CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia's defensive challenge in Week 2 against Oregon clearly is daunting. A more nuanced, and arguably far more critical, test awaits in Saturday's opener against visiting Brigham Young.
Not to completely dismiss the Cavaliers' chances Sept. 7 against the Ducks. Oregon lost renowned coach Chip Kelly to the Philadelphia Eagles, and this is college football. Stuff happens, especially to road teams.
But the Ducks' speed is unsurpassed, and Kelly's successor, former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, is ideally suited to sustain the program's half-a-hundred scoring pace. In short, Oregon merits its No. 3 preseason ranking and is likely far above Virginia's present pay grade.
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John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville
Not so BYU. The Cougars have earned bowl bids in each of Bronco Mendenhall's eight seasons, consistency that has eluded U.Va. since George Welsh retired in 2000, but they were a modest 8-5 in 2012, and at last check, Vegas listed them as only 1-point favorites.
Indeed, if Virginia is to rebound from last year's 4-8 disappointment and return to postseason, Saturday may well be essential.
But what should Virginia and new defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta expect from BYU's offense?
"They have a new offensive coordinator as well," Cavaliers coach Mike London said Monday at his weekly gabfest, "so there will be some things that they'll do that we've never seen. Hopefully there will be some things that we do that they've never seen. So it's about the adjustment, and how we can proceed from there."
Virginia's previous offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, resigned to join Kelly's staff in Philadelphia and was replaced by the well-traveled and credentialed Steve Fairchild. BYU's change was more urgent and odd — Brandon Doman was excused from the position following two mediocre seasons and replaced by his predecessor, Robert Anae.
Anae departed in 2010 after the Cougars finished 70th or worse nationally in scoring, total and passing offense, unthinkable to those of us who recall the program's productivity under quarterbacks such as Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco and Ty Detmer. An offensive lineman on BYU's 1984 national title squad, Anae returns home after two seasons as an assistant at Arizona.
And there's the rub. At Arizona last year, Anae worked under Rich Rodriguez, a spread offense proponent, and he has installed similar principles at BYU.
"Against an offense like this, it is hard to get fresh legs on the field," defensive end Jake Snyder said. "So we might have to go on a series-by-series basis. … We've been training that way all camp. We're ready for it. …
"You can run sprints all day, and it's really not going to get you in football shape. Luckily for us, our offense has done a good job giving us a no-huddle type look in a hurry-up situation in practice, which has helped the defense tremendously get into shape and prepare."
A former Stanford commit, BYU quarterback Taysom Hill started two games in 2012 as a true freshman and played in six before a season-ending knee injury. He flashed the dual-threat skills that Virginia's David Watford possesses, skills that should suit whatever spread concepts the Cougars have adopted.
BYU returns eight offensive starters but only five from a 3-4 aligned defense that ranked third nationally in points allowed (14 per game). Among those starters is All-America linebacker Kyle Van Noy, whom London said can "wreck plays."
As football independents, the Cougars have crafted an ambitious schedule that includes Texas, Utah, Georgia Tech, Boise State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame. Last season, they won 41-17 at Georgia Tech, a venue where Virginia lost 56-20.
Even with BYU and Oregon at home, the Cavaliers' schedule is no less demanding. Fans certainly appear interested — about 3,900 tickets remain, not bad for a program that hasn't sold out a non-Virginia Tech home game since the 2008 opener against Southern California.
"Guys want to create a dream season," strong safety Anthony Harris said. "In order to do that, you have to create a dream schedule."
Said guard Luke Bowanko: "It's always fun when you're playing teams like that because (many) more people will be watching, a broader audience. They'll be watching for what BYU's going to do, and hopefully by the end of the game they'll be like, 'Wow, those kids from Virginia can play ball.' It's great to have the spotlight on you."