Virginia moves to No. 1 Miami is a close second Cavaliers in top spot for 1st time in history

October 16, 1990|By Don Markus

'Hoos No. 1.

That's not a question; it's a statement. It was made yesterday, when the University of Virginia football team became top choice of the two national polls.

The undefeated Cavaliers -- the Wahoos, or 'Hoos as they are called by their fans in Charlottesville -- jumped past twice-beaten Michigan in The Associated Press poll of writers and broadcasters, and vaulted from No. 3 to No. 1 in the United Press International poll of coaches.

"Maybe it's like Andy Warhol said, this is our 15 minutes of fame," Virginia coach George Welsh said yesterday at his weekly campus news conference. "What if it's just for one week? There's nothing wrong with it, but it's no big deal."

Considering how close behind in the voting second-ranked Miami (5-1) was, Virginia's stay at the top could be short-lived. The Hurricanes will play at No. 6 Notre Dame on Saturday and could topple the Cavaliers (6-0) with a victory in South Bend, Ind.

Miami was followed in the AP poll by Tennessee (4-0-2), Nebraska (6-0) and Auburn (4-0-1). The Wolverines, who lost to Michigan State, 28-27, plummeted to 10th. It was the second week in a row and the third time this season that the No. 1 team was upset.

Welsh accepted the No. 1 ranking grudgingly. Asked how he would approach it with his team, Welsh said: "We have to to deal with it. We have to talk about it again. It's different than being in the top 10, I think. Nobody knows who's No. 1. There's too many games left."

Not only does it mark the first time in school history that Virgini has occupied No. 1, but it's also the first time an Atlantic Coast Conference team has been ranked on top during the season since Maryland was there for three weeks in 1953. Clemson finished the 1981 season as the No. 1 team in the country.

Those who've been part of the program in its recent rebirth can understand the significance of Virginia (6-0) becoming No. 1. When Welsh arrived from Navy in 1982, the Cavaliers were coming off a 1-10 season and had had only one winning record in their previous 12 years.

"When I went there, everyone said, 'You can't be successful in football, so don't worry about it,' " said Dick Schultz, athletic director at Virginia from 1981 to 1987 and now executive director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. 'But I said, and George said, 'Why not?' "

"We weren't very good when George got there," said Maryland offensive coordinator and former Virginia assistant coach Tony Whittlesey, who came with Welsh from Navy and left in 1987. "We felt there was a long way to go, but coaches are an optimistic lot, and we thought we could do the job."

ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan, athletic director at Virginia from 1971 to 1981, said: "This is a big step. They've come a long, long way."

In a short, short time. Consider this: Only four seasons ago, the Cavaliers were 3-8, with losses to Navy and William and Mary. This is not a program steeped in tradition, unless it was for losing games. Virginia once lost 28 straight times during 1958-60.

"It's very difficult to believe it," said Fred Shepherd, the head football coach at Churchill High School in Potomac and a Cavaliers player from 1958 to 1960. "You almost have to pinch yourself."

"When they're saying you're the best team in the country, it's kind of hard to fathom," said senior defensive back Keith McMeans. "I'm kind of in awe of the whole thing."

Maybe this kind of event would be treated pretty cavalierly at places such as Miami or Notre Dame or Nebraska. Not that the Virginia campus is going crazy. In fact, with students on fall break, Charlottesville was very quiet yesterday.

"I haven't been stopped once," said senior captain Joe Hall, a nose guard from Fort Washington.

Virginia is certainly not used to this kind of attention, or how to handle it. This a university that considered de-emphasizing football in the early 1950s because of a rare stretch of success it had, winning 31 games between 1949 and 1952.

This is a school that last was ranked No. 1 in 1988 -- as the top public university in the country.

"In a way, it sends a message for doing things the right way," said Schultz. "They have nine graduate students on the team. That's a statement in itself."

But the biggest statement Virginia has made this year is on the field. The Cavaliers are doing to the ACC what Nebraska routinely does to the Big Eight. Virginia has outscored its ACC opponents, 110-7, including a 31-0 victory last week over North Carolina State.

With the ranking comes the white-hot spotlight, one which should be turned up considerably for a meeting against No. 12 Georgia Tech Nov. 3 at Scott Stadium. CBS announced yesterday that it will televise that game nationally.

"It gives us a little more incentive to stay there," senior tight end Bruce McGonnigal of Baltimore said of the ranking. "That stuff will be part of it, but I think it will help us focus. We've got five more games left, five more steps."

Said Hall: "Whatever you do in life, it's nice to be No. 1. But it's also nice to be No. 1 for more than a week. Our goal is to stay 1."

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