Transfer Benkert wins battle to be Virginia's starting QB

Transfer Kurt Benkert has won the battle to be Virginia's starting quarterback.

First-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall made the announcement Wednesday.

''I've really been impressed with how he's moved the team. When I look at a quarterback, what I look first and foremost for is do they move the team into the end zone because points determine outcome,'' Mendenhall said. ''Kurt has been the one that I think has consistently and can continue to be consistent in terms of moving our team forward regardless of the type and caliber of opponent that we play.

''He's a good decision maker, very strong arm, and he has natural leadership skills.''

A transfer from East Carolina, Benkert beat out incumbent Matt Johns and Connor Brewer, both fifth-year seniors, for the job. Johns started all 12 games last season and threw 20 touchdown passes, but also was intercepted 17 times.

Mendenhall said Johns and Brewer will begin the season as co-backups.

Benkert, who got married this summer, was to be the starter at East Carolina last season before an injury ended his year. He will be more than a year removed from surgery when the Cavaliers open on Sept. 3 against highly regarded Richmond of the Championship Subdivision.

In practice, Benkert felt like the deciding factor to getting the starting nod was ''consistency and big play ability. We've had a lot of big plays throughout camp and stretched the field a lot, so it's definitely helped.''

Coach Ruffin McNeill was fired by ECU after last season, and when McNeill joined Mendenhall's staff, Benkert followed him to Virginia. He had already graduated, making him eligible to play right away, and said reuniting with McNeill was a benefit in the move.

''I feel really lucky to be able to see him every day. He's a great person and he's always fun to be around and he always brings a lot of wisdom to the room,'' Benkert said of McNeill, the Cavaliers' assistant head coach and defensive line coach.

Mendenhall, who led BYU to 99 wins and 11 bowl games in as many seasons as coach, replaced Mike London as coach following the season. He said when he was hired that his preference is for a dual threat quarterback, and Benkert believes he is that kind of QB.

''I'm not the fastest guy on the field by any means, but I definitely break tackles inside the pocket and outside the pocket whether it's subtle movements or just extending plays on the run to throw the ball downfield,'' Benkert said. ''I feel like that's a big strength of mine.''

Benkert said the coaching staff has stressed the need for him to slide to prevent injury, but at a chiseled 231 pounds he said, ''If I need a first down or the game is on the line, I'll take over from there.''

That might out well for Virginia, which finished 4-8 and failed to qualify for a bowl game for the fifth consecutive season last year.

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The AP's college football page: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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Follow Hank on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

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