Bronco Mendenhall

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CFT Previews: Capital One Orange Bowl

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WHO: Florida (10-2) vs. Virginia (9-4)
WHAT: The 86th Capital One Orange Bowl
WHEN: December 30 at 8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, FL
BUY TICKETS: Click here

THE SKINNY: The last time Florida won the Orange Bowl, Steve Spurrier was the head coach and the Gators were in the thick of the national title conversation all season long (2001). Florida may be getting closer to entering the national title conversation, and a victory in the Orange Bowl could see some momentum continue to build for the Gators in 2020.

Dan Mullen’s pass-heavy focus on offense has seen Kyle Trask come in and keep things moving with a talented group of receivers to throw to in every part of the field. Virginia’s defense was just eaten alive by Clemson in the ACC Championship Game and should be expected to cough up some big plays through the air once again against the Gators. The biggest target for Florida will be tight end Kyle Pitts. Arguably the best tight end in the nation despite what the Mackey Award had to say about it, Pitts is Florida’s leading receiver with 51 receptions for 610 yards and five touchdowns.

Virginia is merely in the game due to the ACC’s bowl agreement with the Orange Bowl guaranteeing a spot in the game for an ACC member. With Clemson off to the playoff, and now the national championship game, Virginia was the next best option to represent the conference in Miami. Don’t expect Bronco Mendenhall to be issuing any apologies for his team’s presence, though. Despite being over a two-touchdown underdog, this is a massive step in the right direction for a Virginia program that is continuing to improve over time with Mendenhall at the helm.

Virginia’s dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins will have a lot on his shoulders as the Gators will look to contain the impact Perkins has on the game. Florida is known to swarm quarterbacks (46.0 team sacks entering the Orange Bowl) but if Perkins can escape pressure and extend plays, Virginia will be able to move the football. How often will that happen will be the key. Over the course of a 60-minute game, it may be a little too much to ask of Perkins to give Virginia a shot to win in the end.

THE PICK: Florida 30, Virginia 16

No. 3 Clemson wins fifth consecutive ACC championship as they return to College Football Playoff

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The defending national champions are back for some more. No. 3 Clemson (13-0, 8-0 ACC) locked up a fifth consecutive ACC Championship Game victory Saturday night with a 62-17 victory over No. 23 Virginia (9-4, 6-2 ACC), and with that all but officially submitted their R.S.V.P. for this season’s College Football Playoff. What’s not to respect?

Trevor Lawrence passed for 302 yards and four touchdowns before getting an early exit in the fourth quarter, with Clemson leading 45-14 at the time. Travis Etienne rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown and star receiver Tee Higgins hauled in nine passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns. Virginia’s Bryce Perkins had some positive moments with 265 passing yards and two passing touchdowns with 52 rushing yards, but he was picked off twice. His first interception came at the end of the game’s opening possession in the end zone.

Clemson’s 62 points are the most point scored by a team in the ACC Championship Game, which was first played in 2005. Clemson has now outscored its opponents in the ACC Championship Game by a cumulative score of 229-102 over the last five seasons. Clemson has held each of their last three ACC Championship Game opponents to 30 points (3 vs. Miami in 2017, 10 vs Pitt last season, and 17 against Virginia). Clemson is now 5-1 all-time in the ACC Championship Game with their only loss coming as an underdog in 2009 against Georgia Tech.

After 13 consecutive wins this season, on top of the 15 straight wins Clemson had last season en route to a national title, Clemson is going to be riding a 28-game winning streak back into the College Football Playoff. With Alabama being knocked out of the playoff race last week, Clemson will now own the longest active streak of playoff appearances with five straight. That matches Alabama’s record set last year with the Crimson Tide’s fifth consecutive appearance. This will be the first College Football Playoff without Alabama. All that is left to determine is what seed the defending champs will have. Whether Clemson is ranked No. 2 or No. 3 ultimately wouldn’t matter as the Tigers wouldn’t get to have a say which bowl destination they’d prefer, nor would it change the opponent. While Clemson will feel they made a case to be considered as the No. 1 team in the field, that decision now rests with the selection committee, which will make their final decisions on Sunday. A matchup with either LSU or Ohio State is likely the pairing for Clemson. Dabo Swinney will certainly have his team ready for whatever comes next, as his fight for respect will continue even if nobody is actually disrespecting his program these days.

Virginia’s bowl outlook is also likely fixed. Win or lose, Virginia was likely to be in the Orange Bowl, either as the ACC champion or the bowl’s pick from the ACC. When the ACC champion is in the College Football Playoff and unavailable for the Orange Bowl, the next highest-ranked ACC team fills the slot. Virginia being the only other ranked ACC team this week by the committee seems to suggest Virginia will be the locked pick for the Orange Bowl, although if Virginia manages to slip out of the playoff rankings, the Orange Bowl could choose from any available ACC team that is bowl eligible. But even in that scenario, Virginia would likely still be the pick. Virginia would play a team from the SEC or Big Ten, with the opponent being the highest-ranked available team from either conference. The Florida Gators may be the most likely opponent, with Penn State as the alternative. Regardless of how the first experience in the ACC Championship Game went for Virginia, Bronco Mendenhall continues to be doing a terrific job in building the Virginia football program, and a chance to play in the Orange Bowl is a significant step forward.

