Among the visitors milling around the Virginia Cavaliers after their seventh straight victory Saturday were two gentlemen in wool blazers, members of the Orange Bowl selection committee who had come to get an early read on the team and its increasingly fervent fan base.
Their presence at Scott Stadium was the latest indication that No. 12 Virginia's roaring 4-0 start has earned notice nationally. Yet ask the Cavaliers about the attention they're receiving and, almost to a man, they answer with a shrug, "We haven't really accomplished anything yet."
"We have to keep everything in perspective," tight end Heath Miller said.
Sure, the Cavs defeated Temple, North Carolina, Akron and Syracuse by an average of 33.5 points. They rank in the top 10 in scoring offense and scoring defense, led by Marques Hagans, whose first season as the starting quarterback is going as well as anyone could have hoped. They were judged "one of the best-looking football teams I think I've ever seen" by Paul Pasqualoni, Syracuse's 14th-year coach, before his team's 31-10 loss here Saturday.
None of the plaudits will mean a thing, Coach Al Groh and his players say, unless Virginia can continue this run through the rest of its schedule, against opponents who also are clawing for the ACC championship.
Off this weekend, Virginia hosts Clemson on Oct. 7 and then travels to ninth-ranked Florida State and Duke. November will be as dangerous as ever, with home games against 24th-ranked Maryland and fourth-ranked Miami, and road games at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
It is a measure of this team's progress that, unlike seasons past, the Cavaliers will be favored to win many of those games. But the process isn't finished yet.
"I think we can play better," Groh said. "I think we're going to need to play better. . . . The players know they have a good team, but they also know that whatever they have in mind as goals isn't going to be easy."
The Cavaliers' veteran leaders have adopted Groh's "smart, tough, focused" mantra as their own -- guys such as Miller, tailback Alvin Pearman, wide receiver Michael McGrew, offensive linemen Zac Yarbrough and Elton Brown, defensive linemen Brennan Schmidt and Andrew Hoffman, safeties Jermaine Hardy and Marquis Weeks, and linebacker Rich Bedesem.
"If we're going to get things done around here like we're aiming to do, we're going to need everybody," said Schmidt, a co-captain from DeMatha. "The biggest thing I always concern myself with is the mentality of the team."
Groh is happy to step in if needed, though he is "very comfortable with how this team is conducting itself right now."
Of more concern at this point is how the defense will adjust to the loss of star defensive end Chris Canty, a fifth-year senior whose season and college career ended Saturday because of a serious knee injury. His replacement likely will be Kwakou Robinson, a 327-pound junior who has been solid in two-plus seasons as the primary backup at both defensive end spots.
Canty "was one of the superior defensive linemen in college football, so this isn't just like putting another piece of the puzzle in there to replace the one that left," Groh said of Canty. "But whether it's through the performance of the people who move into that position or those who are playing along with them or some alterations in the scheme, if we are to accomplish what our objectives are, then we can't afford to allow it to change things too much. That's the challenge before us."
So far the Cavaliers have met all the challenges placed before them. They are confident the next two months will bring more of the same.
"We're right on track," McGrew said.
Cavaliers Note: Wide receiver Deyon Williams is expected to play against Clemson after sitting out last weekend because of a hamstring injury. His absence forced the Virginia coaching staff to give Pearman, the team's most versatile skill position player, a quick refresher course and use him alongside McGrew as the top two wideouts against Syracuse. Pearman, who ranks second in the ACC with 129.2 all-purpose yards per game, could continue to play some at wide receiver, Groh said. . . .
Kickoff for Virginia's game at Florida State on Oct. 16 has been set for 7:45 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN.