Typically reading a Bob Lipper column makes me want to throw a breakable object very hard into the nearest wall, but I find myself in 100% agreement with his article today about Al Groh's possible contract extension at UVa.
Groh has had two seasons of note at Virgina in his six years there; 2002 (because the team overacheived and got shafted in the bowl selection process) and 2004 (when the program was poised to move into the upper echelon of the ACC, but promptly messed the bed when the bright lights were shining).
To be sure, coming into the season, this looked like it was going to be a rough year, but several of the losses were terrible (Western Michigan and ECU quickly spring to mind) and one game was unforgivable (squandering at home a 20+ point halftime lead to a slightly above average Maryland team, before losing 28-26). Win any one of those, and the team goes bowling. Win two and well...
Anyway, the team will return more starters next year (18) than any other ACC program and, in retrospect, handing QB Jameel Sewell the keys to the team this year will probably be seen as a wise move. The defense improved over the course of the season, and I think that next year might be the first time the d-line in Groh's 3-4 scheme might be worth talking about (Jeff Fitzgerald and Chris Long are a fantastic end duo). To top it off, many of the better teams in the league will be losing important players to the pros or graduation, so there is reason for optimism.
Next year will hinge on several factors, among them:
-Will Mike Groh remain the O.C.? Mike had a shaky (at best) first season calling the offense. The playcalling was far too conservative in games where the team had nothing to lose an everything to gain (V.T.). More imagination is needed to keep opposing defenses on their toes.
-Who's going to carry the load? Though he gave a great effort, Jason Snelling was just not a feature RB. He's a fantastic fullback and I think he could even make the pros as such, but teams were not afraid of him. One of Cedric Peerman, Mikell Simpson or Keith Payne is going to have to step in and be the man.
-Is there a second viable wide receiver on the team? Kevin Ogletree and Sewell already have a good thing going, so it's important that somebody else step up on the other side to share the load. Having two respectable wideouts makes the great tight ends, Tom Santi and Tom Stupar, much more effective and it keeps teams from putting 8 in the box to stop the run.
-Is there more speed to be found on defense? The LB corps needs speed...badly. Though the overall team speed has improved in recent years, it's still not in the same league with elite teams like an Ohio State, an LSU, or a (sigh) V.T. The LB's are the main attackers in the 3-4 and I'm not sure we have the horses now to contain some of the more athletic teams on the schedule.
-Kicker...can we find a good one? Please?
All in all, I think UVa was wise to decline picking up the option for the 2011 season at this point. Groh shouldn't be rewarded for putting an unexciting 5-7 team on the field. Next year will represent the best chance for the program since the '04 season to prove it belongs with the big boys. The schedule lines up nicely. I just hope, for once, lady luck will smile on the Hoos and give us a year to remember.