Dick Bestwick is somewhat optimistic for the first time in his three seasons as football coach at the University of Virginia.
Bestwick is satisfied sufficiently with his first two years of reclamation to predict: "If we would get some of the bounces that went against us in the last two seasons, we could have a winning season."
That is a strong statement because Virginia fans do not expect winning seasons.The Cavaliers have accomplished such a feat only once in the past quarter century.
How much the Cavaliers improve off Bestwick's first two seasons (2-9 in 1976, 1-9-1 with six touchdowns in 1977) will depend on the aforementioned luck, injuries, how quickly young players mature at key positions and how much the other teams on the Virginia schedule have improved.
Bestwick cites the following reasons as to why he can be so optimistic:
Team speed. "It's the best since we've been here," he said. "Team speed is the essential difference between great teams, good teams, fair teams and poor teams. Today, everybody has athletes about the same size."
Last year Virginia's powerless-I offense lacked any outside threat. Opponents could gang up in the middle on the Cavalier and not worry about covering the corners.
As a result, Bestwick has junked the I-stack for the split-back veer formation. His two fastest athletes, sophomores Tommy Vigorito and Greg Taylor, are the starting backs and, with such a formation, the linemen will not have to hold their blocks as long.
In the switch, 1977 starting quarterback Chip Mark has dropped to No. 3 because his skills are not compatible with the option veer. The 1978 starter will be either Mickey Spady or Phil Spencer, both sophomores. How quickly each player matures will have a large bearing on the team's record, Bestwick said.
Six all-conference candidates on defense. Like most downtrodden teams, the Cavaliers have a sprinkling of superior talent, but lack depth. Bestwick says those six are end Steve Potter, tackles Grant Hudson and Lee Browning, nose guard Mike Budd, safety Tony Blount and cornerback Derrick Glasper.
"We should be better defensively just because I expect a lot of improvement in the offense and our defense won't be on the field as long," Bestwick said. "We have to find adequate backup strength at linebacker and on the front line."
For the first time, Bestwick will not have to depend on freshmen to step in as starters. Nevertheless, this is a young Cavalier team, with as many as 11 sophomore starters likely and only two seniors, Browning and Glasper.
Attitude and conditioning. "There's not a fat boy on the team," Bestwick said. "We're bigger and stronger. It looks like the players are in great shape and the attitude's super. I'm very much encouraged."
Kicker Russ Henderson. Virginia's only all-ACC player a year ago, he got what coaches fondly call "hidden yardage" with his 42.5-yard average on 85 punts, by far the most of any punter in the NCAA top 20. In three seasons, Henderson's career average is 43.6 on 204 punts.
Henderson accounted for Virginia's only victory (12-10 over Virginia Tech) by kicking four field goals.
The schedule favors Virginia getting off to a good start with the first five games, in order, against Wake Forest, Navy, Army, VMI and Duke.
"Yes," acknowledged Bestwick. "But Army and Navy are supposed to be better and one magazine predicts a 9-1 record for VMI . . . And it remains to be seen what you can do against other teams on the field."