It was no secret Bronco Mendenhall had a massive rebuilding project ahead of him when he left BYU to become the coach at Virginia. And two seasons in, Mendenhall thinks that project is nowhere near complete.
Speaking at a recent UVa Board of Visitors meeting, Mendenhall made a frank comment about the state of the Cavaliers' roster.
"I believe we have 27 ACC-caliber football players on our roster today," he said via Sam Blum of the Daily Progress.
There are many ways his comment could be described. Most succinctly: yeesh. And entering Year 3 -- meaning Mendenhall has three recruiting classes under his belt -- that's worrisome to say the least. His head count doesn't take into consideration the number of players leaving and entering this summer, but the general tone is grim.
However, the description is as honest as it is anything else. Big picture, here's what Mendenhall's quote means for long-term health of the team.
This is the reality for most non-blue bloods trying to build
At a place like Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, Texas or USC, it shouldn't take a new coach more than three years to turn things around (assuming it needs to at all). Given the resources and overall higher level of talent available, both on the roster and on the recruiting trail, their floor is typically higher.
Virginia doesn't have the same luxury of a head start like that. When things go south -- and they certainly did under Mike London, who had one winning season in six years -- it can take much longer to get things going in the right direction. Here's Mendenhall's forecast from the Daily Progress ...
"We have 85 scholarships to give," Mendenhall said. "That means that with our [recruiting class of 2018] arriving, that we think that number [of ACC-caliber players] will jump to the mid-40s this year."
Mendenhall said by the time the 2019 recruiting class arrives, he'll have "65-ish" ACC-caliber players.
"By the time [the Class of 2020] comes, we will have 85 ACC-caliber players," Mendenhall said. "In the meantime, my job is that I relish and I'm lucky to have to show a trend upward through success and winning with the existing resources we have — through motivation, culture and innovation."
Additionally, Mendenhall noted that Virginia played a whopping 17 freshmen last season. In the meantime, Mendenhall has shown he can coach with the best of them. After winning two games in 2016, Virginia enjoyed a four-game swing in the win column in 2017, highlighted by an impressive 42-23 win at Boise State, and went to a bowl. By the rationale of Mendenhall's own comment, he was able to do more with less. And, obviously, he was a perennial success at BYU, averaging nine wins a season. Mendenhall might have been an unorthodox hire by Virginia, but that doesn't make it a bad one. It just might take more time than expected for Mendenhall to prove everyone right.
Mendenhall has to show recruiting improvement
What is most interesting about Mendenhall's assessment of his roster is not how blunt it is, but the timing of it. He's had three opportunities to improve upon London's recruiting efforts, which were actually strong towards the beginning of his tenure. Virginia's classes routinely ranked in the top half of the ACC from 2011 to 2014, with the 2011 class earning top-25 status by 247Sports. Results dipped over the years, though. By the time London resigned, the overall talent level was clearly lacking with few standouts like linebacker Micah Kiser and defensive back Quin Blanding.
Since taking over, Mendenhall's classes have finished near the bottom of the ACC: 13th in 2016, 12th in 2017 and 11th in 2018. The silver lining is that while movement has been small, it has trended upwards. The bad news is the 2018 class still featured just three in-state recruits. London, for all of his shortcomings, didn't have that problem.
He wants the path of least resistance in opponents
Talent acquisition is important, but it can be nullified some if the schedule is on the difficult side. The second half of last season was a prime example. Though Virginia started the season 4-1, it finished November against Louisville, Miami and Virginia Tech, losing all three games. That's brutal.
A good way to make up for that is in nonconference scheduling and Virginia has plenty of games against the likes of Richmond, Liberty and William and Mary. However, the ACC requires each of its teams to play at least one Power Five opponent a year. Excluding the ACC's agreement with Notre Dame, Virginia gets Indiana, Maryland, Illinois and Georgia in upcoming years. Mendenhall would like to game the system a little more.
Since ACC requires each team to play at least 1 Power 5 non-conference school, Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall admits: “I want to play the worst Power 5 team that we can play,” @SamBlum3 reports— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) June 11, 2018
The "Can Virginia play itself?" joke writes itself, but in all seriousness, Mendenhall would much sooner play Kansas than Georgia. And given the state of his program, who can blame him? Every win matters at this point as it might mean the difference between having a job and being unemployed.