CHARLOTTESVILLE -- They talk, quite seriously and with absolutely no guilt, about an 11-0 season, a second straight ACC championship and a Heisman Trophy for their quarterback.

It's almost as though the Virginia Cavaliers refuse to remember their recent past, which includes a 3-8 season in 1986 and a general feeling a year ago that they weren't getting the recognition they thought they deserved. Most were still in grade school when Coach George Welsh arrived in 1982, inheriting a program that had only two winning seasons in the previous 29 years.

Those memories are all but gone, what with last year's season of firsts: first 10-win season, first ACC championship (shared with Duke) and first appearance in a New Year's Day bowl game.

But Virginia faltered under the national spotlight, supposedly ready to take the program to the next level. Nationally televised losses to Notre Dame in the Kickoff Classic and to Illinois in the Citrus Bowl stand as ugly bookends to an otherwise near-perfect season.

Now Virginia is the hunted in the ACC, but still searches for the means to snap the one constant that has haunted the program since 1955: a 29-game losing streak to Clemson. The Cavaliers already are pointing to the Sept. 8 game, even though they play at Kansas first, on Saturday.

"There's a lot of pressure on us," defensive end Chris Slade said. "To beat Clemson would definitely get us the respect we need -- but after we beat them, people might say it's a fluke. We'll need to go 11-0 to earn the respect and publicity we deserve."

Even Welsh, who normally refuses to comment on games except for the next one on his schedule, stumbled in answering a preseason query on Clemson. "The best thing we can do for Clemson is to not think about it. {Just} prepare and have a good preseason practice," he said. "And get ready for Clemson. I mean, get ready for Kansas."

The Cavaliers already have received much Moore recognition than usual. Quarterback Shawn Moore and wide receiver Herman Moore (they are not related) appear on the cover of one preseason magazine, and Virginia is touting Shawn Moore for the Heisman -- the school's first serious candidate for the award since Bill Dudley finished fifth in the 1941 voting.

The team returns 14 starters, eight on defense and six on offense. Welsh said his depth isn't what it was a year ago, although a talented class of redshirt freshmen should help.

Moore, the only Division I-A quarterback to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 500 last season, is one of eight fifth-year seniors competing as graduate students. Tailback Marcus Wilson would have been the ninth, but he entered the NFL draft last spring and was taken by the Los Angeles Raiders.

Wilson's departure may make a starter of sophomore Terry Kirby, the consensus national high school player of the year in 1988 who rushed for 311 yards as Wilson's backup last year. But Kirby could be challenged by junior Nikki Fisher, who had back-to-back 100-yard games at the end of 1988, only to be buried behind Wilson and Kirby last season.

The 6-foot-5 Herman Moore, who has captured ACC high-jump titles and campus slam dunk championships, says he won't just focus on the alley-oop play he and Shawn Moore resurrected two years ago. Herman Moore says he got faster over the summer and now fancies himself a possession receiver. "He's going to fool people and go deep and I'm going to hit him in stride a couple of times," Shawn Moore said. "I get tired of throwing the ball up in the air."

Senior Derek Dooley takes over for Tim Finkelston opposite Herman Moore. Bruce McGonnigal, whose 42 receptions were a team high last year, returns at tight end.

Slade anchors the defensive line, but Virginia's biggest question is at linebacker, where leading tacklers Phil Thomas and Ray Savage are gone.

Sophomore Yusef Jackson -- who has battled mononucleosis, pneumonia, and arm and knee injuries -- should fill one position. Junior college transfer Eugene Rodgers will compete with sophomores James Pearson and Chris Galloway for the other.

Senior cornerback Tony Covington (52 tackles) leads a secondary that has started together for two years. Free safety Keith McMeans, who received honorable mention all-American honors two years ago, is back with senior Jason Wallace and junior Tyrone Lewis.

The talent pool makes this all a far cry from the team's leaner days, when fans smuggled bourbon into the games to compensate for the ugly sights on the field. The students still don semiformal attire and treat games more as social events, but now they have something to cheer about.

No current undergraduate class has seen a losing season. Ticket sales are at an all-time high, and expectations are greater than ever. A schedule that has included the likes of Notre Dame, Penn State, South Carolina and Georgia in recent years has nonconference matchups this season with four teams -- Kansas, Navy, William and Mary and Virginia Tech -- whose combined record last year was 21-22-2.

Welsh, however, remains a pessimist. "Too many things can go wrong," he said. But with a win over Clemson, an 11-0 season would not be far-fetched.

"We always thought that one day we'd be ACC champs," Shawn Moore said. "The program is there, we just have to keep it there."

1989 RECORD: 10-3, 6-1 ACC.

COACH: George Welsh, ninth year at Virginia, 50-40-2, 105-86-3 overall.

OFFENSE: Multiple I.


TOP PLAYERS LOST: DE Ray Savage, TB Marcus Wilson, G Roy Brown, LB Phil Thomas.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Shawn Moore, WR Herman Moore, TB Terry Kirby, DE Chris Slade, DB Tony Covington, TE Bruce McGonnigal, T Ray Roberts.

TOP NEWCOMERS: TE-DE Aaron Mundy (freshman), LB Eugene Rodgers (junior transfer), LB P.J. Killian (redshirt freshman), G Mark Dixon (redshirt freshman), WR Brian Haley (redshirt freshman), T Jim Reid (redshirt freshman)

PROJECTION: Virginia returns 14 starters from last year's 10-3 team that tied Duke for the ACC championship. Some call the Cavaliers conference favorites, but they have yet to beat Clemson in 29 tries. The teams play Sept. 8 in Charlottesville in a game that could go a long way toward determining the ACC champion. Should Virginia defeat Clemson, an undefeated season is a realistic goal. --Pete Williams