Kiper: 2001 ACC football preview

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Friday, August 10

Virginia football preview

It's a transition year at Virginia. The Cavaliers go from George Welsh, who had solid years and established the program, to Al Groh, who returns to the ACC -- and his alma mater -- after a one-year stint as head coach of the New York Jets. His son, former Virginia quarterback Mike Groh, joins him on his staff.

Virginia was 6-6 last season, losing to Georgia in its bowl game. So the Cavaliers are going from a mediocre year to a new season with a coach who has some question marks.

Cavaliers at a glance
2001 schedule
Aug. 25 at Wisconsin
Sept. 1 vs. Richmond
Sept. 13 vs. Penn State
Sept. 22 at Clemson
Sept. 29 vs. Duke
Oct. 6 at Maryland
Oct. 13 at North Carolina
Oct. 20 vs. Florida State
Oct. 27 at N.C. State
Nov. 3 vs. Wake Forest
Nov. 10 vs. Georgia Tech
Nov. 17 vs. Virginia Tech

2000 results
(6-6, 5-3 ACC)

BYU L 38-35
Richmond W 34-6
at Duke W 26-10
Clemson L 31-10
at Wake Forest W 27-10
Maryland W 31-23
at Florida State L 37-3
North Carolina W 17-6
at Georgia Tech L 35-0
N.C. State W 24-17
at Virginia Tech L 42-21
vs. No. 24 Georgia L 37-14

Their schedule is very difficult early, beginning at Wisconsin on Aug. 25. They also have to play at Clemson three games later. That's not a good way for a new coach to start a season. Although the Cavaliers host Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, the home-field advantage may not matter.

The quarterback situation is still undecided. The word is that both quarterbacks, Bryson Spinner and Matt Schaub, may share time early in the season until one establishes himself and proves he can beat a defense with his arm. If no one steps forward, they could be splitting the job all season. Even though he's 6-foot-4, 226 pounds, Schaub has decent mobility. Spinner (6-2, 218) was inconsistent last year, but he has some talent.

Groh will mainly have the quarterbacks hand the ball to Antwoine Womack as much as possible. The 6-foot, 215-pounder, who rushed for 1,076 yards and nine touchdowns last season, could get 30-35 touches per game, either running or catching the ball. Unless Spinner or Schaub can add diversity to the attack with their passing ability, the Cavaliers will lean on Womack and hope he can carry the load.

Virginia has a solid offensive line to open holes for Womack. Right guard Evan Routzahn (6-5, 306) is outstanding, one of the most underrated players -- and best guards -- in the country. Jermese Jones, who was inconsistent at left tackle last season, moves to right tackle. The 6-6, 324-pounder has a ton of talent and possibly an NFL future, but he must play up to the level of his physical talent. It's the same story for left guard Josh Lawson (6-5, 292), who has shown ability but needs consistency. Left tackle Kevin Bailey (6-6, 300), a sophomore, has a bright future in the ACC. Center Jared Woodson (6-6, 295) was a guard last year, but he hurt his neck and missed the last eight games of the season. They feel he should be fine once he settles in at center.

At receiver, Billy McMullen is a tall receiver at 6-4, 205 pounds, but he is Virginia's only go-to weapon on the outside. Sophomore Mike McGrew could be a player to watch, at 6-2, 188. If he emerges to go with McMullen, their receiving corps could be in good shape. For now, though, the unit is a question mark.

Tight end has been a strong position for Virginia over the years. This season Chris Luzar (6-7, 255), a decent receiver who is getting bigger every year, could be adequate, but they don't have a player like Casey Crawford or Billy Baber who could be the focal point. Whether Luzar can be the same type of player remains to be seen.

The Cavaliers will primarily run a 3-4. Up front, Monsanto Pope (6-4, 286) is a nose tackle must be a dominator. He hasn't been so far. In fact, the defensive line last year wasn't much of a factor in any games. The pass rush was non-existent, only producing 15 sacks.

At linebackers, the starters are new, but they have experience and depth. Angelo Crowell (6-1, 234), the younger brother of former Virginia receiver Germane Crowell, is the most experienced as a junior. Outside linebacker Merrill Robertson (6-1, 244) played defensive end last year and could end up being their best linebacker because the 3-4 defense could be a decent adjustment for him.

The defensive backfield gets a boost with the return of Chris Williams, an All-American in 1999. The 6-3, 208-pounder was ineligible last year, but he is back this year at safety. However, the Cavaliers have no experience at cornerback. It's a big concern; if the front seven can't generate sacks and Robertson can't become a big-play outside linebacker, the cornerbacks could be exposed.

The kicking game is strong and experienced. Placekicker David Greene, who made 11 of 15 field-goal attempts last season, is solid. Punter Mike Abrams is underrated, averaging 42.6 yards a punt. Kicking will benefit the team, not hurt it.

OVERVIEW: Womack is the featured player; he's the Cavaliers' star. They need either Spinner or Schaub to emerge. If they do, it will have to be because of the receiver position blossoms with McMullen and McGrew. The offensive line is potentially good, but outside of Routzahn and the potential of Bailey, Jones and Lawson have to play up to their talent level. So

After an average season in Welsh's final year, the Cavaliers figure to be average again this season under Groh. Later in the year, they have an opportunity to win games once they solidify the QB position with Spinner or Schaub. There is a lot of uncertainty about how good the offense can be. Womack is the featured player; he's the Cavaliers' star. They need Womack to stay healthy, a receiver to emerge opposite McMullen, and the offensive line to play up to its potential and become one of the best in the ACC. Jones and Lawson must play to the level of their talent.

The defense is adjusting to a 3-4 scheme, but it needs to generate more than 15 sacks. Pope must have a big year at nose guard, and the linebacking corps, particularly Robertson and Crowell, needs to play up to the level expected for a 3-4 to succeed. The inexperienced secondary, led by Williams, needs the help of a pass rush.

Virginia has some talented components, but also some question marks on both sides of the ball. The schedule is very tough, especially two of the first four weeks at Wisconsin and Clemson. To get six wins like last season, the Cavaliers must mix in an upset or two.

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