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Previewing Virginia football’s slate for the 2022 season

A new non-conference foe and yearly rivalries await a hungry Virginia team entering the first year of Coach Tony Elliott’s tenure

<p>The Cavaliers’ favorable schedule gives them a strong chance of a postseason appearance in Coach Tony Elliott’s first season at the helm in Charlottesville.&nbsp;</p>

The Cavaliers’ favorable schedule gives them a strong chance of a postseason appearance in Coach Tony Elliott’s first season at the helm in Charlottesville. 

College football is right around the corner, and Virginia is hoping to regain its footing in the ACC Coastal Division after reaching the conference championship in 2019. Despite a mediocre 6-6 record in 2021, the Cavaliers have managed to retain several key stars all while entering the first year in the tenure of new Coach Tony Elliott — formerly the offensive coordinator at Clemson. 

Luckily enough, Virginia — who struggled in a blowout loss to Elliott’s previous team in the aforementioned ACC Championship — will avoid juggernauts such as Clemson and Notre Dame this season. However, new opponents and rising programs within the conference will challenge the Cavaliers in their third-go-around with senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong. 

Nearly three weeks from now, the Cavaliers will jumpstart their 2022 campaign with a date against Richmond at Scott Stadium. The schedule only ramps up as the season progresses, with multiple critical matchups along the way. 

Oct. 8 vs. Louisville

The Cavaliers have a complicated history with the Louisville Cardinals. Virginia fans may remember the near-upset of the Lamar Jackson-led Cardinals in 2016, or the game-winning field goal to send Virginia home with a one-point victory last season. Jackson, now a starting quarterback in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens, was the Heisman Trophy winner and regarded as a top prospect at the time. 

It seems as if every year reflects a theme of unpredictability, with the two schools sharing a similar football pedigree that often leads to some close battles. Further, the Cardinals and Cavaliers have split their past six games dating back to 2016, marking an underrated rivalry between an ACC mainstay in Virginia and a newcomer in Louisville. 

The chief concern for the Cavaliers will be Cardinal senior quarterback Malik Cunningham — a dual-threat weapon who, with his running ability and quickness, has an uncanny resemblance to Jackson. From Alabama, Cunningham possesses three years of experience as a starter — quietly posting 2,941 passing yards while rushing for 1,031 — the most out of any Division 1 quarterback in 2021. 

In order to slow down Cunningham and sophomore running back Jalen Mitchell, Virginia will have to prioritize the Cardinals’ rushing schemes which heavily involve their quarterback, a rare yet dangerous threat for opposing defenses. 

Nov. 19 vs. Coastal Carolina

Despite Coastal Carolina’s status as a college football mid-major, the Chanticleers have done nothing but proven that they can compete with the Power 5 conferences. Coach Jamey Chadwell — who has received plenty of buzz as a hot commodity in the coaching world — has successfully turned a 3-9 program in 2017 into a perennial powerhouse in the Sun Belt. 

Coastal Carolina has won 22 out of its last 25 games, including a triumph over then-No. 8 BYU in 2020 in the infamous “Mullets vs. Mormons” game. The question thus begs, where did this mullet phenomenon come from? 

Junior quarterback Grayson McCall — who has risen to stardom all while sporting a flowing mullet — has catalyzed the Chanticleer offense for the past two years. The 6-foot-3, 215 lb. field general from North Carolina has recorded only six interceptions in 24 games, all while posting 54 touchdowns through the air and 11 on the ground. 

With a schedule that already includes the likes of Cunningham and Miami’s star sophomore quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, Virginia will have to contend with one of the most talented quarterbacks in all of Division 1 in an unusual, out-of-conference matchup. However, a story to monitor will be the strength of schedule of the Chanticleers, as a date with the Cavaliers will be a stark contrast from the bulk of the competition in the Sun Belt. 

Nov. 26 at Virginia Tech

It all ends with the Hokies. In the annual clash between the two schools, Virginia Tech and Virginia will once again vie for the Commonwealth Cup in one of the most heated rivalries in all of college football. Let the record state that the Hokies have had the overwhelming upper hand over the Cavaliers in the 21st century, with a Virginia victory in 2019 finally breaking a streak of 15 consecutive wins by the team from Blacksburg. 

Last year’s loss at home to a surprisingly weak Virginia Tech team left a sour taste in Virginia’s mouth. Now, with once again a talent-laden roster that rivals Virginia Tech on paper, the Cavaliers will have to show up when it matters most as they travel to Lane Stadium in late November. 

As it so happens, this will be the first year for both teams’ Coaches, as Virginia Tech hired former Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry to reignite a tradition-heavy program. The Hokies and Cavaliers — who have increasingly depended on the Commonwealth Cup even in mediocre seasons — will be hungry to start their respective coaches’ tenures off on the right foot. 

Virginia Tech — in the midst of a roster overhaul — will feature a completely different offense after the departure of quarterback Braxton Burmeister and wide receivers Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson. Relying on the transfer portal for quarterbacks Jason Brown and Grant Wells, Pry will have to wipe the slate clean and revitalize a depleted Hokie roster. 

However, as Cavalier fans know all too well, the Commonwealth Cup cannot be viewed through the lens of which roster is better or which record is stronger. Each team, regardless of their season’s trajectory, tries to bring out their best come Thanksgiving weekend. 

The potential of the Cavalier offense — spearheaded by the return of Armstrong and junior wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks — will give Virginia the edge in these crucial matchups. Defensive concerns remain, yet if the Cavaliers can shore up that side of the ball, an appearance in the ACC Championship is not out of the question. With a nationally-renowned quarterback at the helm and a wide receiving corps unlike any other in the program’s history, Virginia football has the chance to make some serious noise come November. 

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