The Virginia Cavaliers, whose perspective on college football traditionally has come from the bottom, now may get a view from the top.
With No. 1 Michigan falling to Michigan State Saturday, the second-ranked Cavaliers today could receive the school's first-ever No. 1 rating in the Associated Press poll.
Virginia (6-0, 3-0 ACC) defeated N.C. State, 31-0, in Charlottesville Saturday afternoon, expecting to maintain its No. 2 ranking with the victory. But the Cavaliers quickly became fans of unranked Michigan State, which stunned Michigan, 28-27, after the Wolverines' apparent game-winning, two-point conversion was ruled an incomplete pass.
"We just stood there watching and couldn't believe it," said Virginia offensive tackle Paul Collins, who hosted a small gathering of players at his apartment. "It's really weird -- we're number one."
Not until the 60 writers and broadcasters who vote in the AP poll make their final decision, which will be released at 6:30 a.m. today. Miami (4-1) was ranked No. 3 behind Virginia last week, and might also get support for the No. 1 position. Virginia was ranked No. 3 in the United Press International coaches' poll last week, behind Michigan and No. 2 Nebraska (6-0).
Virginia players yesterday were still trying to comprehend their catapult from a preseason ranking of No. 15 to a possible top spot in the midst of a ghost-town atmosphere; students have departed for a four-day midterm recess.
Thoughts of a national championship were nearly unimaginable for Coach George Welsh in 1982, when he inherited a program that had made no bowl appearances and had only two winning seasons in the previous 29 years. The team slowly improved, culminating last season with the Cavaliers' first 10-win season and first appearance in a New Year's Day bowl.
Players talked openly in August about the prospect of an undefeated campaign and a national championship. But Welsh, who insists he has no personal goals and no team ambitions beyond a winning season, dismissed such talk as dangerous and installed a team mentality of practicing each week only for the upcoming game.
The teams left on the schedule all lost to Virginia last season, and the most-formidable foes -- No. 18 Georgia Tech and Maryland -- will play in Charlottesville, where Virginia has not lost in more than two years.
"To think a few years ago that we'd be number one or two in the country -- I don't think anyone could have thought that from a realistic point of view," said wide receiver Herman Moore. "We would have thought that to be impossible. But once we saw our schedule, especially after coming off the season we had last year, we said to ourselves that there's no reason we can't go undefeated. We knew we had the talent to do it."
Moore caught an 83-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Shawn Moore Saturday, and Virginia's defense limited N.C. State to 200 yards, including 48 yards rushing.
The Cavaliers made a believer out of Wolfpack Coach Dick Sheridan after handing N.C. State (4-3) its worst defeat in three years. "Virginia is probably the best team we've played since I've been here," he said. "We haven't been manhandled like this in a while."
While Virginia continued its march to No. 1, Maryland was learning a lesson about the benefits of offensive balance. Howard and Navy learned lessons as well, although only the Midshipmen felt good about it.
After struggling for six games to establish a rushing attack, the Terrapins had their highest total in nearly six years, gaining 280 yards in a 41-13 rout of Wake Forest.
Easy was certainly the word for Maryland's final home game of the year. The Terrapins (4-3, 2-2 in the ACC) rushed 66 times, keeping possession for nearly 39 minutes. Running back Troy Jackson gained 152 yards, the most by a Maryland runner in five years.
Scott Zolak threw for 153 yards, his lowest total of the season, but completed 14 of 18 passes.
With games against Duke and North Carolina on the horizon, Maryland is in position to enter its final two games of the season -- against Penn State and Virginia -- with a 6-3 record. That would guarantee Maryland its first winning record in five years, and renew talk about a bowl game.
"The only thing we can do is control what we do," said Coach Joe Krivak. " . . . If we keep on winning, everything will take care of itself."
Howard was in a similar situation before Saturday's 19-14 upset loss to Division II Virginia State. Despite a nine-game winning streak and a 5-0 mark in 1990, the Bison were unranked and virtually had to win all 11 regular season games to earn a place in the NCAA playoffs.
Those dreams may have dissipated after a 197-yard, three-touchdown performance by quarterback Gregory Clark, a sophomore from Theodore Roosevelt High.
"We were just not ready to play," said Howard Coach Steve Wilson. "It was one of those days."
Navy rallied from a 13-7 halftime deficit to beat Akron, 17-13. Quarterback Alton Grizzard replaced Gary McIntosh in the third period and directed the Midshipmen to a pair of fourth-quarter scores, the last a 17-yard run by Dominic Fils.