Virginia, the trendy ACC Coastal favorite, striving to take step from good to great

first_imgCHARLOTTE, N.C. — Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall was struck by a message school president James E. Ryan delivered at a school function this year, and the fourth-year coach applied that to this year’s football team.”(Ryan) talked about those at UVA, he expects us to be good and great,” Mendenhall said at the ACC Kickoff on Thursday. “‘Great’ meaning how we perform, how we accomplish our tasks, how we are worthy of our hire. But ‘good’ meaning the moral values and the integrity with which we do it. “What I’ve learned at UVA is that it does matter that you are good, and it does matter that you are great.”MORE: Duke viewing Alabama as potential program-elevating opportunityWith Mendenhall, the Cavaliers have been great off the field. That was exemplified with the tag-team of quarterback Bryce Perkins and SN Preseason All-American Bryce Hall at the ACC Kickoff. They’ll replicate that leadership this season as the team’s ambassadors on and off the field.Virginia will be good on the field after an 2018 8-5 season, capped with its first bowl victory since 2005: a 28-0 victory against South Carolina in the Belk Bowl. The Cavaliers are the fresh pick in the ACC Coastal and will be among the favorites to win the division in 2019 — and might be even picked to finish first when the ACC preseason poll results are totaled later this week.The question now is whether the Cavaliers can be great. The six other Coastal schools have taken turns winning the division the last six seasons. Virginia’s methodical climb started with a 2-10 season in 2016 and continues under Mendenhall heading into Year 4.”Yes, it would be nice for us to clean up this little package of now us being the seventh different team to win the Coastal,” Mendenhall said. “It doesn’t always work like that. That will happen when we earn it and when we play well enough for that to happen.”We have as good a chance as anyone on our side of the (conference) to win this league. I don’t think that’s a stretch to say that. We have a returning quarterback. We have a strong defense. We have a culture of excellence, and we have confidence.”The Cavaliers also have Perkins, the dual-threat quarterback who passed for 2,680 yards and 25 touchdowns last year, adding 923 rushing yards and another nine scores.”We definitely have the talent and we definitely have the mindset,” Perkins said. “It’s just going to be a fact of how hard, late season, late games in the season, how competitive and ferocious we take those games.”Perhaps the biggest hitch in the Coastal predictions is the in-state battle with Virginia Tech. The Hokies have won 15 straight games for the Commonwealth Cup, including last year’s 34-31 thriller in Blacksburg. Perkins had an unexpected take on that heartbreaking loss. “The Virginia Tech loss was a great thing for our team looking and going into the South Carolina game because it kind of set the mindset of our practices and how practices should be,” Perkins said. “We have to make sure we know to perform and what it takes to get back to that level, so we don’t take a loss to get back to that level of competitiveness.”MORE: Talk of Willie Taggart hot seat is prematureHall leads a defense that allowed 20.1 points per game last season and should take another step forward in 2019.”We want to win the championship,” Hall said. “I don’t think you ever go into a season not thinking or aiming for that as a goal. With that in mind, we try to understand last year and learn from our mistakes.”In other words, what it takes to be good and great. Virginia hasn’t won an ACC championship since 1995 — a team that suffered one-point losses to Michigan and Texas and a touchdown loss to Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers inched closer to that last year.With this group, a breakthrough is possible.”Now doing that is the next part,” Mendenhall said. “We’re optimistic. We’re excited, but we also acknowledge the challenge. (It) hasn’t been done for a while. For UVA, that would make it that much more gratifying if we are the team do that.”last_img

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