The important question at the University of Virginia this week no longer may be whether Kevin Ferguson or Don Majkowski will start at quarterback against Georgia Tech Saturday. It may be whether the Cavaliers can avoid the distractions the situation might cause and concentrate on the Yellow Jackets.
Distractions -- a ranking of No. 12 nationally and a story in Sports Illustrated -- may have contributed to Tech's upset loss to N.C. State last week, according to Virginia Coach George Welsh. "They were reading about how good they were and weren't ready to play," Welsh said. "Success is new for them, like us. Unless you're mature, these things can affect you."
The effect on Georgia Tech was a drop from No. 12 to No. 20. Getting ready for Tech, Virginia players say they are unconcerned about the quarterback choice. They say the competition between Ferguson, the starter in all five games for the Cavaliers (4-1), and Majkowski, who has thrown four touchdown passes in the last two games, is a personal one.
"I think it probably bothers Kevin and Donnie more than it does the rest of us," Jon Muha, Virginia's leading receiver with 15 catches for 207 yards, said today.
"We're to the point where our goal is to win the ACC championship," guard Bob Olderman said. "The guys on offense have confidence in both Kevin and Donnie. All we're focused on is what we have to do this week to beat Georgia Tech."
An Atlantic Coast Conference title, even with Clemson again on probation and North Carolina and Maryland having subpar years, may seem unlikely for a team that has never finished higher than third. But Muha insists the Cavaliers aren't kidding themselves.
"Last year, we were 4-0 and we started talking about bowls and about records and we lost five of our last seven games," he said. "We learned from last year not to think too far ahead."
Some players have said that Saturday's game here is the biggest of the year so far. Welsh thinks it is important enough to hold off on deciding who starts at quarterback until later in the week, even though he said too much importance is placed on that position.
Yet, each desperately wants to start. Ferguson said that when he decided to attend Virginia, he set himself the goal of starting at quarterback in his sophomore year. Majkowski has performed well as a reserve -- 58.1 percent completion average, 215 passing yards and four touchdowns -- but wants more.
"Sure, I'd much rather start. That's everybody's goal," he said. "I don't think of myself as a backup quarterback. In practice, I have just as much responsibility as Kevin does. In a game, it's the same way."
Muha, a junior, drew the parallel between the quarterback spot and competition at tailback between Howard Petty and Barry Word, and at fullback between Steve Morse and Antonio Rice. Petty and Word each had more than 100 yards rushing in last week's 38-10 victory over Duke.
"It would be a shame to call either tailback or either fullback or either quarterback second team. They are all starters as far as I'm concerned," Muha said. "This team is starting to get depth now. There's always someone there to push you or in case there's an injury."
The quarterbacks are both 6 feet 2 and weigh about 205 pounds. Both are good all-around athletes who excelled in other sports as well as football in high school. Both are inexperienced.
But Majkowski has had five interceptions in 31 passes; Ferguson has six in 68 attempts. Majkowski had two interceptions in six passes against Duke.
"The fact that neither one has convincingly won the job shows how close they are," Olderman said. "Everybody's saying Donnie should be playing now, but he's had his rough times. It's just that his up times have been in the last two weeks."
Although he started against Duke, Ferguson was in for just six plays. Welsh inserted Majkowski, who completed three of six pases for 34 yards, at the start of the second quarter.
"I don't think I was given the chance to do anything," Ferguson said. "If it is going to be like last week, I'd rather he started."