Bronco Mendenhall has done an impressive coaching job at Virginia, and here's why you should expect the Hoos to surpass their win total again in 2019.
The college football season is approaching, so that means it’s time to get ready with some win totals. SI Gambling will be rolling out our favorite over and under bet for each power conference using current win totals available at New Jersey sportsbooks (FanDuel, DraftKings, William Hill). After starting with the Pac-12, we move on the defending-champion ACC (that's how that works, right?).
Virginia: 7.5 (Over +110, Under -130 at FanDuel)
Virginia doesn’t come to mind when thinking about ACC football powers, but there’s opportunity here to still take advantage while the Hoos still fly under the radar nationally.
They finished 7-5 in the regular season in 2018, their first time with a winning record since 2011. The team has greatly improved in each of the past two seasons under Bronco Mendenhall, and it might have been even better than its record suggested last year. Three of its five losses came by four points or fewer, including an all-time collapse at the hands of rival Virginia Tech.
The Hoos also had poor fortune with turnovers. They finished with a plus-2 turnover margin despite having an adjusted one of plus-6 (based off expected fumble recoveries and passes defensed that turn into interceptions), per Bill Connelly. The biggest reason for that? Virginia only recovered 33% of opponent fumbles forced, which was tied for 120th in the country.
Besides improving upon its bad luck, which tends to swing from season to season, Virginia also can exceed expectations again because the roster is damn good in a dismal ACC.
Losing its two biggest weapons in tailback Jordan Ellis and wideout Olamide Zaccheaus stings, but the Hoos still have the best quarterback in the conference outside of Trevor Lawrence with Bryce Perkins.
Perkins came out of nowhere last season to emerge as a legit dual-threat terror. He averaged 7.7 YPA while completing 64.5% of his throws, to go along with a 25-9 TD:INT ratio. He also added 923 yards on the ground (1,124 yards on 6.2 YPC if you remove sacks from the equation).
Zaccheaus’s team-leading 81 receptions have to be replaced, however Virginia’s next four leading wide receivers all return. Senior Hasise Dubois posted a 47-521-5 line last season, while explosive senior Joe Reed recorded 19.0 yards per catch on his 24 grabs in 2018.
The bigger question is who will take over Ellis’s workload in the backfield, but having a running QB in Perkins should make that transition easier. Dillon Reinkensmeyer, Ryan Nelson and Chris Glaser combined for 33 starts on offensive line last year that ranked 13th in adjusted line yards and 12th in stuff rate. Virginia also added Penn State transfer Alex Gellerstedt, who is in the running to start at right tackle.
But make no mistake: Even with Perkins running the show, the defense is the strength of this team. Virginia got a huge boost with star cornerback Bryce Hall’s decision to return to school for his senior campaign. Hall allowed just 34 completions on the 72 balls thrown his way in 2018, including leading the nation with 22 pass breakups. Hall headlines a loaded back seven, and the defensive line figures to be much better after suffering through injuries and lack of depth last year.
Virginia plays a pretty soft non-conference schedule (home games against William & Mary, Old Dominion and Liberty, though a trip to Notre Dame looms) and resides in a down ACC. It doesn’t have to face Clemson. With the Hoos currently three-point road favorites to open up the season vs. Pitt at FanDuel, that means they will likely only be underdogs twice: at Notre Dame and at Miami. And they end the season with a monster revenge game at home vs. Virginia Tech, and will be desperately looking to snap a 15-game losing streak to their in-state rival.
So I will gladly take the over here, especially since it’s currently at plus money. And when division odds are released, Virginia could offer more value going up against name-brand programs Miami and Virginia Tech.
PICK: OVER 7.5 (+110)
Georgia Tech: 4 (Over +115, Under -135 at FanDuel)
There isn’t a program undergoing a bigger facelift in 2019 than Georgia Tech.
Paul Johnson stepped down after 11 years with the Yellow Jackets, and his unique triple-option offense is gone with him. GT hired Temple’s Geoff Collins, and he’s bringing his pro-style attack to Atlanta.
But taking flexbone personnel and trying to mold them into new offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude’s scheme will take a good amount of time.
Receivers will go from mostly blocking to running more routes and being targeted more frequently. There’s only one player on the roster (senior Jalen Camp) with more than three catches in his collegiate career. Johnson didn’t have a single tight end on the roster, but GT was able to land UConn grad transfer Tyler Davis. The offensive linemen have to completely change their pre-snap stances and have to focus a lot more on pass protection. And there’s major questions at quarterback too: Not only do the Yellow Jackets have to replace TaQuan Marshall, but the signal-callers on their roster were recruited for the triple-option.
GT does have nice depth at running back, but every other position on offense will be a major work in progress. Just ask Bill Callahan: He installed a West Coast scheme in his first season coaching Nebraska in 2004, scrapping the team’s legendary triple-option offense. As a result, the Cornhuskers went 5-6 in his first season at the helm, which ended a 35-year bowl streak. There will absolutely be growing pains in Collins’s first year at GT with such a big shift on that side of the ball, and a lot of new faces being thrust into the lineup.
Defensively, the Yellow Jackets have massive issues up front. Georgia Tech’s defense ranked 115th in adjusted line yards and 116th in adjusted sack rate, and that was with talented end Anree Saint-Amour (now graduated) and promising tackle Brandon Adams (who tragically passed away) in the fold. Now the depth on the defensive line is so poor that the Yellow Jackets were rotating in offensive linemen during the spring to play there.
The secondary is the strength of the defense, highlighted by safety Tariq Carpenter and corner Tre Swilling. But if GT gets gashed up front and can’t generate a pass rush like last season, it’ll be another long year for a defense that finished 126th in success rate in 2018.
The Yellow Jackets have a pretty tricky non-conference schedule. In September they host The Citadel and USF along with facing Collins’s old team, Temple, on the road. They also close out the season by hosting Georgia. In terms of conference play, GT couldn’t have asked for a worse way to kick off this campaign by traveling to Clemson. It also has to play road games against Miami and Virginia, while hosting Virginia Tech and NC State should be challenging as well.
In all, GT will be big favorites in one game (home vs. The Citadel) and potentially small favorites at home against USF and North Carolina—and being favored vs. those two is far from a certainty. Other than that, the Yellow Jackets will definitely be underdogs in every other game. Collins has a bright future in Atlanta, but there will be a lot of growing pains in Year 1. And remember, the only way this bet loses is if GT can rattle off five wins. Two or three seems a lot more realistic this year in my book.
PICK: UNDER 4 (-135)