Entering his third season as head coach at Virginia, Bronco Mendenhall has had some time to upgrade the roster he inherited from the days of Mike London.
But he thinks the team still has a long way to go.
During an address to the Virginia Board of Regents on Friday, Mendenhall reportedly said the Cavaliers currently have just 27 “ACC-caliber” players on their roster.
Yes, 27. But there are reinforcements on the way.
Mendenhall spoke very candidly for about 27 minutes on a number of topics relating to his football team and his coaching philosophy. Among them was his assertion that two-thirds of his roster isn’t of the same quality of the league they play in.
“We have 85 scholarships to give,” Mendenhall said. “That means that with our [recruiting class of 2018] arriving, that we think that number [of ACC-caliber players] will jump to the mid-40s this year.”
Mendenhall’s quote reflects the roster as it currently stands with last year’s seniors gone and the 20 class of 2018 signing class yet to arrive.
Mendenhall left BYU for Virginia late in 2015, meaning most of the program’s 2016 signees were recruited by London, who was 27-46 in six seasons as the Cavs’ head coach. Mendenhall then recruited and signed 25 prospects in the 2017 class.
It isn’t too hard to guess who he believes are “ACC-caliber” players. A statement like that from Mendenhall is blunt and probably won’t sit well with some of his players, especially those recruited by London who remain on the roster. It can also serve as a source of motivation, but it mostly speaks to the level of talent needed to consistently compete with the likes of Clemson, Virginia Tech and others in the conference.
And as more of his recruiting classes join the fold, Mendenhall says the roster will just get better and better, allowing the program to compete for conference titles in the future. By the time the 2020 class arrives in Charlottesville, Mendenhall believes that will be the point his roster has 85 players at the level of talent he is looking for.
With a bunch of freshmen on the field, Virginia won six games in 2017, playing in its first bowl game since 2011. And despite the candid assessment of his roster, Mendenhall thinks it’s “likely” the team returns to a bowl game for the second year in a row — something that hasn’t happened since 2004 and 2005.
And in order to accumulate as many wins as possible, Mendenhall wants UVa’s non-conference schedule to be as easy as possible, especially with the the ACC requiring one non-conference opponent to be from another Power Five conference.
“I want to play the worst power-five team that we can play,” Mendenhall said, emphasizing the word ‘worst’ as he said it. “That’s what the ACC requires, you have to play one other power-five [team in non-conference play]. I want to find the worst one we can play, so we can get another win.”
In his first two years at Virginia, Mendenhall has taken trips to Oregon (a 44-26 loss) and Boise State (a 42-23 win). In 2018, Virginia will travel to Indiana while facing Richmond, Ohio and Liberty at home.
But the level of difficulty picks up in the future with a trip to Notre Dame in 2019, a game against Georgia in Atlanta in 2020 and a trip to BYU and a home game against Notre Dame in 2021. Illinois and Maryland are also on future schedules.
“I don’t want to go to Boise,” Mendenhall said. “I don’t want to go to UCLA, I don’t want to go to Oregon. I don’t want to go back to BYU. I’d rather them come here and lose.”
A lot of coaches feel the same way.
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