Even Virginia Coach Al Groh isn't sure what to make of his football team. During the past month, the Cavaliers have largely flown under the national radar, soundly beating inferior teams. The Cavaliers are 4-0 and ranked No. 10, but they've rarely been mentioned among national championship contenders such as Georgia, Oklahoma and Southern California.
Beginning with tonight's game against Clemson, though, the Cavaliers can start making their case as a contender for the ACC title and the Bowl Championship Series berth that comes with it. With Scott Stadium sold out and a national audience watching on ESPN, they finally can begin to show the rest of the nation, including their coach, how good they are.
"I'd put us somewhere between 12 and 30," Groh said this week, when he was asked where he would rank the Cavaliers. "That's how much I think we know right now. We might be the sixth-best team in the country; we might be the 35th."
The teams Virginia has beaten -- by an average of more than 30 points -- have a combined record of 7-13. While Clemson (1-3, 1-2) has lost three games in a row and has fallen out of the top 25 after ranking No. 15 in the preseason, the Tigers are expected to put up more of a fight.
"We kind of see it as our debut to show the country what we can do," said Cavaliers defensive end Brennan Schmidt, a team co-captain.
The rest of the nation still doesn't know much about the Cavaliers, who have displayed a high-powered offense and stingy defense during Groh's fourth season at Virginia. Games such as tonight's -- it is Virginia's first home game on a Thursday night -- are one of the reasons why Groh left the NFL ranks to return to his alma mater in 2001.
"I think certainly it's a powerful way to get exposure to your university and your school," Groh said. "It's the national game on Thursday night. There are some teams who when the Thursday night game first started coming on, they'd play anybody anyplace on Thursday night just to get exposure to the rest of the country."
After tonight's game, the rest of the nation will know a lot more about Virginia, including:
* The Cavaliers really don't miss Matt Schaub, the school's all-time leading passer. Marques Hagans is hoping for maximum exposure in what will be a coming-out of sorts for the junior from Hampton, Va. Since replacing Schaub, now Michael Vick's backup with the Atlanta Falcons, Hagans has thrown for 770 yards and four touchdowns with only one interception, and his quarterback rating of 182.93 is the fourth-highest in Division I-A. But the former wide receiver and kick returner hasn't faced a defense as fast as Clemson's.
Hagans has played "about as well as a rookie quarterback could," Groh said. "I know he's been in there a little bit before, but this is the first time he's ever really been 'the guy.' "
* Tailback Wali Lundy is pretty good when he's healthy. The junior battled injuries the past two seasons, but now that he's healthy, he has rushed for nearly 400 yards and 10 touchdowns, tied for third-most in Division I-A. With Lundy and sophomore Michael Johnson sharing carries, the Cavaliers rank fifth nationally in rushing with 284 yards per game. Virginia has scored 25 touchdowns and its 45.5 points per game is the fourth-highest average in Division I-A.
* Virginia's defense isn't all about its linebackers. While sophomores Ahmad Brooks and Kai Parham and junior Darryl Blackstock form one the nation's best linebacker corps, the secondary has played surprisingly well. It features two new starters, cornerback Marcus Hamilton and safety Marquis Weeks, but Virginia has conceded only two touchdown passes, tied with four other teams for third-fewest in the nation. The Cavaliers will be playing their first game without senior defensive end Chris Canty, who will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.
If not for Clemson's success in Charlottesville -- the Tigers have won 15 of their last 19 games there -- tonight's game would probably be considered another tuneup for Virginia. With a game at No. 8 Florida State looming, the Cavaliers can't afford to be looking forward.
"It's not pressure," Cavaliers guard Elton Brown said. "We play every Saturday. We've been in big games, been in big stadiums. If anything, it's sort of what you live for. You come to college, you want to play in one of these games."
The stakes get much higher after tonight. The Cavaliers will play four of their final six games on the road, including an Oct. 16 game at Florida State. Virginia must still play No. 4 Miami, No. 23 Maryland and Virginia Tech, as well.
"I'd say we're moving up from Double-A or Triple-A now to the major leagues," Groh said. "We'll see how well we hit major league pitching here for the next seven weeks."
Special correspondent Jim Reedy contributed to this report from Charlottesville.