Virginia’s quarterback Bryce Perkins slides into the end zone for a touchdown against Liberty during a game at Scott Stadium last season.

Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall doesn’t shy away from acknowledging how critical quarterback Bryce Perkins was to last season’s success or how important he is to the Cavaliers’ continued rebuild.

“I’m very thankful and lucky Bryce chose UVa. He’s the primary reason we jumped our win output from six to eight,” Mendenhall said last week at the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte. “Quite frankly, how he goes, we go. That’s part of being a quarterback at UVa under our system.”

Last July, Perkins (6-3, 215) physically looked the part. He was coming off a run to the Junior College National Championship game, but he hadn’t started a Division I game before coming to Charlottesville and nobody knew exactly what to expect.

After he set program records for total offense (3,603 yards) and touchdowns (34) and led Virginia to its first eight-win season since 2011, those expectations have gone through the roof.

The preseason polls have the Cavaliers winning the Coastal Division and challenging Clemson for the ACC title. Last fall, the Wahoos were two overtime losses from their first 10-win season since 1989.

“Last year gave me something to work on and gave me a platform to strive for this year and kind of overachieve on that,” Perkins said. “I’m just making sure that I’m all I can be for this team. I think what separates a good quarterback from a great quarterback is the ability to win a championship. Having that as a motivation just keeps us going.”

Perkins opened his UVa career with a pair of 100-yard rushing games against Richmond and Indiana, but he saved his best work for late in the season. After struggling to gain any traction in a loss to Pittsburgh, he reeled off at least 70 rushing yards in each of the final four games of the year, including 112 at Virginia Tech.

He also completed 80 percent of his passes against Georgia Tech and threw for nine touchdowns in that four-game stretch — three each against Virginia Tech and South Carolina in the Belk Bowl. Virginia came up short in overtime against the Hokies and Georgia Tech, but Perkins said the Cavaliers’ 28-0 bowl win over the Gamecocks offered a glimpse into how they have to prepare each week.

“How we practiced for three or so weeks leading up to that game, we were still just mad, just mad, just ferocious,” Perkins said. “Looking after the South Carolina game, we have to make sure we know what it takes to perform at that level. Let’s not have it take a loss for us to get back to that level of competitiveness. We should start how we should. Definitely you can see if you come to our summer workouts, we definitely have been training like that all summer.”

Virginia opens the 2019 on Aug. 31 at Pittsburgh.

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