THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Turnabout: What happened to the London lovefest?
It's too early, get real, and are you kidding?
That's what I keep telling myself when I think about UVA's upcoming football season. I've kept up with Mike London, read the recruiting news, and borne my Virginia Tech in-laws' attempts to back me into a corner, all to which I say– wait a minute.
With less than a month until UVA's opener against the University of Richmond (Coach London's recent home), the optimism the media felt at Al Groh's departure has given way to a less hopeful feeling. The lesson here, if there is one, is that it's well and good to dance in the streets when football season is half a year away, but when it's within spitting distance, one must be more realistic– or in UVA's case, more pessimistic.
Forget low expectations, on the eve of Virginia's first season under London (with Groh safely out of state), it's suddenly gloom and doom time.
To which I say: Back off.
UVA's own website was forced to report that at last month's 2010 ACC Football Kickoff, the media predicted Virginia will finish sixth (last) in the Coastal Division, a ranking that, if realized, would be Virginia's lowest since 2005. (Of course VA Tech is picked to win the ACC title, a choice that shows a disconcerting lack of imagination, if not gross favoritism. I'm not exactly a fan of Florida State, but come on. Even Frank Beamer said, "I'm surprised at the number of people who picked us.")
Ranking Duke higher that UVA shows the media's dismal view of Mike London, which is, at the very least, bad manners after the lovefest they threw for him mere months ago.
To all the media that threw London and his team to the wolves that July Monday in Greensboro, North Carolina, I say: Hold your horses.
All this UVA bashing is getting a little out of hand, don't you think?
It's not as if the University doesn't have any good players (remember Chase Minnifield?). The team may be rife with inexperience, but with a coach who isn't forcing his team into an NFL-type straight jacket, players like Tim Smith may get to prove themselves. Whatever inexperience is coupled with potential, and it wasn't too long ago everyone thought London was the man to put a shine on it.
So why the turn-around? Why are sports reporters dancing on UVA's grave just in time for pre-season practice? For the same reason you laughed when the school bully picked on the nerdy kid in the fifth grade: It's easy, it's expected, and everyone else is doing it.
Maybe the journalists who trash UVA football fear they won't be invited to each other's cookouts if they don't toe the line. Maybe every newspaper editor's spouse is a Tech fan who won't abide anything positive about Virginia. These hypotheticals could be true, but the heart of the matter is that it's safer and more popular to treat UVA football like yesterday's garbage than to express even a hint of confidence in the coach or the players.
I'm aware the Cavaliers finished last year with a total offense (thanks so much, spread offense) ranked 118th of 120 teams. Nor have I forgotten the hopelessly ineffective 3-4 defense. I remember last year's academic violations and criminal activity.
But I also remember something else: Al Groh is gone. Mike Groh is gone. Has everyone else forgotten?
That the media would rank Virginia football lower in London's first year than it did any of Al Groh's last four is utterly ridiculous, a sentiment I think even a Tech fan would echo (to the detractors who say London still has Groh's players, Groh's players minus Groh is way better than Groh's players plus Groh). I ask myself (much as I did about Tom Cruise's new movie) how on earth such an idea ever caught hold in the first place.
It may not be popular, but I foresee progress on the field at Scott Stadium. With a new coach who believes in academic rigor, hard work, and becoming conduct, we're already a leg up on most of the ACC.
Juanita Giles lives in Keysville where she makes videos and updates her Sports Doctor site.