Last December, as he reflected on his team's Belk Bowl win against South Carolina, Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall talked about how he hoped the 2018 season would serve as a base line for the rest of his tenure.
Mendenhall's fourth season as the Cavaliers' head coach opens on Saturday night at Pitt. On Monday, the head coach was asked how much he believed the Wahoos looked "like a Bronco Mendenhall team."
He responded by referring back to those comments in Charlotte.
"We've worked really hard, and I'm accountable for every result that's happened. The positives and negatives and the trajectory. It really feels like a launch point now," Mendenhall said. "With players that we've selected. With an outcome from a year ago that felt normal to us, as a staff and as a program. To really now go from there to wherever we're going to go."
The Cavaliers' 28-0 win against South Carolina capped an 8-5 season for Virginia. It was the first time UVA reached the eight-win mark -- or finished a season with a winning record -- since 2011, and the program's first postseason bowl victory since 2005.
Last month, the Wahoos were picked as the preseason favorite to win the ACC Coastal Division this fall. Senior cornerback Bryce Hall was the leading vote-getter among defensive players on the preseason All-ACC team, and has been named a preseason All-American by several outlets. Quarterback Bryce Perkins is also back for his senior season, after setting several UVA passing records in his first year with the Cavaliers.
The depth chart released by Virginia on Monday served as an illustration of how much Mendenhall and his coaching staff have impacted the roster. Only four players on the two-deep -- running back Chris Sharp, tight end Tanner Cowley, and defensive linemen Eli Hanback and Richard Burney -- pre-date Mendenhall's arrival. Seven others -- including Hall, linebacker Jordan Mack, offensive lineman Dillon Reinkensmeyer, and receivers Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois -- were recruited by the previous coaching staff before joining the program for the 2016 season, Mendenhall's first as head coach.
The rest of that depth chart is filled with player recruited by the current coaching staff, from juniors Charles Snowden and Zane Zandier at linebacker; to sophomore bookends Ryan Nelson and Ryan Swoboda at the offensive tackle spots; to first-year nose tackle Jowon Briggs listed as a starter.
That 2016 team went 2-10, becoming Mendenhall's only team in 14 years as a head coach that failed to reach a bowl game. The Wahoos won six games the following season, but lost to Navy in the Military Bowl.
Now UVA is a 2 1/2-point favorite against Pitt, the reigning Coastal Division champion, and at Heinz Field, where the Wahoos have never won.
"It's crazy, just from where I came in from and how we started when I first got here, versus the progress that's been made throughout the course of my time here," Hall said on Monday. "I'm just excited to do even better than we were last year, and just to keep pushing this thing higher and higher."