CHARLOTTESVILLE, AUG. 29 -- The preseason hand dealt to Coach George Welsh and his Virginia football team looks utopian at best and promising at worst, the return of 14 starters from last year's ACC co-champion coupled with a weak non-conference schedule forming the football equivalent of a royal flush.
But Welsh, wary of the Cavaliers' follies of opening days past, has adopted a battle cry of "too many things can go wrong" heading into Saturday's opener at Kansas.
The Cavaliers, ranked 15th in the Associated Press preseason poll, received heretofore unheard-of recognition this week with rankings of No. 7 by Playboy and No. 3 by the New York Times.
"It's kind of ridiculous, isn't it though?" Welsh said. "I try to ignore it . . . I don't even know if we're any good this year. We haven't played a game yet."
Notre Dame, a 36-13 winner over Virginia in last season's Kickoff Classic, was ranked fourth in the Times poll. Kansas, 4-7 a year ago, won't be mistaken for the Fighting Irish, but does face Virginia in a situation similar to the Cavaliers' opening day two years ago. That season, Division I-AA William and Mary -- supposedly playing the role of tuneup for Virginia's next game with Penn State -- led at halftime before Virginia escaped with a 31-23 victory.
The Cavaliers face Clemson here next week in a game with both historic meaning -- Virginia has never defeated the Tigers -- and potential ACC title implications.
"I don't think we're overlooking Kansas, I think the media is overlooking Kansas," defensive tackle Joe Hall said. "We've overlooked the William and Marys in the past and have been slapped in the face. We realize now that we have to concentrate on the game at hand."
Welsh's worries stem from his battered defensive line and inexperienced linebackers, all likely to be challenged by Kansas tailback Tony Sands, who rushed for 1,109 yards last year as a sophomore.
Cavaliers nose guard Matt Quigley will get his first college start Saturday while Ron Carey -- the starter in 35 of the last 36 games -- recuperates from arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks ago.
Redshirt freshman P.J. Killian will start at one linebacker slot. Sophomores James Pearson and Yusef Jackson will share the other position. "I don't know if they're any good or not," Welsh said. ". . . I hope we're good enough to hold up."
Freshman tight end Aaron Mundy will play behind starter Bruce McGonnigal. Welsh said Larry Holmes, a 1989 All-Met at St. Albans High, could see action as a kickoff returner. And in a now-familiar refrain, Welsh is nervous with his opening-day lineup.
"I'd like for all the games to be in the middle of the season," he said. "I don't like any opening games -- no matter who they are. You open with Notre Dame and get demolished. You open with William and Mary and we stink out the joint. I don't know what's right."
Cavaliers Notes: Welsh said cornerback Jason Wallace (pulled hamstring) and free safety Keith McMeans (slight concussion) are expected to play Saturday.