CHARLOTTESVILLE, SEPT. 4 -- Always the same set of questions, never the chance to prepare quietly for the next game on the schedule. Such is the curse of never having beaten Clemson in 29 games.
Even if Coach George Welsh and his 14th-ranked Virginia Cavaliers could find a receptive ear for their wish to treat Saturday's showdown here with the No. 9 Tigers as "just another game," they would be hard pressed to deflect the mounting hype.
Athletic department officials are calling Saturday "Paint the Town Orange" day. A "Tiger Fry" pep rally is planned for Friday night and the city has painted one main avenue with large, orange V's, in the manner of the Tiger paws that adorn the road leading to Clemson.
Even Welsh toyed with the idea of donning a flat-top hairstyle to get into the spirit of things. Backup quarterback Matt Blundin, also a forward on the basketball team, wore a flat-top in February before the basketball team's first victory in seven years over Duke, prompting then-coach Terry Holland and his staff to make appointments at the barber shop.
"I changed my mind," said Welsh, who wore a flat-top as a student at the Naval Academy.
The Clemson streak, which began in 1955 and currently ranks as the most consecutive wins by one team over a regular opponent, stands as an unsightly reminder of Virginia's leaner years, which included only two winning seasons in the 29 prior to Welsh's arrival in 1982. The annual Clemson queries, magnified by Virginia's unusually high expectations this season, have left the Cavaliers downright surly.
"I think it's nice that the university community realizes that Virginia has a football team," defensive tackle Joe Hall said. "This summer when I was here I couldn't even go out for dinner without someone coming up and saying, 'No matter what happens, you have to beat Clemson.' . . . The town of Charlottesville is probably more frustrated about the Clemson streak than we are."
Virginia players talked before the season about the possibility of an undefeated season. With weak nonconference schedules, both Virginia and Clemson figure to be favored in each of their remaining games. So the winner of Saturday's game will have the inside track to the ACC title and an undefeated season.
"National championship? That's getting carried away," Welsh said. "I don't think you can be on a national championship level until you have a tremendous defense. We're hurt on defense and young in some spots."
Virginia's young and battered defense held its own last Saturday in the Cavaliers' 59-10 rout of Kansas, although Welsh was quick to point out that Kansas -- which finished last in the Big Eight last season in team and overall defense -- is not Clemson.
The Tigers, who shut out Long Beach State, 59-0, Saturday, return 10 of the top 11 tacklers from a team that finished first in the ACC in rushing defense and total defense, and held opponents to an average of 12 points a game.
"Kansas changed their defense from last year and had a new quarterback," Welsh said. "You have to keep it in perspective."
Last season Virginia lost four starters to injury, including quarterback Shawn Moore, in the week leading up to Clemson. Blundin threw for 248 yards and two touchdowns, but the Tigers rolled to a 34-20 victory. Welsh said two starters might miss Saturday's game, but nose guard Ron Carey, who underwent knee surgery Aug. 16 and sat out the Kansas game, should play.
Doubtful for Saturday are defensive end Chris Slade (sprained ankle) and safety Keith McMeans (thigh bruise). Cornerback Tony Covington will move to safety to replace McMeans and backup cornerback Greg Jeffries will make his first start.
Welsh said linebacker Yusef Jackson, who reinjured his knee in practice last week, is doubtful for Saturday's game. Jackson had mononucleosis last spring and pneumonia over the summer, and has yet to play since injuring his knee against William and Mary early last season.
Rickie Peete, who caused one fumble and recovered another last week as Slade's replacement, will again start at defensive end if Slade sits out. Welsh has a policy of a starter not losing his job due to injury and Slade insists he is ready to play.
In a now-familiar refrain, Welsh (0-8 against Clemson) downplays the importance of the game.
"It's not the season -- too many games left," he said. "It could have some outcome on the conference race. It doesn't mean it's going to be settled though by any means. . . . You can still have a good year if you lose to Clemson."