Jon Copper Andrew Shurtleff

On the heels of a difficult 2006 campaign, head coach Al Groh and the Virginia football team have a chance at redemption this year with a boatload of returning starters. The Cavaliers, who failed to earn a bowl berth last season after closing 5-7 overall, return 10 starters on defense, including All-American candidate Chris Long and a strong linebacker corps spearheaded by Jon Copper.

While the defense has found depth and leadership, the Virginia offense must prove it can find the consistency of its defensive counterparts. Jameel Sewell is a good place to start. How Sewell handles the loss of his top target—wideout Kevin Ogletree, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in late March—is a major question mark.

The Big Questions

Chris Long Pete Emerson

What must happen for Virginia to turn around last season’s skid?

It’s no secret—the Cavaliers were not a very good offensive football team last year. After shuffling in Christian Olsen and Kevin McCabe under center, the coaching staff finally settled on Jameel Sewell, then a redshirt first-year from Richmond, Va.

As to be expected, Sewell had an up-and-down season behind a spotty offensive line, but earned the necessary experience to succeed this year. Sewell must prove he can find harmony within offensive coordinator Mike Groh’s offense, and it starts with protection from the big guys up front.

With time to survey the field, Sewell has the arm strength and athleticism to make defenses pay, which should also help tailback Cedric Peerman get the tough yards between the tackles.

Either way, the Cavaliers must find a way to improve on last year’s production, which ranked 11th out of a 12-team league, if they want to make a push to the top of the ACC.

Can Virginia overcome the recent rash of injuries?

The injury bug has plagued the football team with a particular vengeance this year.

Kevin Ogletree, the Cavaliers’ top returning receiver, suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice in late March. Mike Brown, a probable starter at defensive back opposite Chris Cook, also suffered what is likely a season-ending knee injury in summer drills.

While Brown’s loss certainly affects the team, the Cavs do have solid depth in the secondary with Vic Hall, who has now been penciled in as the starter.

Ogletree’s loss, however, is difficult to ignore. The coaching staff must find a way to incorporate a crop of talented tight ends or else the passing game may sputter. Keep your eye on this position.

Is the Virginia defense capable of carrying this team by itself?

In one word: maybe. Defensive coordinator Mike London is clearly on the rise. London, a former detective in the street crimes unit in Richmond, Va., has instilled an aggressive, blue-collar work ethic, and it’s no surprise the defense responded with one of the best efforts in the ACC last year.

Jameel Sewell David Petkofsky

However, to ask London’s charges to carry the team is a risky proposition. There’s no question the talent is there, despite the loss of defensive back Marcus Hamilton to the NFL.

Will Jameel Sewell’s repaired wrist make it through the season?

This might be the most important question of all. Sewell, who had wrist surgery in late December, must prove he can stay healthy for the Cavaliers to make a run this year.

While he has said the rehabilitation has gone well, Sewell could not go full-speed in either the weight room or in off-season practices. If Sewell can’t go for any reason, expect the coaching staff to turn to incoming first-year Peter Lalich, one of the top quarterback recruits in the nation.

Football Weekends at Alumni Hall

Alumni Hall again promises to be a center of home football game-day activities. Cavalier fans can get the inside story from former UVA head coach George Welsh as he breaks down the day’s opponent and talks football strategy. Coach Welsh will give his “chalk talks” at Alumni Hall an hour and a half before kickoff.

On Saturday mornings at 10, exercise your brain with the “More Than the Score” series, which features lectures at Alumni Hall from favorite professors. As always, a tailgate party will begin at Alumni Hall three hours before kickoff. If the game starts at 3:30 or earlier, there will also be a postgame celebration.

The parking lots at Alumni Hall will be available on game days exclusively for UVA Alumni Association life members. Members must show their life membership cards to access the lot. Spaces are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you’ve lost your membership card, you may request a free replacement by e-mailing pad3b@virginia.edu. To become a life member, visit alumni.virginia.edu/membership.