Forget that Virginia's record in 1985 was 6-5. Forget that its record in 1986 was 3-8.

The Cavaliers are the two-time defending College Football Association Academic Achievement champions. In September 1979, 27 players were given scholarships; 25 of them had graduated by May 1985. In September 1980, 18 players were given scholarships; 16 of them had graduated by May 1986.

That might be enough to satisfy everyone if Virginia were the Atlantic Coast Conference's version of Northwestern or Rice, schools that haven't been to bowl games almost since the television was invented.

Virginia, however, likes to view itself as the ACC's version of Michigan or Baylor. And why not? The Cavaliers won the Peach Bowl in 1984. And, prior to last season, they hadn't had a losing record since 1982.

"After last season I'm embarrassed," said Sean Scott, a senior from Mount Vernon High School in Alexandria, who is going into his second year as a team captain. "I want to return back to when we were winning games and we were in contention in the ACC and going back to a bowl. When you're doing that, you're having fun."

According to Coach George Welsh, an ACC title and a bowl appearance are probably out of the question this season. "I can't see us being a contender to win the conference championship," he said. "That might be beyond our reach."

When might that become within Virginia's reach?

"I never have timetables," Welsh said. "I agree with George Allen. The future is now. The sooner the better. I mean, you only get so many years. If not this year, hopefully next year. But I'm trying to win as many games as I can this year.

"Still, if in two or three years, the talent level isn't there and you don't have experience . . . if you don't reach that point in another few years, then you may never reach it.

"I think we have the capabilities of winning six {games}, of having a winning season {this year}," Welsh said. "That's within our reach."

For the Cavaliers to do that, a couple of things are going to have to happen: one with the offensive line and one with the defensive line.

"The offensive and defensive lines are the big questions," Welsh said. "The performance level of the guys that played last year has to rise. I'd say if they are no better than they were last year, it's not going to be enough."

Some statistics:

Last season, the Cavaliers were last in the ACC in rushing defense (246.9 yards per game), total defense (415.8 yards per game) and scoring defense (28.6 points per game). They were tied for sixth in the conference standings with an ACC record of 2-5.

Overall, Virginia averaged 247 yards rushing and 0.33 quarterback sacks in its three wins. In its eight losses, it averaged 126.5 yards per game rushing and 1.5 quarterback sacks.

In its three wins, Virginia had a combined turnover margin of plus-7. In its eight losses, it had a combined turnover margin of minus-12.

"The key is less turnovers," said sophomore running back Durwin Greggs, a graduate of Bishop McNamara. The former all-Met and Metro Conference most valuable player was selected the team's most outstanding freshman last season. He led Virginia in rushing with 404 yards on 83 carries, including a 177-yard performance against North Carolina State. With last season's second-leading rusher Chris Warren academically ineligible, Greggs will be an important man for the Cavaliers this season.

However, he, like quarterback Scott Secules (75 of 146 passes last season for 956 yards, four touchdowns, seven interceptions) and receivers Keith Mattioli (44 receptions for 717 yards and three touchdowns) and John Ford (32 for 555 and five touchdowns) will need help.

"We are definitely aware that we need to do the job up front this year, that there's a lot on our shoulders," said offensive guard Roy Brown, a sophomore from St. Albans, who last year started the first seven games on offense, the last four on defense and was honored as Virginia's most outstanding lineman.

"People are going to try to run against us," Scott said, "and we're going to have to stop them."

Said Welsh: "We want to be the best team we can be from the opening game. I don't think it's crucial for us to win early, but I feel like it's important for us to play well early. If you lose, but play well, at least you can point out the positive things."

Like graduation rates.