Virginia season preview

Today we look at the Virginia Cavaliers, who look to rebound after finishing last in the Coastal in 2012.

Virginia Cavaliers

Coach: Mike London (40-26 overall, 16-21 at Virginia)

2012 record: 4-8 (2-6)

Key losses: QB Phillip Sims, QB Michael Rocco, RB Perry Jones, DT Chris Brathwaite, LB Steve Greer, LB LaRoy Reynolds

Key returnees: RB Kevin Parks, LT Morgan Moses, WR Darius Jennings, CB Demetrious Nicholson, S Anthony Harris, DE Jake Snyder

Newcomer to watch: RB Taquan Mizzell. The talented tailback, nicknamed "Smoke" because of his elusiveness on the field, is perhaps the top recruit London has landed at Virginia. With veteran runner Parks on the roster, Mizzell won't need to carry the load in his first season, but given the serious question marks at quarterback, the Cavaliers figure to run the ball often. Mizzell's speed and athleticism should make for a valuable weapon immediately, and if the offensive line can take a step forward, he could be one of the league's top rookies in 2013.

Biggest games in 2013: vs. Oregon, Sept. 7; vs. Clemson, Nov. 2; at Miami, Nov. 23; vs. Virginia Tech, Nov. 30

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: It's London's fourth season at Virginia, and he's facing his fourth quarterback battle. That's an unlikely scenario given the talent on the depth chart at the position just a year ago, but the transfer of Rocco and the dismissal of Sims served to reshuffle the deck once again. Redshirt sophomore David Watford looks to be the favorite to grab the starting job. He's more athletic than redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert, which could be a necessity given last year's woes on the offensive line, and Watford did gain limited playing time in 2011.

Forecast: London's tenure at Virginia started well enough, but the Cavaliers have now lost 10 of their past 14 games, and the hot-seat rumors have begun for the coach. Add in the serious questions at quarterback and a tough early slate that includes nonconference games against BYU and Oregon, and things could get ugly fast for Virginia.

Still, there is reason for optimism. Mizzell may be the most talented runner Virginia has had in a decade, and with Parks back after racking up nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage last season, the running game should be a strength. Meanwhile, the offensive line certainly left ample room for improvement a year ago, but Moses is one of the conference's top blockers and the unit does return four starters.

A massive overhaul of the coaching staff also figures to shake things up in Charlottesville, and none of the new faces will bring as much enthusiasm as new coordinator Jon Tenuta. He has built a reputation for being aggressive, and after finishing 2012 dead last in the ACC in takeaways, that's good news for the Cavaliers. Last year, Virginia defenders managed just four interceptions all season. A strong and experienced secondary should make it easier for Tenuta to use blitz packages liberally, and a solid group of pass-rushers led by Snyder and Eli Harold figure to be an improvement on last year.

Of course, the biggest challenge Virginia may face is not simply improving its own production on both sides of the ball, but the daunting schedule. In addition to the grueling nonconference start, Virginia wraps up the year with November showdowns against Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech. A loss in 2013 would be the 10th straight to its in-state rival.