GREENSBORO, N.C. — When reports surfaced last year that the Virginia football team had replaced a 2013 nonconference game at Penn State in favor of a home-and-home series with Oregon starting this fall, the news was met with some raised eyebrows. Why would the Cavaliers, a program hoping to make a bowl game after a second 4-8 campaign in three years, want to add an elite opponent to a schedule that already included a season-opening game against BYU?
But Virginia’s players had a different reaction.
“The day that schedule came out, we were all in the weight room and everybody was fired up,” defensive end Jake Snyder said. “There was a little extra energy in the weight room that day, a little extra spunk in the lift. We want the best teams coming in here.”
This season ACC teams will play nine nonconference games against teams ranked in the top 10 of last season’s final Associated Press poll, a slate Commissioner John Swofford declared the toughest in the country during his address on Sunday at the ACC Football Kickoff. Virginia and Virginia Tech will help lead that charge, and neither are ready to back down from what could be a challenging first two weeks of the regular season.
On top of Virginia’s first two games, the Hokies open the regular season with a matchup against two-time-defending national champion Alabama in Atlanta on Aug. 31.
During 27 years at Virginia Tech, Coach Frank Beamer has seen plenty of successful campaigns begin with cupcakes, but he has also participated in high-profile openers against Southern California, Boise State and the Crimson Tide over the past decade. Though he has his reservations about this year’s opener, Beamer isn’t tied to easing into a season.
“Alabama can make you look bad in a hurry if you don’t know what you’re doing,” said Beamer, who is also adjusting to three new coaches and a new scheme on offense. “When you schedule a team like that, I think you’re a better football program overall. Your preparation is better. As a result you become a better football team.”
Virginia Tech linebacker Jack Tyler told reporters Sunday that he prefers the barometer that starting the season against “the cream of the crop” can provide.
“Some teams might go into that game thinking, ‘Well, if we don’t win this, we’ll win next week.’ Well, no, we expect to beat Alabama,” added Tyler, a former All-Met from Oakton. “We expect to win every game. Those expectations will never change.”
Virginia Coach Mike London has the same sort of outlook, even though his main goal is to get back to a bowl game after hiring new coordinators on offense, defense and special teams following a disappointing 2012 campaign. He believes part of the Cavaliers’ relevance on the recruiting trail is due to their aggressive approach to scheduling.
Virginia recently became the only school in the country to receive oral commitments from two players ranked by Rivals in the top 10 of the 2014 recruiting class when Tidewater area products Quin Blanding and Andrew Brown announced they would be coming to Charlottesville next year.
The two prospects will likely take part in home-and-home series with Stanford, UCLA and Boise State that Virginia already has scheduled over the next five seasons.
“I’d rather be competitive and being competitive will also attract the best talent, not just in our league, but in the country,” London said. “My mind-set is play teams that you hear about, whether it’s west coast teams or Big 12 teams or SEC teams. We’ll play anybody because I think that’s what’s been productive for us to this point in terms of getting young men interested in our program.”
Note: London announced Monday that senior guard Sean Cascarano, one of the team’s top returning offensive linemen, is dealing with a serious hip injury that could end his college football career. London said a decision on whether Cascarano can play through the pain or needs season-ending surgery would be coming “real soon.”