The what-if game is always tempting, especially three months after the fact.
Virginia was so close to upsetting Notre Dame, leading the Irish by one as a new quarterback, redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer, replaced the injured Malik Zaire. Of course, a 39-yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds left broke the dam of season-long surrender cobras to follow, sending UVA to its second straight loss to start the season and begetting what would be a charmed season for Kizer and the Irish, who now find themselves 10-2 and in the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl.
It might not be a stretch to say that the Cavaliers never really recovered from that near-win.
They finished bowl-less again, with a 4-8 record, their fifth season that ended early in Mike London’s six years. They fell to rival Virginia Tech again, as their Commonwealth Cup losing streak now extends to 12 games. And ultimately, London resigned the day after the regular season, paving the way for the surprising hire of BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall.
The Hoos had three different losing streaks throughout the season. Credit them for stopping the bleeding at two each time, but this was a team that could never gain any consistency.
They rebounded from that Notre Dame loss to (barely) beat William & Mary to get in the win column ... and then lost to an 8-4 Boise State team 56-14 in a prime-time home game. They came back to beat Syracuse in overtime ... but lost the next week at North Carolina. Wins over Georgia Tech and Duke -- the previous two Coastal champions -- were nice, but they were also followed by close losses as well. Close losses have plagued this team for so long. So, too, has quarterback inconsistency.
Michael Rocco, David Watford, Phillip Sims and Greyson Lambert all transferred in the last four years. This year that meant spring starter Matt Johns had the job all to himself, and while he was fourth in the ACC in passing yards (2,810) and third in touchdown tosses (20), he also had a league-high 17 interceptions and was sacked 20 times. Fortunately for UVA, Johns has a fifth year of eligibility in 2016 and should improve if given the chance. Unfortunately for the Hoos, top target Canaan Severin does not. The senior was one of the ACC’s top receivers (759 yards, eight touchdowns), while junior Taquan Mizzell looked like the blue-chip prospect all expected him to be, proving to be a force as both a runner (671 yards, 8 TDs) and a receiver (721 yards).
Of course, having one of the league’s worst defenses largely undid some of those offensive contributions. A drop-off was expected, considering that the unit lost four all-ACC performers from 2014. But giving up 32.2 points per game (last in league) was not going to get it done.
Five of UVA’s eight losses were by one score or less. Improvements will be needed on both sides of the ball. Mendenhall and his 70 percent winning percentage at BYU will help the Hoos. The only question: In a Coastal division that received a major makeover in the last week, just how much help will be needed?