Lining up first winning season since 2011, could Virginia play for ACC championship?

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In his third season at Virginia, Bronco Mendenhall has the Cavaliers surprisingly in position to play in the ACC Championship Game for the first time in program history. Considering the state of the program when he took over a few years ago, that is a solid achievement.

Virginia’s 28-14 win at Duke on Saturday improved Virginia to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the ACC. On top of that, Virginia owns head-to-head tiebreakers against Miami and Duke. The only team sitting in front of Virginia in the ACC Coastal Division is Virginia Tech. If Virginia continues to handle their business the next few weeks with home games against North Carolina and Pittsburgh, that could set the stage for a showdown in Blacksburg on the final weekend of the regular season with the Coastal Division on the line.

Virginia Tech is 3-0 in the ACC. The Hokies have a schedule that is back-loaded with home games in the second half of the year too, although that includes some potential stiff challenges from Boston College and Miami in Blacksburg on top of Virginia on the final weekend of the year. Virginia Tech must also travel to Pittsburgh, where the Panthers are a tough team to figure out on any given week. You never know what could happen against the Panthers.

The remaining schedule may look more difficult for Virginia Tech, but the benefit of only having to go on the road just once for the rest of the season could give the Hokies the advantage.

Mendenhall may still have some work to do with the Virginia program, but after going 2-10 in his first season in 2016 and 6-7 last year, Mendenhall has Virginia eyeing up its first winning season since 2011. Whether or not that includes a trip to the ACC Championship Game at the end of the year, the 2018 season is already turning out to be a step forward for the program under Mendenhall.

All-ACC safety Quin Blanding returning to Virginia in 2017

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While not too many things ended up going well for Virginia in the first season under new head coach Bronco Mendenhall, one bright spot was the play of junior safety Quin Blanding. On Monday, Virginia announced Blanding has decided to return to the program for his final year of eligibility in 2017, providing a nice boost to the defensive outlook for the Cavaliers next fall.

“After careful thought and consideration, I have decided to stay at the University of Virginia and complete my fourth year,” Blanding said in a released statement. “I am fully committed to coach Bronco Mendenhall, coach Nick Howell and the entire coaching staff and the program they are building. I am committed to my teammates and want to help lead my team to a bowl game while at UVA.”

Virginia confirmed Blanding had submitted his name for an evaluation from the NFL College Advisory Committee. What the results were is unconfirmed, although it would seem it was not enticing enough to make the jump from college to the pros at this point in time. The All-ACC was named a second team All-American by multiple organizations this past fall after recording 10.0 tackles per game and 120 total tackles for the Cavaliers.

Former Virginia receiver sues school for alleged bullying and hazing

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Former Virginia wide receiver Aidan Howard is suing the University of Virginia for what he claims to have been a “culture of bullying, abuse, harassment, and discrimination.” According to Howard’s lawsuit, he claims to have witnessed football players force teammates to imitate and mimic sexual acts and forced players to fight and wrestle while naked or partially naked.

Howard’s lawsuit was filed Friday in a district court in Pennsylvania, according to a report from ESPN. In addition to the university,Virginia wide receivers Doni Dowling and David Eldridge are named as defendants. Another defendant name din the lawsuit is Virginia wide receivers coach Marques Hagans. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall is not a defendant in the suit.

In the lawsuit, Howard claims coaches were aware of injuries suffered through such acts but did not step in to bring an end to the behavior within the Virginia program. Furthermore, the lawsuit argues the school, school officials and coaches as well as students may have been in violation of Title IX laws, in part stemming from verbal insults Howard claims were hurled at players. Hagan has also been diagnosed with a learning disability, which he believes led to some of the allegedly discriminatory insults directed at him.

Howard’s suit claims that coaches knew about his injuries and what caused them, but did nothing to reprimand the football players who he says verbally and physically assaulted him, nor did they enforce school and NCAA rules against hazing, bullying and discrimination. The suit alleges that the university, administrators, coaches and fellow students violated aspects of federal Title IX gender equity laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act and negligence laws, among others.

“[They] would question Aidan’s ‘toughness’ and ‘manliness’ and would call him ‘stupid,’ ‘dumb,’ ‘slow,’ and ‘retarded,'” the lawsuit states.

“We want some accountability by the university and the student-athletes who were responsible for doing this to Aidan,” said Howard’s attorney, C. James Zeszutek. “Now these student-athletes are continuing to play their sport, continuing to attend classes, and there’s been no ramifications to them whatsoever. Our client is a victim who has been injured, damaged and he’s out of competition this year.”

Howard was granted a release from the Virginia program in August. He transferred to Robert Morris University.

[ESPN]