TOBIN: Bowl games are ‘earned, not given’

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Virginia Coach Bronco Mendenhall has led the Cavaliers to their first bowl since 2011.

Celina Hu | Cavalier Daily

Typically, there are two types of Virginia football fans — the sharply cynical, “of course we lost again” pessimist, and the relentlessly hopeful, “we’ll get them next time” optimist. However, the Cavaliers’ recent success has given rise to a new type of fan — the overly confident, “we have a bowl game in the bag” fool.

Much of the Wahoo faithful — including myself — has fallen into that third category this season. After Virginia received a shellacking from Boston College this past Saturday, though, it became frighteningly apparent that the Cavaliers are far from having a bowl game locked up.

Virginia football certainly gave its fan base many reasons to feel confident heading into Saturday’s game against Boston College. Standing at 5-1, the Cavaliers had strung together a four-game win streak — its longest since 2011, when the team last clinched a bowl game. In this streak, the Cavaliers handed Boise State its worst home loss in 16 years, knocked off a then-impressive 4-1 Duke team and defeated North Carolina for the first time since 2009.

The Cavaliers gave fans long-awaited hope to start the season. The defense played tight, forcing multiple turnovers per game. The running game picked up, with junior halfback Jordan Ellis having a breakout start to the season. And senior quarterback Kurt Benkert finally appeared confident and began successfully taking shots down the field.

This winning streak instilled an undeserved cockiness in the Cavalier faithful, though. With the exception of Boise State, Virginia had not faced a true challenge, only playing teams with a record at or below .500. Additionally, given Boston College’s performance against Louisville — which included a 272-yard, four-touchdown day from true freshman halfback AJ Dillon and a 45-42 defeat of a former Heisman winner on his home turf — fans should not have seen Virginia’s success as infinite.   

Virginia’s embarrassingly poor play on Saturday mirrored the fans’ underestimation of Boston College. From the very start of the game, Virginia seemed off — the offense couldn’t remain on the field, and the defense uncharacteristically allowed big plays. Ultimately, the Eagles stomped on the Cavaliers in a 41-10 beat-down, providing the program with one of its worst losses of this decade.

Discrepancies in on-field play aside, Boston College triumphed in this game because the team brought more of a fighting spirit to Scott Stadium than did Virginia. Entering Saturday’s match at 3-4, the Eagles seized an opportunity to continue to turn their season around and put themselves in position to clinch a bowl berth — they deserved to win.

Virginia, on the other hand, did not warrant a victory Saturday. In fact, if the Cavaliers continue to play in the same manner, they might not reach a bowl game at all this season.

Some might see this statement as a bit dramatic — after all, Virginia has five more attempts at reaching the magic number of six victories. However, one does not need to look very hard to see how an absolute disaster could turn into a reality.

No matter how many expectations Virginia football has shattered this season, it is difficult to imagine the Cavaliers winning any of their last three games. Louisville, albeit weaker this season, has one of the most prolific college quarterbacks in junior Lamar Jackson and the fourth-most offensive yards per game at 552.6. Noting that the contest is also an away match, Virginia will probably lose. The following week, the Cavaliers will almost certainly fall to one of the best teams in college football — the No. 8 Miami Hurricanes — on the road. And given the fact that Virginia has not taken down No. 13 Virginia Tech since 2003, it would be unwise to bet against the Cavaliers’ in-state rival this time around.

With three very difficult matches to end the season, Virginia must win one of these next two games if it wants to shatter a six-year dry spell. Yet, neither game is a cakewalk on paper. This Saturday, the Cavaliers are a three-point underdog on the road against a 3-5 Pittsburgh team that, like Boston College, will be fighting to keep its bowl hopes alive. Then, Virginia has to turn around and face yet another team on the bowl bubble — Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets face a probable loss coming at the hands of No. 7 Clemson this week and tough matchups against Virginia Tech and No. 3 Georgia down the road — they need to pick up two more wins to be bowl eligible and will come out swinging against the Cavaliers in Scott Stadium.

Virginia should be able to pick up at least one more victory — the team has played its best football in years. However, to do so, the Cavaliers have to bring the fight in each of its remaining matchups. As Virginia Coach Bronco Mendenhall stated when taking over the football program, every goal — including a bowl game berth — is “earned, not given.”

Ben Tobin is an Assistant Managing Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at b.tobin@cavalierdaily.com or on Twitter at @TobinBen.

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