Virginia one of several NCAA football teams to show some losses are worse than others


Maryland players celebrate a late missed field goal by Virginia on Saturday. The Cavaliers are 2-4 with the toughest part of their schedule still to come. (Ricky Carioti/Washington Post)
John Feinstein
Columnist October 13, 2013

Virginia one of several NCAA football teams to show some losses are worse than others

John Feinstein is a sports columnist for The Washington Post and also provides commentary for the Golf Channel and National Public Radio. View Archive

Virginia one of several NCAA football teams to show some losses are worse than others

There are losses in college football and then there are losses.

In Virginia’s game at Maryland on Saturday, the Cavaliers had a plus-three turnover margin against a team that was without its starting quarterback. They reached the Maryland 10-yard line six times and scored only two touchdowns. Leading 26-20, they had Maryland in a third-and-22 hole and let the Terrapins convert en route to what turned out to be the winning touchdown.

And, finally, place kicker Alex Vozenilek, 6 for 6 since being pressed into duty two games ago, missed from 42 yards just before the buzzer.

That is a loss.

Stanford and Georgia were the most prominent teams to suffer losses Saturday, the fifth-ranked Cardinal going down at Utah while seventh-ranked Georgia was embarrassed at home by Missouri.

That might be a little bit unfair to Georgia, given that Missouri is both unbeaten and ranked and the Bulldogs have played the toughest schedule in the country to date: losses to Clemson and Missouri and wins over LSU and South Carolina are on their résumé.

Still, the loss no doubt will bring about yet another round in the continuing saga known in the South as “How Mark Richt Turns” — or doesn’t win quite enough to keep Georgia fans from complaining about him all the time. Richt is in his 13th season at Georgia and has a record of 122-42. On Planet Earth that’s a pretty good record. On Planet SEC, it keeps him under fire almost nonstop. Georgia was 12-2 a year ago but did not beat Alabama in the Southeastern Conference title game when it had a golden chance to play for the national championship.

Richt isn’t going to get fired; he’s just going to hear considerable whining. The same may be true at Virginia, but Mike London has to be feeling some serious heat. The Cavaliers are 2-4 after starting the season with an impressive victory over Brigham Young. Since then, their only victory was over Football Championship Series opponent VMI, and they were embarrassed — at home — by Ball State prior to the loss at Maryland.

The question then is this: Is London’s job in jeopardy? The answer is a firm maybe.

The good news for London is that most people believe there are some good young players in the program with another sterling recruiting class on the way. Since becoming the coach in Charlottesville four seasons ago, he has revived U-Va.’s recruiting, especially in-state. Virginia appeared to be trending in the right direction two seasons ago when it went 8-5 in London’s second season and played Virginia Tech for the ACC Coastal Division title. The Cavaliers got a bowl bid, and London was voted conference coach of the year.

Since then, though, little has gone right. Virginia regressed to 4-8 a year ago and London made major changes in his coaching staff, including at all three coordinator positions. Since the BYU game, the Cavaliers have been destroyed by Oregon (a team that destroys most opponents) but also have lost to a mediocre Pittsburgh team (scoring three points), Ball State and now Maryland.

What’s a little bit scary for London and for Athletic Director Craig Littlepage is the rest of the schedule. Virginia is home Saturday to Duke, which is 4-2 but is still Duke even though the Blue Devils beat a Jekyll-Hyde Navy team, 35-7, on Saturday. A win over Duke is an absolute must because the schedule after that includes one team — North Carolina — with a losing record. Virginia will be an underdog against Georgia Tech, Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech, four teams that are a combined 20-4 — the losses are Virginia Tech to top-ranked Alabama and Georgia Tech to Virginia Tech, Miami and at BYU.

Upsets in two of those games and a 6-6 record and London surely will be back next season. Even one win in those four— if the Cavaliers beat Duke and North Carolina — should save London. But another 4-8 record (or worse) and Littlepage may feel the need to look around.

Littlepage is known for his patience, but he also knows a sinking ship when he sees one. In Dave Leitao’s second season as basketball coach, the Cavaliers were 21-11 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. Two years later, they cratered at 10-18 and Littlepage made a change. The notion that Littlepage will stand by and do nothing if he feels the program is taking on serious water would seem to be contradicted by his willingness to dump Leitao for Tony Bennett in 2009.

Then again, Littlepage might look at a losing record and new coordinators and the fact that firing London would cost several million dollars in buyouts due him and the four new assistants and decide to give London one more season. Virginia has nonconference games next season with UCLA and BYU (on the road), and Louisville will replace Maryland on the ACC schedule. So, regardless, it won’t be easy for London.

The tone of London-talk around the state — and among boosters who would no doubt have to come up with buyout money — might be entirely different if the Cavaliers had gotten out of Byrd Stadium with a win. Losing to a team that still had to be shellshocked after losing 63-0 to Florida State a week earlier had to be a huge disappointment.

Neither team looked like a world-beater throughout the long afternoon, but the last break fell Maryland’s way, leaving Virginia at 2-4 with the toughest half of its schedule still to come.

The only team in the country that might have felt worse than the Cavaliers over the weekend was Air Force. The Falcons have had only three coaches in the last 32 years and have been to 20 bowl games during that time — including going 6 for 6 under current Coach Troy Calhoun.

That streak is about to end. Air Force is 1-6 after blowing a 20-6 fourth quarter lead at home to San Diego State on Thursday night, losing 27-20.

San Diego State’s all-time record in games in which it trailed in the fourth quarter by two touchdowns or more prior to Thursday night was 2-151-1.

Now that is a loss.

For more by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.

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