BYU (0-0) at Virginia (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 31, 3:30 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Scott Stadium (61,500) -- Charlottesville, Virginia. Television: ESPN U. Home Record: BYU 0-0, Virginia 0-0. Away Record: BYU 0-0, Virginia 0-0. Neutral Record: BYU 0-0, Virginia 0-0. Conference Record: BYU 0-0, Virginia 0-0. Series Record: Virginia leads, 2-1.
GAME NOTES: Coming off their fourth losing season in the last five years, the Virginia Cavaliers hope to put their best foot forward on Saturday afternoon as they kick off the 2013 campaign against the BYU Cougars.
In 2011, the Cavaliers produced a record of 8-5 and were 5-3 in ACC play, but the team took a major step backward in 2012 as they won a total of just four games in 12 opportunities, one of those victories coming against FCS foe Richmond in the season opener. Two of the other triumphs, while coming against prestigious opponents such as Penn State and Miami, were both by just a single point.
Virginia enters the year having lost two straight, bowing to both North Carolina and Virginia Tech last November.
As for the Cougars, they had their struggles a year ago as well, just 2-2 after four games and 4-4 through eight outings, but head coach Bronco Mendenhall was able to get his crew on track at just the right time, closing the regular season with three wins in four tries.
BYU accepted an invitation to take part in the Poinsettia Bowl against local favorite San Diego State and took out the Aztecs in a 23-6 final, giving the team an 8-5 finish to the campaign and more than enough reason for the administration in Provo to sign coach Mendenhall to a contract extension through 2016.
The Cavaliers lead the series by a count of 2-1, although BYU won the most recent encounter back in 2000, 38-35.
A huge challenge for the Cougars this season will be identifying a quarterback who can lead them for several more years. Taysom Hill saw time in six games, starting once, last year and completed better than 59 percent of his pass attempts, en route to four TDs against a pair of picks.
Making the transition to a new signal-caller a little easier is the return of senior wide receiver Cody Hoffman, who leads all active FBS receivers in career receiving touchdowns (28), and is third in total catches (203). An All- America candidate and on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award yet again, Hoffman owns the fifth-highest total for all-purpose yards (4,052) in school history.
Throw in Ross Apo and JD Falslev as fellow returning starters on the outside and Hill, or perhaps Ammon Olsen, who is listed second on the depth chart, should have some clear-cut options down the field.
Coming out of the backfield, one that is protected by three returning starters along the offensive line, will be running back Jamaal Williams who had more starts than anyone else at the position in 2012, resulting in a team-best 775 yards and 12 touchdowns on 166 carries.
The Cougars were dealt a serious blow on the defensive side of the ball only days into the month of August when starting defensive back Jordan Johnson suffered an ACL tear in practice and will now miss the entire 2013 campaign. Johnson started 12 games a year ago, finishing with 48 tackles and 15 pass breakups, the latter tying him for 11th in the nation.
The squad still has Craig Bills and Daniel Sorensen coming back in the secondary, but no one had a nose for the ball like Johnson and he will be very difficult to replace.
Sorensen is actually the top returning tackler for the program with 68 stops, adding three interceptions and a couple of forced fumbles, but with Johnson out of the picture he might need to step up his efforts even more in order to fill the void.
As great as Johnson was in 2012, the defender of record for BYU is still linebacker Kyle Van Noy who was a one-man wrecking crew for the Cougars and still decided to return for his senior season in Provo. A candidate for the Nagurski Trophy, and the Bednarik, Butkus, Lombardi, Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards in 2013, Van Noy was an Third Team All-American in 2012 after posting 22 tackles for loss and 13 sacks on just 53 total stops.
Virginia head coach Mike London, now in his fourth season with the program, decided to gut his coaching staff after last year's disappointing showing, bringing in Steve Fairchild to be his offensive coordinator, Jon Tenuta as the defensive coordinator, and Larry Lewis heading up the special teams.
London and Fairchild have had to find a new starting quarterback and it appears the man to answer the call is David Watford, an in-state product from Hampton who is entering his sophomore campaign. The other signal-callers on the roster are all freshmen, so the appointment of Watford is almost by default really.
Darius Jennings will be a key receiver for Watford to start off, having caught 48 balls for a team-high 568 yards and five touchdowns last year. Dominique Terrell, E.J. Scott and Jake McGee, only part-time starters in 2012, will also be on hand to aid with the transition on offense.
Losing running back Perry Jones means the Cavs are also without their top receiver from a year ago after Jones caught 49 passes for the squad. However, retaining Kevin Parks means the top ground gainer is ready for another go around after carrying the ball 160 times for 734 yards and five touchdowns.
Applying more pressure at the line of scrimmage will be something Virginia is striving for, after finishing 10th in the ACC and 98th nationally with only 1.42 sacks per outing. No one other than Chris Brathwaite had more than three sacks a year ago and he is no longer around, putting even more pressure on the youngster in 2013.
Add to that the loss of top tackler Steve Greer (122 stops), and the rebuilding project on the defensive side of the ball gets even bigger for the Cavaliers.
With so many unanswered questions for the Cavs on both offense and defense, to expect them to come out of the chute and be ready to compete against a solid BYU squad is a lot to ask.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: BYU 27, Virginia 13
08/28 10:39:37 ET