“There’s a tremendous history of great football players and a great football program,” Perkins said during Monday’s news conference at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, “and it’s definitely one of the handful of teams when growing up, you’re like, ‘They’re great.’”
The fortunes of both programs since have changed dramatically.
The Cavaliers, picked in the preseason to win the ACC Coastal Division, are seeking to go 3-0 for the first time since 2005 as they continue their ascent in the fourth year of Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s rebuild.
Mendenhall, who came to Charlottesville from BYU, is one of three active coaches who has taken over two or more programs with a losing record the year before his arrival and directed those teams to a bowl game within his first two seasons. The others are Nick Saban (Alabama, LSU, Michigan State) and Mark Dantonio (Michigan State, Cincinnati).
This week, the Cavaliers moved into the Associated Press rankings for the second time under Mendenhall.
“What it would mean is we’re starting to build a reputation that, yeah, we’re capable and worth considering, especially if you start the season strong,” Mendenhall said of the ranking. “After saying all that, it’s really just interference, and we’ll focus on the game.”
Florida State (1-1), meanwhile, is on a far more troublesome trajectory after surviving Louisiana Monroe, 45-44, in overtime last week when the Warhawks missed the tying extra point. The Seminoles are 6-8 since Willie Taggart took over as head coach last year following Jimbo Fisher‘s move to Texas A&M.
In Fisher’s final five full seasons at Florida State, his teams lost nine games combined and won the national championship in the 2013 season, going 14-0.
“Teams aren’t afraid of them anymore,” said EJ Manuel, an analyst for the ACC Network who played quarterback for the Seminoles from 2009 to 2012. “There’s no way they’re supposed to be within a field goal of losing to Louisiana Monroe. That’s alarming, and so they’re facing U-Va., who I think is one of the better teams in the ACC.
“I’m sure it’s chaotic in Tallahassee right now. I can only imagine what it feels like to be Coach Taggart. I remember losing a game — we lost to N.C. State my senior year by a point [17-16], but we still went to the Orange Bowl and 12 wins, all that kind of stuff. To almost lose to ULM, I can’t relate to that.”
Also puzzling, according to Manuel, is that the Seminoles remain adrift despite having a wealth of talent both in place when Taggart arrived and fortified over the past two years in recruiting.
The recruiting website Rivals.com ranked Florida State’s Class of 2018 at No. 10 nationally. The previous two classes were fifth and second, although the Seminoles have been in transition at quarterback after Taggart dismissed former starter Deondre Francois in February.
James Blackman, a redshirt sophomore, has been the starter this year amid unrest among the impatient fan base.
“I think guys believe in me and believe in the plan," Taggart said Monday during his weekly news conference, "and for our guys to continue to stay locked into the plan and not letting anything else take them off the plan, that’s the key.”
Stability at quarterback, on the other hand, in part has the Cavaliers chasing their first ACC Coastal Division title.
During last week’s 52-17 win against William & Mary, Perkins became the fastest Virginia player to reach 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a career, hitting both marks in 15 games. That’s fewer than half of the games of the previous record holder, Shawn Moore.
Last season Perkins was one of two players nationally to post 2,600 passing yards and 900 rushing yards, joining Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray of Oklahoma. Perkins also led all Power Five quarterbacks in tackles avoided (46) and was seventh, tied with Murray, in runs of at least 15 yards (13).
The defense has done its part, ranking second in the ACC and 14th in the country in total yards allowed per game (228).
“Just the way that they’re pressuring the quarterback, I think, is what’s going to keep U-Va. in a lot of games,” Manuel said. “Their offense is already good with Bryce Perkins and [wide receiver] Joe Reed, guys like that, but to me, the biggest growth is their D-line and linebackers. Those guys are impacting the game.”