CHARLOTTESVILLE, OCT. 29 -- There's a certain perfectionism in the general mind-set of the Virginia Cavaliers lately that has left the team wondering what more it has to do to earn unanimous national respect.

The Associated Press ranked Virginia (7-0, 4-0 ACC) No. 1 today for the third consecutive week, but the Cavaliers remain the favorite target of columnists and opposing coaches who have pointed to their weak nonconference schedule, deeming Virginia unworthy of top billing.

"Respect -- we still don't have it," cornerback Tony Covington said. "Everyone says we don't deserve to be number one. But most of them haven't followed the team. When there's a new team on top, you'll get potshots from anybody and it's aggravating."

"We work hard every week just like Michigan, Miami and Notre Dame," defensive end Chris Slade said. "We deserve the respect that we're not getting. . . . Virginia's never had the tradition of being a powerhouse football team and people have a problem with us being number one."

Covington billed last month's game against then-No. 9 Clemson as "The War," but Saturday's nationally televised game here against No. 16 Georgia Tech has taken on even greater importance. A win would give Virginia its first outright ACC championship and its first 8-0 start.

But the Cavaliers face an imposing foe in Georgia Tech (6-0-1, 4-0-1), which like Virginia is a most unlikely contender for an undefeated season. The Yellow Jackets won a total of five games in the two years following Bobby Ross's hiring before the 1987 season, at one point losing 16 consecutive conference games.

At his weekly news conference today, Virginia Coach George Welsh was quick to point out that he feels Georgia Tech is a much better team than its performance in years past indicates. "Teams learn how to win," he said. "I've been saying since '88 that they have pretty good talent. . . . Sometimes it's just a difference psychologically."

The Yellow Jackets took a 16-14 lead with 47 seconds remaining in the game here two years ago, but safety Tyrone Lewis returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards to the Tech 49. Three plays later Mark Inderlied kicked a field goal to give Virginia the victory. Last season, the Cavaliers edged Georgia Tech, 17-10, in Atlanta, with tight end Bruce McGonnigal catching six passes for 157 yards. McGonnigal remains in good condition at University of Virginia hospital after sustaining a bruised spleen in a freak fall Oct. 18. A CAT scan was performed today, and McGonnigal could be released as early as Wednesday if test results reveal the danger of a spleen rupture has passed. Welsh said McGonnigal will miss the rest of the regular season, but could return for a bowl game. Meanwhile, freshman Aaron Mundy and senior Mark Cooke will share tight end duties.

Georgia Tech all-ACC safety Ken Swilling did not practice today and remains questionable for Saturday. Swilling, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior who finished sixth in the voting for the 1989 Jim Thorpe award as the nation's top defensive back, suffered a sprained ankle on the opening kickoff against Clemson two weeks ago and has not played since -- a disappointment to Covington, who began his annual Swilling bashing today. "He's just overrated," Covington said. "The media has jumped on that guy. His man-to-man skills are not that great. I see (Virginia safety) Keith McMeans as a better all-around player."

Saturday's game has been sold out since Sept. 11 and scalpers have been selling $15 tickets for as high as $150. The Scott Stadium press box has been rearranged to host college football's premier contest this week and one student entrepreneur has sold over 1,200 "Look 'Hoos No. 1 in the Nation" T-shirts in the last two weeks.

Athletic Director Jim Copeland said groundskeepers will grease the goal posts before the game to deter celebrating fans from carting them away as they did in the waning moments of the Cavaliers' first win over Clemson Sept. 8. Associate Athletic Director Jim West has been in contact with a goal post manufacturer since, half-joking that Virginia now might deserve a quantity discount for replacement posts -- which cost $8,000 a pair. Said West: "We just hope the fans wait until after the game is over this time."