Clemson's defending national champions are hardly the tonic for a winless football team. However, Virginia has shown enough ability on varied occasions to stir hopes of an upset in Saturday night's Atlantic Coast Conference game at Scott Stadium.

"I'm the kind who's always optimistic and I don't see why any reason why we aren't capable of beating Clemson," said free safety Pat Chester, the defensive cocaptain. "National TV should help us get up, also the fact we've never beaten Clemson (in 21 meetings) and what will definitely be our largest crowd of the season.

"But I have no problem getting up, anyway. Sure, we're all disappointed that we've been losing, but losers are those people who want to sit back and feel sorry for themselves when things go wrong. Although we've had a lot of key players on the sidelines, we can't make excuses for injuries. Maybe we would have won three of the four games with everyone healthy. We have to forget that and overcome the injuries and win anyway."

Chester, a fifth-year player from Cambridge, Md., has overcome nagging physical problems himself. He has two badly sprained ankles and sees limited practice time each week. But he is out there every Saturday and last week intercepted two passes in a 16-13 loss to North Carolina State.

"The defense played well against N.C. State, but the offense couldn't take advantage," Chester said. "Against Navy, the offense moved the ball but the defense was shaky. It's a matter of developing consistency. We have the tools and ingredients for a good program here now. It wasn't always that way.

"When I first came here (in 1978), I couldn't believe how bad the program was. But we've made progress each year -- even last year, when injuries killed us, and this year. We're not that far away. I can see Virginia starting to have consistent winning records."

Despite the frequent defeats on the field, Chester has no regrets about matriculating at Virginia. He carries a 3.2 average, earned academic all-America honors and upon graduation is assured a good job with Dow Chemical, in marketing and sales. Dow is even willing to wait while Chester tries pro football.

"I was always a big Maryland fan and picking a college was a tough decision," said Chester, who played five positions in his senior year at Cambridge and scored a state-record 228 points. "I wanted a place to find out what I was all about. Virginia did not have rules like Maryland and I felt I'd have a chance to show responsibility that would not happen at Maryland.

"Football was not a major concern. Virginia's great academic reputation meant more to me."

Chester takes a lot of friendly kidding from his teammates, who have labeled him "The Franchise," and take delight in interfering with whatever media duties come Chester's way.

"That's been going on for several years, because of the number of times I appeared on TV and radio, and because of the job with Dow," Chester said. "It seemed everything I touched came up gold, everything was right in place. The guys let me know I was one of the lucky guys.

"Then last year I hurt my ankle in the second game, against Rutgers, and missed the rest of the season. I was given an extra year of eligibility, but then my other ankle started to act up. Both ankles bothered me Saturday and I've had trouble practicing this week. But I'll be ready for Clemson. It would mean so much to us if we could beat them."