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Virginia Can Make a Statement at Notre Dame

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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On a national scale, we’re about to find out just how good Virginia is right now and their true potential for this season.

Virginia can lose against Notre Dame this weekend and still win the ACC Coastal Division. Heck, the Fighting Irish could blow out the Cavaliers, and Virginia might still have an argument as ACC’s second-best team.

But on a national scale, we’re about to find out just how good Virginia is right now and their true potential for this season. As for the Irish, this matchup has trap game written all over it.

Like Clemson, Virginia has a fairly easy schedule this season, and as I’ve discussed in previous articles, the Cavaliers received a lot of scheduling breaks this fall. For one, Virginia only plays Florida State every six years, and it just so happens that the Cavaliers drew the Seminoles at home in a year where they might struggle to win five games.

Virginia’s yearly Atlantic division opponent, Louisville, is also a “down” football program at the moment with a new head coach. Virginia did draw road visits to Pitt and Miami, but the Cavaliers already won in Pittsburgh, and the Hurricanes don’t look to be as formidable a foe as they did during the preseason.

In summary, the ACC is just as bad as it was a year ago and maybe even worse. That makes it difficult to tell how good of a team the few ranked teams in the conference really are.

Clemson will get a pass because well, its Clemson. But Virginia won’t. Granted, they are ranked No. 18 heading into the matchup with No. 10 Notre Dame, but to earn national respect and championship consideration -- other than by default in the weak Coastal -- the Cavaliers need a good showing against Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish proved last week that they are indeed a good team. Notre Dame traveled to the deep south and played in front of a hostile, electric Georgia crowd under new LED lights, and the Irish played very well. Notre Dame led at halftime and didn’t allow Georgia to take the lead for good until under five minutes left in the third quarter. Plus, Notre Dame fought back with a late touchdown and nearly drove into position for another shot at the end zone in the 23-17 defeat.

Notre Dame is good, and don’t buy into the idea that the Irish are already out of the playoff hunt. There’s too many scenarios and variables this early in the season to run through them all, but quite simply, if Notre Dame runs the table and so does Georgia -- with the SEC West beating itself up -- the Irish can get back into the hunt. Their path to the playoffs could also be made easier if the Bulldogs become worldbeaters, defeating Florida, Auburn and Alabama or LSU by multiple scores. Notre Dame would then possess “the better loss” against the undefeated Bulldogs.

Yes, the Fighting Irish still have a lot to play for this Saturday. The question surrounding their team is will there be a let down?

The hype of playing in such a big game and the travel involved had to be exhausting. Add in the disappointment of the result and the uphill climb back to the playoff race, it would only be natural for the Irish players to feel a little discouraged.

Once again, Virginia appears to be catching an opponent at the right time. Georgia has a bye this week to recover from one of the most hyped games of the season. Notre Dame already had one of its bye weeks and will be on its other one in the middle of October.

Also in Virginia’s favor is its offense is built quite differently from Georgia’s. Notre Dame just played a team with a run-oriented philosophy and one of the top pocket passers in the SEC in Jake Fromm.

Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins will provide a new challenge with his dual-threat capabilities. He’s not off to the best of starts with 6.8 yards per pass, four interceptions and 3.8 yards per carry, but he can still explode at any moment.

The Cavaliers can also borrow Louisville’s game plan against Notre Dame from Week 1, where Cardinals quarterback Jawon Pass rushed for 67 yards and two touchdowns. Unranked Louisville with its dual-threat signal caller posted 17 points against Notre Dame while the more pro-styled offense from No. 3 Georgia tallied not that many more, 23.

Quarterbacks are always key, but Perkins has to be an x-factor in this one for the Cavaliers to pull off the upset.

Unless something extraordinary happens in the ACC, this will be Virginia’s last ranked opponent of the regular season. Saturday’s matchup against the Irish provides them a golden chance to prove, once and for all, on a national stage that the Cavaliers program is heading in the right direction.

A Virginia win wouldn’t hurt the battered ACC reputation either.