2.0.
Though some apprehension is warranted — especially given the team’s inability to translate individual talent into wins last season, and against a comparable schedule — there have been enough positive developments to be cautiously optimistic heading into 2014.
On defense, the Cavaliers will bring in star prospects Quin Blanding and Andrew Brown to help buoy a unit that should force plenty of turnovers with the ball hawk Harris entering his second year in defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta’s aggressive schemes. On offense, star senior Kevin Parks and sophomore prodigy Taquan Mizzell should lead an effective rushing game that will take some pressure off first-time starter Lambert.
Mike London will win ACC Coach of the Year
When the Cavaliers enjoyed a shocking renaissance in 2011, upsetting top-25 foes Georgia Tech and Florida State en route to an 8-4 regular season and a Chick-fil-A Bowl appearance, London was justifiably recognized as the conference’s top coach. That season proved the folly of making unqualified pronouncements about who can and who cannot win a coach of the year award in any given season. That being said, Mike London will not win the ACC Coach of the Year award in 2014.
Besides the fact that the words look plainly absurd in the header above, London faces too many obstacles to even enter the discussion.
First, even if the Cavaliers do enjoy a resurgence similar to 2011’s, there will be no shortage of qualified alternatives in the rejuvenated ACC. Second, London has attracted so much scorn and second-guessing for his in-game decision-making in recent years that voters will likely be loath to honor London unless he is the runaway winner. And third, with 17 returning starters and 19 four- or five-star recruits on the 2014 roster, any on-field improvements this season will likely be attributed to improved talent rather than better leadership.
And all of those hurdles don’t even come into play unless the Cavaliers make a meteoric leap in 2014, winning at least eight games — and possibly more.
Virginia will finish 4-8
On the face of it, this prediction doesn’t seem too absurd. But if you take a look at my forecast on page 4 — and then consider it in light of my checkered betting history — you can almost guarantee the Cavaliers will not win four games this year. Three, maybe. Five, possibly. But not four.
In a world where bold preseason predictions so often fall short, the safest bet is simply to bet both sides of an argument.