Virginia took a positive step in 2017, but blowout bowl loss to Navy stings.

2017 was successful football season by Virginia, even with a 49-7 bowl loss to Navy. Here’s why…

When you haven’t been to a bowl game since 2011, and haven’t won more than 5 games since then too – the goals are modest. Virginia’s goal in 2017 was to reach a bowl game and they did that. Most pre-season predictions had them at 3-9 or 4-8. There were highlights like the 42-23 win at Boise State, and the comeback victory over Georgia Tech to get bowl eligible.

In reality though, Virginia was a little bit ahead of schedule, because the rebuilding project at Virginia for Bronco Mendenhall is MASSIVE. The Cavalier team after the middle of October was closer to the team we expected as the Hoos lost 6 of their last 7 games – all by double digits. The offense went south and the defense really began to struggle.

For all the talk about Mendenhall and his success defending option offense, the Hoos looked woefully unprepared for Navy’s attack. It was a disappointing and embarrassing performance.

In future years, blowout bowl losses and 6-7 seasons won’t be accepted, but in 2017 Virginia fans can accept this result. Progress was made. Mendenhall can walk into a recruit’s home and show tangible results that the program is further ahead than when he arrived.

The key for Mendenhall is to continue going forward with Virginia, but it is going to be difficult. QB Kurt Benkert will be gone. Virginia’s best defenders All-ACC players Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding will be gone too. The 2018 schedule is manageable though. Virginia doesn’t play Florida State or Clemson, and the OOC schedule is lighter than in years past with games against Liberty, Ohio, Richmond, and Indiana.

2018 could go either way for Mendenhall and missing a bowl game next season will add a lot of pressure to 2019. In addition, the losing streak to Virginia Tech that started back in 2003 hangs over the Virginia program like a dark cloud.

Where Virginia is headed is anyone’s guess. This year was a step in the right direction, and Mendenhall has in my opinion 2 years to show it was a step to something more.

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