Virginia fans woke up Thursday morning, looking forward to the ACC football schedule release. The new opponents and locations were known since the end of July, but the dates weren’t set.
Just after 9 a.m., fans learned the Commonwealth Cup was only 44 days away.
A wacky 2020 fall schedule brought about by COVID-19 has the Cavaliers playing 10 conference games and just one nonconference foe. After Week 1, the Cavaliers finish the season with 10 ACC games and two bye weeks.
The schedule is unusual in many ways, but these five aspects of the revised 2020 slate jump off the page.
Week 2 Commonwealth Cup
In a normal season UVa fans get heated about playing Virginia Tech. Playing the Hokies in Week 2 during a pandemic only heightens the interest — and concern.
Will the game happen? If so, will either team be playing close to their full potential in Week 2?
In recent years, the Cavaliers and Hokies have met on Thanksgiving weekend. It’s a tradition. Instead, they’ll compete in Blacksburg in September.
While the fate of the fall season remains a question as of early August, it’s possible that early games are able to be completed while positive COVID-19 case numbers jump later in the season following increased interactions with students and opposing teams. If that happens, UVa and Virginia Tech might play prior to an eventual cancellation.
Everyone involved hopes a full fall schedule happens safely, though. If that’s the case, the Cavaliers get one week to prepare for the biggest game on their schedule.
Rivalry games typically occur late in the season. That won’t be the case for the Wahoos in 2020.
UVa is scheduled to open the season with VMI, an FCS team and member of the Southern Conference. While the game sits on Virginia’s schedule for Sept. 11, there’s still uncertainty surrounding the likelihood of the contest.
VMI stands to make $375,000 from playing the game, but would the program go through with the game if the FCS playoffs are canceled later this month? What happens if the Southern Conference decides not to play football this fall?
On Wednesday, the NCAA asked divisions to make decisions on fall sports championships by Aug. 21. Division II and Division III administrators canceled fall sports later that afternoon. The FCS could follow suit by the time the season arrives.
Bronco Mendenhall’s team is scheduled to open the season with a Friday game against VMI, but the FCS season faces serious questions with over a month until the UVa-VMI matchup. Both teams want to play the game, but it is unclear how likely that possibility will be by September.
Virginia may very well open the season on Sept. 11. There’s still at least some chance the opponent isn’t VMI.
Bye week timing
From an on-field perspective, UVa’s bye weeks come at ideal times. The Cavaliers receive an open week on Sept. 26, a week before a road game against Clemson.
Later in the season, the Wahoos have an off week on Nov. 21. They face Florida State on the road a week later. While Florida State hasn’t been at its program’s peak in recent seasons, the Seminoles are a challenging foe.
Bye weeks before Clemson and Florida State give the Cavaliers a good chance to prepare for two of the tougher opponents on the schedule.
From a COVID-19 perspective, Virginia plays seven consecutive games without a bye week from Oct. 3-Nov. 14.
Three of those games are on the road, including a trip to Miami. Coming out of that stretch without any postponements or cancellations seems like a major challenge.
Going seven weeks while interacting with students on Grounds and playing seven different teams increases exposure to the virus. If the ACC keeps contact tracing protocols in place, the Cavaliers could lose an impactful group of players during that stretch.
Avoiding an outbreak within the team remains the No. 1 concern entering the season. If a game is canceled or postponed, the Nov. 21 date could be used to reschedule a contest if needed.
ACC title hopes
Four of UVa’s first six ACC games come on the road. All four of those matchups come against teams that made a bowl game in 2019, and Clemson made the College Football Playoff.
Virginia will learn quickly whether it’s good enough to contend for an ACC championship. Games against Virginia Tech, Clemson and North Carolina all come prior to November. Making it through that stretch with only a loss or two comes as a large obstacle.
If UVa does survive that gauntlet of games, the Cavaliers end the season with Duke, an open date, Florida State and Boston College. The beginning of the season is a challenge, but the end offers three winnable football games for the ‘Hoos.
Likelihood of a fall season
It feels good to talk about fall football. It’s been months without college sports, and the possibility of their return is exciting.
On the other hand, the safety of the student-athletes, coaches, team personnel and local community members should take priority over everything else. UVa has delayed undergraduate in-person instruction to Sept. 8 due to COVID-19.
Several FCS conferences don’t plan on holding fall football seasons. UConn canceled its fall football season this week, becoming the first FBS program to do so. Several Big Ten programs underwent two-week quarantines due to positive COVID-19 tests within the team.
Multiple marquee FBS players decided to sit out this fall, instead focusing on staying healthy ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Louisville recently stopped a few sports from practicing due to a coronavirus outbreak stemming from an off-campus party.
The schedule announcement looks good on paper, but will any of the games actually happen?
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