The ACC has missed out -- missed out this season on one of the most talented players in the conference.
Since Virginia lost at Georgia Tech on Oct. 9 -- cornerback Ras-I Dowling's first start of the season -- Dowling has played three defensive plays against EMU and one special-teams play. For the past month, he has made it through practices, but a lingering knee injury has kept him out of games. Now, as the seniors on Virginia's roster prepare to play their final home games in Scott Stadium, the Cavaliers are hoping Dowling can finish his career on the field, not the sideline.
"Selfishly, you like him on the field, but at the same time you have to understand that you're dealing with your own body," said Virginia coach Mike London. "You're dealing with his future. You're dealing with pain tolerance. It is what it is right now with him. Again hopefully, last home game, that the practices that he practices and the time he puts into it that he feels he can get out there and give us a few reps or more."
Dowling brings playmaking potential to each game, so while it may appear on paper that Virginia's cornerback situation has been respectable in his absence, it doesn't speak to what game-changing plays Dowling may have contributed.
The 55-48 loss to Duke really showed how much Chase Minnifield has stepped up in Dowling's absence -- missing both of them changed the outcome of the game from a defensive aspect. Minnifield, who entered the Duke game tied for the national lead with six interceptions, had an ankle injury and didn't last past the first quarter.
Dowling's role this season has been limited to the sideline, cheering on his teammates. He goes from huddle to huddle, offering encouragement, but his experience and big-play ability is missing in the secondary and has added to some of the growing pains on defense. Minnifield has helped filled that role, but if both of them were out there, the Cavaliers' secondary would be tough to beat. It's currently No. 23 in the country in pass defense.
Sophomore cornerback Devin Wallace and senior Mike Parker have combined to fill Dowling's spot. Against Duke, Virginia had safety Rodney McLeod at cornerback for spurts because of the lack of depth. Still, Dowling's injury hasn't seemed to affect his draft stock. Mel Kiper still has Dowling listed as No. 2 at his position.
"With him I know it's frustrating, without getting into his personal history, there's a lot of issues with him," London said of Dowling. "He obviously has every NFL scout coming by to see him and they know about him. His junior year stands on what it is and what it was. Frustrating that he hasn't had a senior year opportunity to do some of the same things. But his skills are not diminished. Still great character person. A lot of the things they liked about him then, back then, they still like now."
If only Virginia fans could see it one more time in Scott Stadium.