Virginia's football team has won at least seven games in each of the past 12 seasons, a streak matched by only three other Division I-A teams--Florida State, Nebraska and Michigan.

But Coach George Welsh knows this season's team will have a tough time adding to what has become one of the Cavaliers' most treasured accomplishments. This will be one of Virginia's most inexperienced teams in years, and it faces the program's most difficult schedule of the 1990s--especially the early portion.

The Cavaliers will begin with two road games--against North Carolina on Sept. 4 and Clemson the following week. They will play Wake Forest at home on Sept. 18, then at Brigham Young on Sept. 25 and Virginia Tech in Charlottesville on Oct. 2. Welsh said this is Virginia's most difficult start to a season since 1989, when it opened with Notre Dame at Giants Stadium, then played at Penn State.

"This is another one of those years where I think it is going to be difficult for us to win seven," Welsh said during the team's media day today. "But I think we can do it."

Compounding the schedule's difficulty is the presence of several new players in key roles. Most important is junior quarterback Dan Ellis, who assumes the starting role after backing up Aaron Brooks for two years.

Construction Continues

The first stage of the Scott Stadium expansion project--refurbished locker rooms and a new lower deck of seats behind the south end zone, where Bryant Hall once stood--is expected to be completed in September. The second phase, due for completion in 2000, will be ongoing during the fall. That portion of the project includes the construction of upper-deck seating behind the south end zone and 44 luxury suites.

"The stadium will be a construction site," associate athletic director Mark Fletcher said. "The downside is the availability of bathrooms and not all the concession stands [will be what] we would like. But the upside is fans will literally be able to see us build the upper deck of the stadium. We're going to take the weekends off, but start right back up on Mondays."

Fletcher said the $79 million project is within 1 percent of budget on current contracts. The athletic department has sold 22 of the 44 suites, which sell for around $50,000 per year in multiyear leases that begin in 2000.

The soon-to-be lower deck at the south end of the stadium will add 3,157 permanent seats to the stadium's capacity this season, meaning the stadium's listed capacity will grow to 43,157. The grass hill behind the north end has room for at least 5,000 more.

Welsh Suspends Two

Welsh said redshirt sophomore linebacker John Duckett and redshirt sophomore safety Devon Simmons have been suspended by the school for a year for their roles in an on-campus fight Feb. 7. Duckett and Simmons pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge.

Junior wide receiver Demetrius Dotson and junior defensive back Duane Fisher, who were arrested in July on misdemeanor drug possession charges and are awaiting trial, have been reinstated.