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College football: Cavaliers embrace role as spoilers

BY TAFT COGHILL JR.

CHARLOTTESVILLE—Phillip Sims was the backup quarterback at the University of Alabama this time last year as the Crimson Tide were preparing for their annual showdown with Auburn that divides the state.

“It’s bigger than Thanksgiving,” Sims said of that contest.

Sims is now a sophomore at Virginia. The Cavaliers (4–7, 2–5 Atlantic Coast Conference) will end their season Saturday when they visit rival Virginia Tech (5–6, 3–4).

While Sims’ former team needs a victory over Auburn Saturday to keep its hopes of a second straight national championship alive, his new squad is playing only for pride and a chance to end two streaks.

The Hokies have defeated Virginia eight consecutive games. Virginia Tech has also played in a bowl game 19 straight years.

“As a competitor, it would be big-time for us to be the team that puts an end to the streak,” Sims said of Tech’s eight-game run. “But I think it’s more than just the streak that we’re getting ready for this week. We know that we’re capable of winning this football game. We’ve just got to do the things we’re capable of doing.”

The Hokies are one win shy of bowl eligibility, but Cavaliers coach Mike London said ending their bowl run is secondary to culminating his team’s season on a positive note.

“This game can set the tempo going into the spring, offseason workouts and getting ready for next season,” Sims added. “So this is a big momentum builder for us as a team.”

SEARCHING FOR CLARITY

London said the quarterback situation at Virginia this season hasn’t been ideal, but was “dictated out of necessity.”

Sims’ request for a waiver to be eligible immediately wasn’t granted until July. He then had to adapt to the Cavaliers’ offensive system and personnel during training camp, which began in early August.

Incumbent Michael Rocco possessed a thorough knowledge of the offense, but lacked Sims’ natural ability.

That led to a roller coaster that began the season with Rocco as the starter for five games. Sims started three before London settled on a random rotation of the two for the past three contests. That’s expected to continue against the Hokies, but London acknowledged that this offseason, one quarterback needs to secure the position.

On Monday, each quarterback said he’s going to approach the offseason as the team’s leader.

London said ideally he’d like his signal callers set up in “succession,” so that “one can play and the next one behind him can play when their turn comes.”

Sims said this offseason will be a critical one for his development.

“I think a lot of this year I was just trying to fit in, trying to see how things go here, trying to be a part of this team,” Sims said. “I think this offseason I can take it a step further and try to go back to being me a little bit more, just going back to things I know I’m capable of doing as far as a leader, a quarterback and other things.”

TERPS’ EXIT A ‘SHOCK’

London said he was stunned when he learned the news that Maryland was leaving the ACC for the Big Ten. The Terrapins helped form the conference in 1953 and are one of the Cavaliers’ biggest rivals.

“It appears that schools are making decisions based on what’s in the best interest of their universities,” London said. “Obviously there are financial implications to it. But it’s been a shock.”

London does like that Maryland’s departure means Virginia is the closest ACC school to Washington-area recruits.

“I think that those young men in that D.C.-Maryland area probably have more of an opportunity by coming to Virginia to be seen by their parents and their community to see them play a Tech or a Duke or UNC or N.C. State as opposed to traveling to an away Big Ten slate,” London said.

“I know the media market that they’ve talked about will enhance their opportunities, and I’m quite sure it will. But at the same time, when you talk about parents and families seeing you play and being able to look at it on a map and talking about the geography of it, it’s going to be important, as well.”

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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