BYU football: Revamped Virginia faces big early season tests

Published: Friday, Aug. 30 2013 8:07 a.m. MDT

University of Virginia quarterback David Watford prepares to toss a pass during practice in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Aug. 6, 2012.

Steve Helber, Associated Press

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — After posting an uninspiring 4-8 record last season, Virginia’s Mike London shook things up and made changes in his program.

For starters, he hired some high-profile assistant coaches.

London brought in former Boston College and North Carolina State head coach Tom O’Brien as associate head coach, and former Colorado State head coach Steve Fairchild as offensive coordinator.

Also joining the staff was Jon Tenuta, the new defensive coordinator, and Larry Lewis, the former head coach at Idaho State, who is now the special teams coach.

The Cavaliers, picked to finish near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, are hoping an influx of new faces on the coaching staff will translate into more success.

But things won’t be easy.

To open the season, Virginia hosts BYU Saturday (1:30 p.m. MDT, ESPNU) at Scott Stadium. The following week, the Cavaliers entertain No. 3 Oregon.

“I think any opening game or any opportunity to gauge yourself and use a barometer is always important, and obviously these two that are coming in are — they're some of the best teams in the country,” London said. “One is in the top 5, top 10. The other one has perennially been a bowl team. They're as good as they get.”

The Cavaliers’ daunting early schedule is something that is getting a lot of attention in Charlottesville, but they say they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Guys want to create a dream season,” Virginia junior safety Anthony Harris told the (Charlottesville) Daily Progress. “In order to do that, you have to create a dream schedule. Guys are very excited. We obviously believe in our talents. We believe we can play with the best. This gives us an opportunity right here to see where we can measure up.”

Games against BYU and Oregon have motivated the Cavaliers during the offseason.

“Everything gets ramped up, spring practice, how they train during the summer, how we practiced during August camp,” London said. “Everything gets turned up. Having two great teams coming to Charlottesville, Scott Stadium, is a challenge, but I think it’s a challenge the players have embraced and are looking forward to meeting.”

The Cavaliers are looking forward to the attention these two games will bring to the program.

“It’ll be a broader audience,” said senior guard Luke Bowanko. “They’ll be watching to see what BYU’s going to do and hopefully by the end of the game they’ll be like, ‘Wow, those kids from Virginia can play ball.’ It’s great having the spotlight on you. It helps you motivate yourself. Obviously, BYU’s the first opponent, and we’re only worried about them right now. But they pose a lot of specific things that they do that’s going to be difficult to handle. We’re ready for the challenge.”

Meanwhile, BYU is preparing for plenty of unknowns due to the massive changes on Virginia’s coaching staff.

Coach Bronco Mendenhall said his team has geared its preparation toward the new coaches.

“Steve Fairchild is the offensive coordinator, and he was the head coach at Colorado State so there is some familiarity there,” Mendenhall said. “They also have a really mobile quarterback so there might be elements of what we do offensively mixed in. It’s hard to say, just like any season-opener.”

The Virginia offense is led by sophomore quarterback David Watford, who redshirted last season and hasn’t taken a snap in a game since 2011.

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