In head coach Tony Elliott’s first season with the Virginia Cavaliers, he dealt with a lot and came out with a 3-7 record. The tough breaks kept coming for Elliot after the season ended, losing his starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong to the transfer portal. Between that departure and last season, the expectations for the 2023 Cavaliers are not very high; however, although they may not be going bowling at the end of the season, I’ll break down why I like the over to cash for their season win total.
Like many coaches in college football this offseason, head coach Tony Elliot found himself in need of a new starting quarterback. Armstrong had a down year in 2022, which resulted in the team averaging 15.1 points per game, which had them ranked 126th in the country. Even with Armstrong's overall lack of production, he still left a massive hole for the team to replace, which Elliot decided to fill with Monmouth University transfer Tony Muskett.
Besides having the perfect name for a quarterback, the Virginia native Muskett had proven through his play that he belonged at the FBS level. Muskett threw for 51 touchdowns and 5,687 yards in three seasons as the Monmouth signal caller. After securing Muskett, another situation would need to be addressed: who would the new quarterback throw to?
In 2022, the Cavaliers were led in receptions and receiving yards by Keytaon Thompson, who would graduate at the end of the season. While there are still a few players from last season at wideout that will play a big role, like Malachi Fields and Demick Starling, head coach Tony Elliot went out and got his new QB a new slot receiver in Northwestern transfer Malik Washington.
Muskett will also need a running game to take some of the pressure off him, and after finishing 111th in rushing yards per game last season, this position has many question marks. From the looks of it, Mike Hollins and Clemson transfer Kobe Pace will likely handle the bulk of the duties. Hollins and Pace will be running behind an offensive line that was improved through the portal with the additions of Jimmy Christ and Ugonna Nnanna.
For as bad as the 2022 season was for the Cavaliers, especially offensively, their defense was the highlight of the team. The ‘Hoos defense allowed an average of 24.8 points per game which was 46th in the country and 4.8 yards per play which was 23rd in the country. Virginia’s defense is anchored by their ends, Kam Butler and Chico Bennett Jr. Last season, the duo combined for ten sacks and 13 tackles for loss, and the production might be even better this season with Butler getting another year in defensive coordinator John Rudzinski’s system.
As far as the defensive backs go, the Virginia coaching staff dipped into the transfer portal to bring in Malcolm Greene out of Clemson and Sam Westfall out of SMU. The transfers will likely join returning cornerback Coen King and look to produce similar results to last season since the Cavaliers finished 33rd in the country in passing yards allowed per game.
James Jackson will head up the linebacking unit after finishing last season with 60 tackles and a sack. Virginia will need Jackson to step up big time along with guys like Michael Diatta since the team lost their leading tackler from last season, Nick Jackson, to the transfer portal. The loss of Nick Jackson leaves a similar size hole on the defense to the one Armstrong left on the offense.
The Cavaliers' win total is currently set at 3.5, and for my play, I’ll be taking the over, which is priced at (-110). Virginia finished 3-7 last season and did not play the final two games of their schedule due to tragic events that took place on the campus. Even winning three games last season with the lackluster QB play was somewhat impressive, and in year two under Tony Elliot, I think they can at least get a fourth win.
Elliot did a strong job in the transfer portal by getting offensive line help for his new quarterback, who I think will, at the very least, lead the team to some improvement in terms of scoring production. Opening with Tennessee is brutal, but the team has winnable games on their schedule, like James Madison, William & Mary, Georgia Tech, Boston College, and Virginia Tech. Four of those games are also at home, so with some improved QB play and a stable defense, I think the Cavaliers can get to that four or five-win mark.
Over 3.5 Wins (-110)