CHARLOTTESVILLE, OCT. 13 -- Virginia's meteoric rise through the national college football rankings may be complete.

Early this afternoon, the second-ranked Cavaliers pulverized North Carolina State and its highly touted defense, 31-0, in an ACC game before a sellout crowd of 44,300 at Scott Stadium.

They then took their places by the television and watched Michigan State hang on for a 28-27 victory over No. 1-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Although the Cavaliers still didn't want to say the magic words or the magic number, they seem to realize what is within their reach.

"We have the personnel and the coaches this year to go all the way," said sophomore defensive end Chris Slade, who recorded 4 1/2 of Virginia's eight sacks and led an effort that allowed N.C. State 48 yards rushing.

Asked to be more precise, he responded: "You take it from there. But we can do a lot of things if we play the way we are capable of playing."

One of those things was the capability of watching Michigan's game with more than a casual interest.

"Oh, who cares?" said senior quarterback Shawn Moore.

"I might care," junior wide receiver Herman Moore shot back.

Said Slade: "Yeah, I hope they {the Wolverines} lose. What's to be afraid of? Any time you're ranked, people are going to shoot for you. I look at it as a challenge. For so long, Virginia has had to take its best shot and see if other teams can handle it. Now they get to take their best shots and see if we can handle it."

But Virginia Coach George Welsh wanted no part of the rankings game. "I'm not really into the rankings at this point," he said. "We've only played three games in the conference. We've got six more {games} to play."

The Wolfpack never had a chance to take its best shot. It entered the game ranked sixth in the nation in scoring defense and fourth in the nation in total defense. But the Cavaliers, ranked first in the nation in scoring and total offense, scored on three of their first four possessions.

Shawn Moore completed 11 of 18 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns to Herman Moore, who had six receptions for 162 yards. Shawn Moore was sacked five times, so his his net rushing total was minus-1 yard on 16 carries. But sophomore tailback Terry Kirby made up for that with 112 yards on 15 carries, his third consecutive 100-yard game.

"This defeat is very difficult to take because Virginia beat us just about every way you can beat a football team," said N.C. State Coach Dick Sheridan, whose team was allowing averages of 9.7 points, 95.8 rushing yards and 216.5 total yards. "We have not been manhandled like this in a while."

Of course, the ACC has not seen a team like this in a while. Virginia, which now has two ACC shutouts in a season for the first time, has outscored its first three ACC opponents by a combined 110-7. At halftime it had 24 points, 208 yards rushing (97 by Kirby) and 301 total offense.

The Cavaliers made like Mike Tyson in his pre-Buster Douglas days, taking the opening kickoff and driving 80 yards in five plays in 1:30 for a touchdown.

Defensive tackle Joe Hall, a senior from McNamara High School, brought N.C. State's first possession to a halt with a third-down sack after which he said he informed Wolfpack quarterback Terry Jordan: "That's the way it's going to be all day."

Virginia punted, but on the Wolfpack's third down, Hall and Slade held a meeting atop Jordan. A little more than 3 1/2 minutes later, it was 10-0.

The Wolfpack had a third-down converted into a first down, but a penalty nullified the play. Slade then nullified the drive with another sack. Jason Wallace's 23-yard punt return set up Moores and Co. on N.C. State's 34. They took 56 seconds to score a touchdown. The first quarter wasn't over, but the game was.

"I think we had our players convinced that they had to play like hell in the first quarter," said Welsh, who undoubtedly informed his team that the Wolfpack had outscored its opponents, 52-8, in the first quarter this season. "I think we had a great first half. The intensity was really there. It was there and it was good."

Understand, Welsh is the type who descibes his teams' performances as "great" about as often as Virginia has been in the top 10 before this season.

Virginia derived motivation from all kinds of sources. Take sophomore fullback Gary Steele. He entered the game with eight carries and no catches this season. But a personal grudge toward N.C. State and a decision by Welsh that the Cavaliers would use their fullbacks more today intersected in a way that accounted for 14 points.

On Virginia's first possession, it faced third and eight from the Wolfpack 15. Shawn Moore dumped a pass over the middle to Steele, who ran through linebackers Billy Ray Haynes and Tyler Lawrence and into the end zone.

After Jake McInerney, a senior from O'Connell High School, kicked a 37-yard field goal with 4:38 left in the first quarter, Steele bulled up the middle for a 25-yard run that set up a touchdown sneak by Shawn Moore.

"I have incentive against N.C. State -- just something that happened with recruiting and all that I'd rather not get into," Steele said. "Basically, they thought I couldn't play."

But Welsh did.

"We can't keep going throwing the ball to the tight end, throwing to the split end," Welsh said. "We have the quarterback running and the tailback running. We wanted to get the ball to the fullback more today."

That did not preclude Shawn Moore's connecting with Herman Moore for a 23-yard touchdown pass just before halftime and a short pass Herman Moore turned into an 83-yard touchdown with a little more than eight minutes left in the game.

On the first touchdown the 6-foot-5 receiver took cornerback Joe Johnson on a post pattern. The pass was high, but Moore reached up and stopped the ball as Johnson hit him. Flat on his back, he grabbed it.

On the second, he eluded cornerback Sebastian Savage's jam at the line, slowed to catch a pass Shawn Moore had lobbed up under pressure, made the catch, then sprinted about 70 yards to the end zone.

Virginia needed two big fourth-quarter plays to preserve the shutout. On the quarter's third play safey Keith McMeans intercepted at the Cavaliers 5. It was his 17th career interception, setting the school record and tying the ACC mark. N.C. State reached Virginia's 11 on its last possession, but on fourth down Slade sacked Jordan, forcing a fumble.