One of the most difficult opening stretches in Virginia football history becomes even more challenging tonight in Provo, Utah, where the Cavaliers will play 17th-ranked Brigham Young.
In addition to the travel and the altitude, Virginia will have to contend with a team that has had nine days of rest and preparation, with an offense that is well-suited to take advantage of the weakest part of the Cavaliers' injury-riddled defense and with a defensive strength that matches Virginia's offensive strength.
Led by senior quarterback Kevin Feterik, Brigham Young has averaged 405.5 yards passing, best in the nation, and 494.5 yards overall, eighth in the nation, in victories over Washington and Colorado State. Those victories have transformed the Cougars from an unranked team to an imposing one.
In today's other games, Howard hosts Texas Southern and Navy visits Rice. Maryland (3-0) is idle until Thursday night, when it will play 10th-ranked Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
Virginia routed Wake Forest, 35-7, last week in its third consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference game. However, the Cavaliers' 33-13 loss to Clemson, in which the Tigers passed for 343 yards, was a major letdown for Virginia two weeks ago, after opening the season with a last-minute victory at North Carolina.
But Virginia Coach George Welsh insisted this week no inference should be drawn from the Cavaliers' loss to Clemson.
"We're expecting more [from the players] this week," Welsh said. "The problem with Clemson was [the players'] minds weren't right. We had a bad week of practice."
The Cavaliers may have had better practices this week, but they also have more starters injured than they did prior to playing Clemson. Already without Travis Griffith (season-ending ankle surgery) and Monsanto Pope (out six weeks with a knee injury), Earl Sims joined the defensive line's injury list because of an abdominal abscess.
In the secondary, cornerback Dwayne Stukes, hampered by a quadriceps injury suffered in the season opener, still is not ready to return. The other starting cornerback, Tim Spruill, will start despite an sprained ankle he suffered last week. And safety Antwan Harris remains doubtful because of a hamstring injury.
Virginia's best player, senior tailback Thomas Jones, is healthy and has rushed for 410 yards and five touchdowns in three games. But BYU's defense, with star linebacker Rob Morris, is seventh in the nation against the run.
Howard is coming off a 31-27 victory over Bethune-Cookman and appears to have gained some offensive momentum -- particularly from wide receiver Elijah Thurmon (25 receptions for 420 yards, both Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference bests).
But the Bison also are shifting personnel because of injuries. Coach Steve Wilson hopes to have starting cornerback Omar Evans (bruised back) available. Evans missed last week's game, and Howard was down to one cornerback in the second half because of injuries.
While Howard must be concerned with Texas Southern's running game (the Tigers ran for 470 yards in a 30-7 victory over Howard last season), the Bison's biggest concern may be return specialist Joey Jamison. A Division I-AA all-American last season, he is averaging nearly 35 yards per kickoff return and more than 13 yards per punt return. He scored on a 96-yard kickoff return last year against the Bison, who made a number of special teams mistakes last week.
At Rice, Navy will face on offense much like its own. That figures to be a big advantage for both defenses and could signal a low-scoring game.
"We spent four weeks in the spring against our offense and we spent three weeks in the beginning of the summer," Navy nose guard David Ryno said. "That's almost two months total playing against the option. The blocks up front are pretty much the same."
The Owls -- who lost to Texas, 18-13, last week and to Michigan, 37-3, two weeks ago -- do differ from Navy slightly. They play out of the wishbone and are more power-oriented, often opting to plow straight ahead with a fullback.
A loss tonight could make it difficult for Navy (1-2) to get back to .500 soon. Its next four games are at West Virginia, at Redskins Stadium against 24th-ranked Air Force, at home against Akron and then at Notre Dame.
Special correspondents Rich Scherr and Jeff Seidel contributed to this report.