Elliott reacts to ACC poll prediction: “We’ll have 12 opportunities coming”

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

When ACC media met in Charlotte last week for the league’s “Kickoff” event, Virginia was picked to finish last among the conference’s 14 teams in the preseason football poll.

It was the first time UVA had been picked last since 2018, when the Cavaliers were predicted to finish at the bottom of the Coastal Division standings. In fact, Virginia was picked last in the Coastal every year from 2014 through 2018.

Bronco Mendenhall showed the rest of the league in 2018 that his team was better — much better — than that, making it to a bowl game and convincingly beating South Carolina of the SEC. The following season, UVA was picked to win the Coastal Division and the Cavaliers did just that, playing Clemson in the ACC Championship game before taking on Florida in the Orange Bowl.

Can Tony Elliott coach the program to such a turnaround as Mendenhall managed to do in a rather short period of time? Elliott’s first team finished in last place in the Coastal in 2022 and is predicted to finish last this season, but Elliott is blocking out the noise.

“Obviously [the poll] got put out, so had to address that with the team,” Elliott said this week. “But to be honest, where did we expect everybody to pick us based off what we did on film last year and how the season ended?”

UVA went 3-7 and lost some close games: 14-12 to Miami (in four overtimes), 32-28 to North Carolina, and 22-20 to Syracuse. The final two games of the season (Coastal Carolina and Virginia Tech) were canceled due to the tragic shooting that took the lives of three Virginia players.

“I’m not thinking about [the prediction], not worrying about it,” Elliott said. “Truth be told, we can’t be externally motivated. So if our only motivation is where somebody picked us in the poll, then you know what? We’re not going to have the proper competitive stamina because now all we’re doing is working to the circumstance of the situation as opposed to what we believe we’re capable of.

“Can we, day after day, come out with the right mindset, the right commitment regardless of what the situation is, regardless of how hot it is, what time we’re practicing, and can we perform to a standard play after play, day after day? Then we’ll have a chance to settle it on the field, and all I’m worried about is where we finish. That’s all that matters.”

Elliott said there are so many unknowns about this year’s team, and that this squad is trying to eliminate the distractions.

“We’ll have 12 opportunities coming,” Elliott said.

Meanwhile, the team isn’t paying a lot of attention to predictions either. The players are too consumed in trying to improve their games and develop chemistry for the upcoming season.

“We had a team meeting a few days ago,” said sophomore left offensive tackle McKale Boley. “Coach Elliott brought [the poll] up, kind of like ‘this is what everybody thinks of us.’ But honestly, we don’t care much [about the predictions] because we know what we’re going to do, so the outside critics don’t really matter.

“So we’ll see when we get into the season. We’ll put it on display when the season comes around.”