This bowl stuff is all so new to the University of Virginia, but the Cavaliers' supporters are acting like they're postseason veterans.

An estimated 12,000 Virginia supporters will be here in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium Monday afternoon at 3 p.m. when the Cavaliers make their first bowl appearance, in the Peach Bowl against Purdue.

Virginia is even slightly favored, by three points, to win one of the most attractive matchups in years for the Peach, which in Virginia has the Atlantic Coast Conference runner-up and in Purdue the Big Ten runner-up.

It also is a match of opposites. Virginia (7-2-2), with three ball carriers who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards, probably will run three of four times.

The Boilermakers (7-4) have the Big Ten total offense leader, quarterback Jim Everett, who passed for more than 3,000 yards this season.

When last seen, the Cavaliers were giving up a heap of yards in a 45-34 loss to Maryland for the ACC championship.

Purdue's offense probably isn't Terrapin-efficient. But the Boilermakers did beat Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan in the same season.

That fact, coupled with this being Virginia's first bowl game, led Coach George Welsh to say this week, "Are we still favored?"

When a group of writers confirmed that the Cavaliers were indeed favored by a field goal, Welsh said, "I don't know what to expect . . . I really don't."

While Welsh is deep into the game plan -- which might include quite a few gambling plays on defense -- it is hard for the players to overlook how far Virginia's football program has come in two years since going 2-9.

"It's like a dream come true," Virginia defensive tackle Tom Kilgannon said earlier this week. "The dream began a couple of years ago when things were going very poorly for us. It became a reality when we walked off the plane and realized we were in Atlanta to play a bowl game."

Defensive back Lester Lyles, from St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., said, "It's a great feeling. The alumni are really pulling for us. There's a lot of history to be made here."

Presumably, Lyles was talking about Virginia's winning. And for that to happen, the Cavaliers will have to contain the Boilermakers' passing game, specifically speedster Steve Griffin, who had 60 receptions for 991 yards.

Virginia would like to play ball-control, with backs Steve Morse, Howard Petty and Barry Word keeping Purdue's offense on the bench as long as possible.

"Working out every day with (teammate) John Ford will help with our coverage on Griffin," Kilgannon said. "Ford has that same kind of speed and quickness. If we can cover him, then, hopefully, we can do the same against Griffin.

"(But) it would be stupid to concentrate only on Purdue's passing game, and let our defense against the run slip.

"If we allow them to run the ball, it's going to be a long day for us. They seem to be predominantly a passing team, but they have quick backs."

Welsh didn't sound as if he is expecting Purdue to do much running. "They'll probably call 40 passes and wear down our defensive linemen," Welsh said, in his usual pessimistic pregame assessment.

The only teams that were able to wear down Virginia during the regular season were Clemson, in the first game of the season, and Maryland, in the regular-season finale.

The best thing going for Virginia might be Welsh's impatience. Before the season, he said a new coach should turn the corner in his third year. The Cavaliers apparently have already done that. Welsh would like to make it official here Monday.

More than 50,000 tickets have been sold for the game. In an effort to sell all 60,000, Peach Bowl officials announced that the person who buys the final ticket will be awarded $10,000.