David Watford step on up. Virginia head coach Mike London needs you.
Watford, a redshirt sophomore, will be the starting quarterback for Virginia’s Aug. 31 opener versus BYU, the first time London has declared a starting QB before game week. Now Watford has become the key to deciphering a Cavalier program that has been among the most nation’s most difficult to figure out the past couple of years.
Consider this, heading into the final week of the 2011 regular season Virginia seemed poised to play its way into a BCS bowl game, needing just a victory over rival Virginia Tech at home to get to the ACC Championship. But that season came to a rough end, with the Hokies slamming the door on the Cavs’ division title hopes and then Auburn hammering UVa in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
The next season Virginia was considered a true contender in the ACC, particularly with quarterback Michael Rocco returning after throwing for 2,671 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2011. Added to the mix was Phillip Sims, a former 4-star quarterback recruit who transferred in from Alabama to be closer to home, seemingly giving London and Co. a pair of solid options under center.
It didn’t quite turn out that way with the old adage that “if you have two quarterbacks you really don’t have one” ringing true. While splitting time neither Rocco nor Sims ever seemed fully comfortable or in rhythm and Virginia stumbled to a 4-8 season, including an end of season loss to Virginia Tech in which London’s game and clock management came under serious scrutiny from media and fans.
“(The two QB system) definitely hindered the team just a little bit, not knowing who’s going to play, those guys’ confidence rising and dropping,” preseason All-ACC offensive tackle Morgan Moses, who now has the duty of protecting the dual-threat Watford, told reporters at ACC media days.
Both Rocco and Sims left the program in the offseason, paving the way for Watford to take over in what many are seeing as a tell-tale season for London in Charlottesville. If the coach and quarterback can’t get the job done this year the heat will really be on the fourth-year head man.
Watford, who beat out redshirt freshman Grayson Lambert, has followed a winding road to the starting job, but it’s a destination most expected him to eventually reach when he arrived in Charlottesville a heralded in-state recruit from Hampton who graduated high school early to join the Cavaliers for spring practice. He saw limited playing time but couldn’t beat out Rocco in 2011 before redshirting last year after Sims’ arrival, but since last spring has appeared to be a much improved quarterback.
“I think this decision is just based more on his overall development,” London said while making the announcement during a teleconference Monday. “Having been in college games before, just continuing to become a better quarterback even though he didn’t play last year. That was the main reason.”
Watford will be challenged early, with back-to-back home games against BYU and Oregon to open the season, but if he plays well he might bring the level of enthusiasm around Virginia football back to a 2011 level.
Mike London sure hopes so.
Shane Mettlen is a veteran sports writer whose work has appeared on ESPN.com, AOL Sports and in several major newspapers. He currently also contributes to Washingtonian and Cavalier Corner magazines. Follow him on Twitter: @ShaneMettlen