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New Virginia football schedule released by ACC, adds even more challenges to struggling program

Last Monday Cavaliers fans got a glimpse of what next season will look like for the first time

<p>The Cavaliers will have the chance to assert a new identity this fall against a challenging slate.&nbsp;</p>

The Cavaliers will have the chance to assert a new identity this fall against a challenging slate. 

The ACC released each one of their constituent team’s schedules for the upcoming 2023 football season earlier last week. Among them was that of the Cavaliers, who find themselves at a crucial crossroads in program history and especially in the tenure of Coach Tony Elliott. Many questions were raised at the end of the season and the team is looking for answers. 

This new season brings with it unprecedented challenges following the loss of junior wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr., junior wide receiver Devin Chandler and sophomore linebacker D’Sean Perry in November. On-field obstacles have been made apparent as well, with junior quarterback Brennan Armstrong and senior wide receiver Billy Kemp IV transferring and sophomore wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks and senior receiver Keytaon Thompson entering the 2023 NFL Draft. The problems that the Cavaliers face this season do not just revolve around the events in Charlottesville.

Due to roster and coaching staff turnover, especially on the offensive end, Virginia is sure to have its hands full this fall in an attempt to right the ship. The schedule release does little to reassure skeptical Cavaliers fans as the slate presents challenges at every turn. Whether it's facing two teams from last year’s AP Top 25 in Tennessee and James Madison back-to-back to start their schedule or having to play a daunting duo in Louisville and Duke followed by a raucous rivalry game to end the season, this year is sure to be full of challenges. However, if a few things break Virginia’s way, bowl eligibility is not entirely out of the question. With this in mind, let's analyze the Cavaliers’ 2023 schedule. 

Key Games

9/9 vs. James Madison 

In their inaugural season in FBS play as a part of the SBC, the Dukes (8-3, 6-2 SBC) reached the 25th spot in the Week 7 AP Poll. Even though star graduate student quarterback Todd Centeio has declared for the 2023 NFL Draft, do not expect the Dukes to go quietly into the night next season. Two separate quarterbacks are transferring to Harrisonburg to try and nab the starting job— redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Griffis from Wake Forest and senior quarterback Jordan McCloud from Arizona. This game is even harder to evaluate given the fact that the two teams have not faced off in nearly 40 years, with their last matchup occurring in 1983. 

The Cavaliers can compete in this game, but their defense will have to force more turnovers against an aggression-prone offense than last year’s average of 1.3. However, defensive coordinator John Rudzinski’s unit recently suffered a key loss in the form of senior linebacker Nick Jackson, who led the team in tackles with 104 in addition to five sacks and a fumble recovery. Unless Rudzinski is able to get similar production out of the current roster’s reserves or a new addition, my bet goes with the Dukes.

10/21 at North Carolina

The Tar Heels (9-5, 6-2 ACC) had an unbelievable start last season, going 9-1 in their first 10 games and even reaching the 13th spot in the Week 12 AP Poll. However, their season ended with a whimper, losing their last four games of the season. They also suffer the loss of Draft-ready wide receiver Josh Downs. The Heels still have a bright future ahead of them, though, signing head coach Mack Brown to a one-year extension and bringing back 2022 All-ACC First Team freshman quarterback Drake Maye. 

Though the offense faces question marks from top to bottom, Virginia will win or lose this game based on whether senior quarterback Tony Muskett or junior quarterback Jay Woolfolk is able to keep pace with a high-scoring Tar Heel offense while minimizing mistakes and protecting the football. The Cavaliers kept it close in a 28-31 loss to Carolina last year, but I expect this game to be a drubbing.

11/25 vs. Virginia Tech

The 2023 season brings with it the return of the classic rivalry between the Cavaliers and the Hokies (3-8, 1-6 ACC). Following the tragedy that occurred in Charlottesville towards the end of last season, the Commonwealth Clash in Blacksburg was canceled. This year, the Hokies will journey to Scott Stadium for the 104th matchup between these two programs. This game sees these two teams in grim circumstances following two seasons that were nothing short of disastrous. The Cavaliers very narrowly topped the Hokies in the ACC Coastal Division standings with both residing in the cellar of the conference. The Hokies head into the season with a potential quarterback battle on their hands between incumbent junior quarterback Grant Wells and Baylor transfer junior quarterback Kyron Drones. The problems within this Virginia Tech program spread far beyond quarterback, however, as head coach Brent Pry must prove himself in his second season. 

Any number of factors could change the outcome, but as we saw in former Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s last game with Virginia, Elliott’s staff’s play calling could determine a win or a loss. While both squads face uncertainty at quarterback and under the headset, the Cavaliers have one clear advantage with what is going to be a raucous home environment at Scott Stadium. 


Though challenges may seem abundant, there are certainly some places where the Cavaliers can pick up some wins. In particular, there are two separate three-game stretches that Virginia will have to play well in to keep their hopes of bowl eligibility alive. Maryland (8-5, 4-5 B10), NC State (8-5, 4-4 ACC) and Boston College (3-9, 2-6 ACC) are facing some offensive instability and new questions going into next season. Virginia’s defense is entirely capable of locking them up. Later in the year, a stretch consisting of Miami (5-7, 3-5 ACC), Georgia Tech (5-7, 4-4 ACC), and Louisville (8-5, 4-4 ACC) will likely make or break their season. 

After a disappointing season last year, it will certainly be interesting to see how Tony Elliott and his team handle this new schedule and try to accomplish yet another successful season of Cavalier football.


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