NEW ORLEANS, DEC. 29 -- Virginia Coach George Welsh this afternoon named Shawn Moore the starting quarterback for the Cavaliers' Sugar Bowl game here Tuesday against Tennessee pending a final examination of Moore's injured right thumb Sunday morning.

Moore, who dislocated his thumb six weeks ago against Maryland, practiced with the first unit during a closed morning practice session at the Superdome. Welsh, wary of the lingering pain Moore had earlier in the week, postponed his final decision from today.

"I'm definitely leaning toward starting Shawn right now," Welsh said.

"Because his thumb was a little bit sore after {Friday's} practice, I've got to reserve the final decision until {Sunday} morning.

"If he is not hurting and he can go like he did today, he definitely will be the one."

Team physician Frank McCue, who did the surgery Nov. 17, had told Moore to expect a full recovery within six weeks.

But when the team arrived here Wednesday, Moore said he felt a throbbing pain when throwing, deeming his hand at only "60 percent" capacity.

He had massage and ultrasound therapy at the team hotel, and upgraded himself today to near full recovery.

"The thumb is almost completely healed," said Moore, who will wear a permanent four-inch scar as a grim reminder of the ill-fated drive that ended with his thumb jammed on Virginia's artificial turf playing field in the waning moments of the Cavaliers' 35-30 loss to Maryland.

"I've gotten a lot of strength back in my wrist and hand. I'll be able to play."

Backup Matt Blundin, who started against Virginia Tech Nov. 24 and worked out with Virginia's first team as late as Thursday, was relegated to full-time second-unit status today.

"I knew Shawn would be back because he's a tough person," Blundin said.

"I'll be a little disappointed if I don't get a chance to play because I had been building myself up in my mind to playing. But Shawn's done so much for this program in the last three years, that if he can throw at full throttle, he should start."

Moore's recovery would come as a needed boost for Virginia, which learned last week that tight end Bruce McGonnigal's bruised spleen had not recovered sufficiently from a freak fall in October to allow him to play Tuesday without the risk of further damage. Wide receiver Derek Dooley did not practice again today after pulling a hamstring Thursday. He remains doubtful.

Moore, a fifth-year senior who finished fourth in this year's Heisman Trophy balloting while leading the nation in passing efficiency, has guided Virginia to a 23-4 record in his last 27 starts.

Blundin, a former high school all-American who has also played three seasons on the basketball team, has thrown for 553 yards in starts against Virginia Tech five weeks ago and at Clemson last season -- both losses.

"Matt Blundin's a great quarterback and we have all of the confidence in the world in him," defensive tackle Joe Hall said.

"But if Shawn hadn't been able to play, and we lost this game, then you would always wonder, 'What if?' "