Arrival of Sims means starting role not safe
Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco has been through it once and emerged. Now comes another challenge from a Tidewater-area hotshot.
The Cavaliers' new quarterback candidate is sophomore Phillip Sims, a transfer from Alabama and a former five-star recruit who is eligible this year after the NCAA agreed that his return to his home state was to be near his ailing father. At Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, Sims threw for 10,725 yards and 119 touchdowns, both state records.
As a two-star recruit, Rocco had no such resume coming out of Liberty Christian in Lynchburg. But last year, Virginia thrived after he won the job, going to its first bowl game in four years. In the spring, Rocco solidified his position, earning accolades for his growth and leadership.
But now a wild card has arrived in Sims.
"You see a big name, Phil Sims, come in. Yeah, I can see how you guys are intrigued. So are we," Rocco told reporters Friday. "But I haven't changed my approach at all."
As Virginia looks to take another step forward under third-year coach Mike London, a dicey quarterback situation is brewing again.
Last year there was little doubt that London wanted David Watford to win the job. With his fleet feet and a strong arm, the Cavaliers were more dynamic with Watford on the field. But the true freshman wasn't ready.
In a season in which London was named ACC coach of the year, the only bit of criticism he received was for the way he handled the quarterbacks. He stuck with a Rocco-Watford rotation through the first seven games. The last straw came in a 28-14 home loss to N.C. State. After Rocco guided an early touchdown drive, he was replaced by Watford, who threw three interceptions. Rocco returned but went 0-for-10. When London discontinued the rotation, Rocco's confidence blossomed, and he led Virginia to four straight ACC wins, including three on the road.
London hasn't ruled out a similar rotation this year.
"There could be. It's too hard to tell right now," London said. "The biggest thing with our quarterbacks is decision-making. We'd have to see where Phillip is in learning our schemes, our concepts, our terminology."
London has maintained that Rocco is the starter. But if he and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor become convinced that Sims can deliver more big-play potential, consider it likely he will get a chance. In 2011, Virginia ranked 46th in the FBS in total offense (399.8 per game) but only 86th in scoring (23.2 ppg). Only one other team in the FBS had a larger disparity.
Rocco was successful moving the chains, but quick strikes were lacking. He has an experience edge, and his decision-making ability is unparalleled. He grew up in a football family and has professed his desire to become a coach. But can he compete with a talent like Sims?
"I wasn't a five-star recruit. That fuels me as much as anything," Rocco said. "I believe I'm the starting quarterback and the leader of this team. I believe [my teammates] think of me as the leader of this team, too."