The schedule is not too daunting.
Virginia’s slate for 2022 is set up well with seven games at Scott Stadium for the Cavaliers instead of just five on the road. They will also benefit from facing the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division favorites (Pittsburgh, the defending ACC champion, and Miami, the league’s preseason pick to capture the Coast) at home and during the second half of the year.
Before those contests, UVa will face three of the worst ACC teams of 2021. Duke didn’t win a conference game last year and both Syracuse and Georgia Tech only won two league games apiece.
There are still major fights on the horizon, though, with a tally of seven squads that reached bowl eligibility last year on the record. Here are three key games for the Cavaliers as they embark on their new campaign:
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in Syracuse, September 23
Friday night’s ACC opening for Virginia is all about the story that accompanies this trip to the Carrier Dome.
UVa will be met by friendly faces that are part of the reason Syracuse feels like it can bounce back from last season’s 5-7 (2-6 ACC) record. Orange coach Dino Babers hired former Cavaliers offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck last offseason for the same jobs after they helped Orange quarterback UVa, Brennan Armstrong, to become one of the best signal communicators in the nation.
“I liked what they were doing in Virginia,” Babers said. “I looked at the numbers they were putting up.”
Babers and Anae had bonds even though they had never worked together before. Both are graduates of the University of Hawaii, and Babers said bringing Beck on was “just icing on the cake.”
Babers hopes Anae and Beck can lend their offensive acumen to help the Oranges improve on the 24.9 points per game (91 nationally) they averaged last year.
UVa’s task, with its revamped defense, will be to stop the familiar-looking passing attack scheme. What will be interesting is how Anae handles her unit with a star running back, Sean Tucker, who is coming off a year in which he had 1,496 rushing yards.
vs. Pittsburgh, Nov. 12
When UVa and Pittsburgh met at Heinz Field last November, the contest between the Cavaliers and the Panthers was a de facto Coastal Division championship game. At the time, the Hoos were 4-2 in the ACC and Pitt was 5-1 in the league, so the winner would earn the inside road to the division crown with only a week to play.
Pitt responded to the challenge and dropped the Cavaliers, 48-38, having outscored UVa 17-7 from the last two minutes of the third quarter to the end of the game. Armstrong was outdueled by former Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett, who threw four touchdowns to eventual Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison.
Certainly, UVa should relish the chance to see the Panthers again this season, and this time they won’t have Pickett and Addison, who are gone. Pitt still has plenty of defensive talent and brings his entire offensive line back, so come mid-November, the matchup between the two could have serious implications for the Coastal Division or the postseason.
It’s intriguing whether or not Armstrong and company can get revenge.
at Virginia Tech, November 26
UVa freshman coach Tony Elliott said it didn’t take long after he took his job to hear how critical Commonwealth Clash is.
“It happened before I set foot in Charlottesville,” he said. “It was made very, very clear that that’s the one we have to win.”
What will be the 104th meeting between UVa and Virginia Tech in the regular season finale for both teams also brings with it another gamble: a chance for Elliott and new Virginia Tech coach Brent Pry to prove who has the better team in field. If it’s Elliott’s Cavaliers that come out on top, he can use that win as he recruits across the state. Same goes for Pry if the Hokies take the game.
On top of that, with UVa picked to finish fourth and Tech tabbed to finish fifth at Coastal, the meeting could serve as one where bowl eligibility is on the line for one side or both sides.
Plus, the Hoos could finish their first regular-season roster with Elliott in style. They haven’t won at Blacksburg since 1998, before most of the current players were born.
“I’ve also been lucky enough to be a part of a very similar rivalry at Clemson and South Carolina,” Elliott said. “It’s 365 days. There are dividing lines even at home, so it was refreshing to see because I think every champion, and we’re talking long term, that’s what we want to be, a championship program needs a very worthy opponent.”