Virginia football is ranked No. 23 in the AP Top 25 Poll

The surging Cavaliers are ranked for the first time since 2011

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Virginia football has not been ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll since November 2011.

Dorothy Wang | Cavalier Daily

Virginia football is ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll for the first time since 2011. 

The Cavaliers (6-2, 4-1 ACC), following their dominant win against North Carolina Saturday, are ranked No. 23 in the nation, a testament to the New Standard and the ascent of Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s football program.

Predicted to finish last in ESPN.com’s ACC Preseason Poll, this year’s Virginia team has defied expectations. The Cavaliers have dominated ACC play so far.

Virginia is led by junior transfer quarterback Bryce Perkins, who has passed for 1623 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for 575 yards and six touchdowns. His go-to target, senior wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, has 690 receiving yards and six touchdowns. In the game against North Carolina, Zaccheaus became Virginia’s all-time leader in receptions. Senior running back Jordan Ellis paces the Cavaliers’ run game, with 683 rushing yards on 5.3 yards per carry.

The defense, however, has perhaps been the most outstanding part of this year’s Cavaliers squad. Junior cornerback Bryce Hall leads the nation with 16 pass breakups — part of one of the best secondaries in the country. Senior safety Juan Thornhill is tied for second in the ACC with four interceptions. The linebacking core has also played extremely well. Senior Chris Peace leads the unit, tied for third in the ACC with six sacks this year.

The Cavaliers are playing complementary football, and their potential seems limitless. The upset victory against then-No. 16 Miami was a signature win, and Virginia has taken care of business ever since against ACC competition. Saturday’s win against the Tar Heels marked their third consecutive victory. They will look to continue their winning run against Pittsburgh Friday night.

Last year, the Cavaliers took a big step forward in qualifying for a bowl game. This year, Virginia has its sights set on the ACC Coastal title.

In 2011 — the last time the Cavaliers were ranked — Virginia had the signature wins. They upset then-undefeated, No. 12 Georgia Tech and beat Florida State on the road for the first time in school history. Despite those milestones, the Cavaliers lost 38-0 against Virginia Tech in the final game of the season, losing their Top 25 ranking and falling short in their bid for the ACC Coastal title.

If Virginia wants to keep their place in the Top 25 and contend for the Coastal title, the road runs through Blacksburg, where the Cavaliers will face the Hokies in their final game of the season.

In Virginia’s locker room, the mantra “Beat Tech” is written in bold letters. The Cavaliers may have to do just that in order to win the Coastal.

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