COACH: Al Groh (56-44 in eight seasons; 82-84 in 14 seasons overall).
LAST SEASON: 5-7 overall, 3-5 in ACC (fifth in ACC Coastal).
FINAL 2008 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 61st.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Vic Hall spent most of his junior year as an effective starting cornerback for Virginia, but he moved to quarterback for the season finale against Virginia Tech and performed well enough to stay there through spring practice. Hall will open the season as Virginia's No. 1 quarterback if he can beat out 2007 starter Jameel Sewell, who was out of school last year for academic reasons. Hall remains an unproven passer, but his performance against Virginia Tech revealed he had the running ability to cause headaches for opposing defenses.
STAR POWER: Junior Ras-I Dowling has established himself as one of the top cover corners in the ACC. If the third-year starter continues his rapid rate of improvement, Dowling has an outside chance of competing for All-America honors this season. OT Will Barker is another All-ACC contender who should continue Virginia's recent tradition of sending offensive linemen to the NFL.
STRENGTHS: Barker leads an offensive line that returns four starters. Virginia also has plenty of experience on the defensive line, even though the Cavaliers don't have a whole lot of star power up front. The presence of Dowling and the return of CB Chris Cook after a one-year absence should fortify the Cavaliers' secondary. Virginia should be able to run the ball effectively with either Hall or Sewell joining TB Mikell Simpson in the backfield.
WEAKNESSES: The passing attack is a huge concern. Hall and Sewell are outstanding runners, but can either throw the ball with consistent accuracy? Virginia also must replace its top four receivers from last season. The departures of Clint Sintim, Antonio Appleby and Jon Copper leave a major hole at linebacker. The kicking game must get a whole lot better; every field-goal attempt was an adventure for the Cavaliers last season.
THE BUZZ: Virginia is counting on the arrival of new offensive coordinator Gregg
Brandon to help spark a team that averaged just 16.1 points per game last season. Virginia has ranked outside the top 100 in total offense each of the past three seasons. The offense should be more exciting under Brandon, a spread proponent who spent the past six seasons as Bowling Green's coach. Virginia probably will need to score more points this season because the defense isn't likely to be as effective after losing so much talent at linebacker. After a "gimme" opener against William & Mary, the Cavs play three tough games in a row: TCU, at Southern Miss and at North Carolina. It looks as if a 2-2 start is the best Virginia can hope for, and 1-3 wouldn't be a surprise. If the Cavs start 1-3, it will be a long season.