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Previewing Virginia football’s 2023 schedule

Which opponents will the Cavaliers face in the fall?

<p>After garnering excitement for the year to come at the spring game, the Cavaliers are now finally ready to begin the 2023 season.</p>

After garnering excitement for the year to come at the spring game, the Cavaliers are now finally ready to begin the 2023 season.

With less than a month to go before Virginia football is back in action for the first time since November, it’s time to preview the schedule for the Cavaliers and what the season could look like.

Over the next four years, ACC football will operate under a 3-5-5 scheduling model, eliminating the Coastal and Atlantic divisions for the first time since 2005. Instead, schools play three teams every year, and play the other 10 biannually — Virginia will play Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia Tech every year.

The schedule is full of exciting matchups, game times and locations from top to bottom. The Cavaliers kick off in Nashville for a neutral site game against Tennessee Sept. 2 before coming home to take on in-state rival James Madison Sept. 9. Virginia then travels to Maryland for a match Sept. 15. NC State comes to Charlottesville Sept. 22, and then the Cavaliers travel to Boston College Sept. 30. October begins with William and Mary at home, and then following a bye week Virginia is on the road two straight weeks against North Carolina and Miami. Finally, November begins with Georgia Tech at home and Louisville on the road, before the Cavaliers end with consecutive home contests against Duke and Virginia Tech.

Key matchups:

Sept. 9 vs. James Madison

In just the second week of the season, the Cavaliers will face off against James Madison in only their fourth meeting ever — and in the Dukes’ second season in FBS play. Despite some knocking James Madison for being in the Sun Belt, the Dukes were 8-3 and division co-champions in their first year of FBS last year, including wins over Appalachian State, Old Dominion and No.23 Coastal Carolina. The Dukes’ high-powered offense could definitely cause problems for the Cavalier defense as the offense is not short of athletic talent. Expect a ton of fans to travel from Harrisonburg and support James Madison in Charlottesville, making for a high-energy affair.

Oct. 21 at North Carolina

Arguably the highest caliber opponent other than Tennessee, the Tar Heels, led by Drake Maye — a Heisman candidate and redshirt sophomore quarterback — will be an incredibly tough matchup for the Cavaliers. Virginia vs. North Carolina has seemed to become more of a state rivalry over the past few years, and 2022 was no different as the Cavaliers narrowly came up short to the Tar Heels in Scott Stadium, losing 31-28. If the Virginia defense is able to make Maye uncomfortable and disrupt their air raid offense, the Cavaliers can hopefully keep the score close and give themselves a chance to win in Chapel Hill on Oct. 21.

Nov. 18 vs. Duke

After a 9-4 season in 2022, the Blue Devils are returning 17 starters and 82 percent of their offensive production. With junior quarterback Riley Leonard flying under the media’s radar and Coach Mike Elko entering his second full season, Duke is a serious contender in the ACC, given their experience and depth on both sides of the football. The Blue Devils arguably will be Virginia’s most difficult matchup, as there aren’t very many holes on the roster and coaching staff. Leonard can make long throws downfield while also extending plays with his legs, as he led Duke in rushing yards in 2022 while also throwing for 2,967 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Nov. 25 vs. Virginia Tech

There is no secret as to why the Virginia Tech game is important every year. But after the cancellation of last year’s game, this will be an even more important chance for the Cavaliers to prove that they are the best football team in the state of Virginia and both gain positive momentum in the rivalry as well as finish the season on a win or potentially become bowl eligible. The Hokies are coming off of a down year as well, as they finished 3-8 overall and are returning just 11 of their starters from the 2022 team. Forcing turnovers from redshirt senior quarterback Grant Wells — who threw as many touchdowns as he did interceptions in 2022 — will be a focal point for Virginia in this installation of the Commonwealth Clash.

There is no way to sugarcoat the media impression and outside belief — or lack thereof — in the Cavaliers this season. The Cavaliers have been picked to finish last in the ACC by plenty of media outlets — most notably in the 2023 ACC Preseason Poll — and the betting line for win total is just 3.5 total wins. After a 3-7 season and the heartbreaking end off the field to the season last year, Virginia is against all odds this fall on the football field. With just nine total starters returning — three on offense, six on defense — and seven new starters that are transfers, the progress that the team continues to make in summer camp will be critical if the team wants to be successful and rebound from last year’s poor performance.

Coach Tony Elliott is not shying away from the poor expectations after his first year at the helm was not what anyone had hoped for or expected — instead he has highlighted in camp the importance of intensity and urgency.

“The coaches are going to be intense, but it’s being done from a place of love, so [the players] are not questioning that anymore,” Elliott said. “They understand why it’s necessary to have the sense of urgency.”

If Virginia wants to have a successful season, new faces must gel with the few remaining starters and the coaching staff must scheme plays which give players to make tangible impacts on the field. While the schedule is certainly not an easy one — especially with non-conference games against Tennessee and Maryland — there are opportunities for upsets and real success for the Cavaliers this fall on the football field.

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