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2015 season preview: Virginia Cavaliers

Another season with a losing record might be the final nail for Virginia football coach Mike London, who has survived the coaching chopping block the past few seasons despite diminishing returns since a strong 2011 campaign. While there is talent in Charlottesville, the issue for London is that Virginia has a shaky quarterback and again scheduled outside of its class. The Cavaliers open at UCLA and later host Boise State.

Best-case scenario: London could go a long way in securing his job in 2016 by the end of September if he can start the season with two nonconference wins. After the opener at UCLA, Virginia hosts Notre Dame. The nonconference schedule ends with the Broncos on Sept. 25. If the Cavaliers can win one of those games (and beat William & Mary), that would give them a great start to build on going into an open week and then conference play. The Cavs drew Syracuse from the Atlantic and host Duke, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in the Coastal. London’s group could go 8-4 with six conference wins and end up at the ACC championship game.

Worst-case scenario: Outside of the William & Mary game, there are no easy wins on the Cavaliers’ schedule. While they were better than their record indicated in 2014, this is still a program within the lower tiers of the ACC. Virginia won just two games in 2013, and that realistically could happen this fall. The quarterback situation once again is not a good one, with Greyson Lambert’s departure, Corwin Cutler’s waffling and freshman Nick Johns’ arrest in July on charges of driving while intoxicated. Matt Johns is clearly the starter, but how will the offensive line and running game fare?

Most important player: Matt Johns won the quarterback competition decidedly over 2014 starter Lambert, so there is hope he finally will put an end the poor play at the position under London. Lambert was solid at times a season ago, so it’s possible Johns has shown remarkable progress to unseat Lambert. For the Cavaliers to make a bowl game, Johns will need to prove he’s a much better player than his stats suggest. If Johns cannot provide the consistency the Cavaliers have lacked at quarterback, there is little shot for this team to get to a bowl game after a three-year drought.

Breakout player: The Cavaliers’ defense went under the radar last season, but the unit was among the best in the ACC. It kept Virginia in games despite an offense bordering on inept at times. The front seven lost its stars from a season ago, however, so London needs someone to step up and provide a consistent pass rush and defend the run. Virginia fans are hopeful that will be former five-star defensive tackle Andrew Brown. The idea was Brown and safety Quin Blanding would operate Virginia’s climb back toward respectability. While Blanding has already proved himself as a star, Brown battled injuries as a freshman. If he lives up to the hype, he will be among the ACC’s best interior linemen this season.

Most important game: The rivalry game against Virginia Tech determined the Cavaliers’ postseason last season, and that very well could happen again this fall. With a daunting schedule, Virginia might be looking for a win in the regular-season finale to return to bowl eligibility. In 2014, it looked as if that would happen before a late collapse from a normally stout Virginia defense. London needs to qualify for a bowl game to help keep his job, but he also needs to finally earn a win against the in-state Hokies. The Cavs have lost 11 straight and 15 of 16 to Virginia Tech.

Class of 2015 signee to watch: Linebacker C.J. Stalker. The Ohio native made waves this spring in Charlottesville by getting first-team reps at weak-side linebacker. He will be on the field quite a bit, and the only question is can he can become the starter with Zach Bradshaw providing competition? -- Gerry Hamilton

Class of 2016 storyline: The Cavaliers have 21 commitments and have done a good job filling needs in the class. The defensive line remains the position of need in the months leading up to national signing day, including what is an ACC battle for end Patrick Jones II. -- Gerry Hamilton