CHARLOTTESVILLE — In its efforts to take its football program to a higher level, most of Virginia’s competition for recruits has come from other teams outside the Top 25.
Now that the Cavaliers have captured the ACC’s Coastal Division championship, won nine games for the first time since 2007 and defeated arch-rival Virginia Tech for the first time in 16 years while returning to the Top 25, will there be a spike in recruiting?
In its ranking of the nation’s top recruiting classes for 2020, Rivals.com had Virginia in 67th place as of Tuesday. Most of those players had committed to UVa before or early in the 2019 season.
Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall has seen changes in that area.
“Interest, certainly,” he said. “Perception, certainly. And all that [means] is we are competing against a different tier of competitors for the talent.
“So, it’s not as if the instant choice is Virginia. Now, it just might be Virginia and three or four schools that we haven’t been recruiting against recently, and that’s happening more often.”
Not long after the Cavaliers clinched the Coastal Division title with a 39-30 victory over Virginia Tech, UVa was installed as a 28 1/2-point underdog for Saturday’s conference championship game against unbeaten Atlantic Division champion Clemson.
“I love framing it as what we can gain,” Mendenhall said after practice Tuesday. “I think that if we are that underdog ... that would probably be in the company of everyone else they’ve played for a while.
“The progress that we’ve made over the past four years hasn’t been in relation to anything that we could lose. It’s what can we gain? Gaining by doing is the next step on the next page.”
In addition to the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, Clemson has the No. 4 scoring offense, headed by quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who has thrown 30 touchdown passes, and running back Travis Etienne, who has run for 13 touchdowns.
Virginia’s defense has been without preseason All-America cornerback Bryce Hall, who suffered a broken ankle in the sixth game of the season, as well as safety Brenton Nelson, lost for the season in week eight. Roanoke’s Darrius Bratton, who started five games in 2018, was lost for the season on the first day of preseason drills.
Much of the credit for holding the secondary together has gone to Nick Howell, who shares defensive coordinator duties with Kelly Poppinga, with Howell overseeing the defensive backs.
“The position coach/coordinator has to do a really nice job assessing what the existing players can do, design schemes and strategies, and allow them to do that and motivating them day by day,” Mendenhall said.