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ACC Season Preview: Virginia

By BJ Bennett
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With Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia will look for immediate improvement defensively.

Bronco Mendenhall's next victory will be his 100th as a head coach, after 99 wins in a very successful stint at BYU. Virginia has not had a winning season since 2011, though summer reviews were largely positive. The Cavaliers ranked last in the ACC in scoring defense, an immediate area of focus for Mendenhall, and 12th in scoring offense a year ago. Mendenhall has a handful of star players to build around.

Offense -- East Carolina graduate transfer Kurt Benkert was recently named Virginia's starting quarterback, edging out veterans Matt Johns and Connor Brewer. Benkert played in three games as a freshman with the Pirates, missing all of his second season, where he was projected to be the starter, due to a knee injury. He has ideal measurables at 6'4'', 230, though has limited live game experience. The offensive catalyst is versatile running back Tyquan Mizzell, who has 273 career rushing attempts and 143 career receptions, 75 catches in 2015. The Cavaliers do need playmakers to emerge on the perimeter to compliment Mizzell and tight end Evan Butts in the passing game. An upperclassmen-led offensive line has the potential to be solid.      

Defense -- Virginia has switched to a 3-4 defensive scheme and the Cavaliers are rebuilding and looking for playmakers up front. Former five-star recruit Andrew Brown could have a breakout year. The linebackers are led by the reliable Micah Kiser, who paced the team with 117 stops this past season. Kiser also added 13 tackles for loss. He will arguably play an even more prominent role in Virginia's new formation. Just now an upperclassman, Quin Blanding is one of college football's best defensive backs. With 238 stops in two years, his athleticism and instincts are on display on almost every play. Senior Tim Harris is a proven cover corner. Mendenhall's influence should be most evident here, given his defensive background and expertise.

Special Teams -- Punter Nicholas Conte, 44.6 yards per boot in 2015, in the ACC's best and directly impacts field position. Olamide Zaccheus was effective as a freshman in the return game. The Cavaliers will turn to senior Dylan Sims to replace proven kicker Ian Frye. 

Schedule -- More forgiving than last season, the slate still includes a non-conference trip to Oregon. The schedule is largely back-loaded with North Carolina, Louisville, Miami and road trips to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech coming after mid-October. For the most part in-league, the tougher teams, on paper, come to Scott Stadium.

Team MVP -- Quin Blanding, S
Rising Star -- Evan Butts, TE
Newcomer to Watch -- Kurt Benkert, QB

With Mendenhall, Virginia will look for immediate improvement defensively. Development at the skill positions is also needed. Benkert's play, as the new quarterback, is an obvious key. A successful first-half of the year will be critical towards positive traction for the Cavaliers.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: / Twitter: @BJBennettSports