CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The eyes of the college football world are focused on an unusual place today -- an Atlantic Coast Conference game with national significance.
With a national television audience watching (2 p.m., channels 9 and 11), and with an overflow crowd of 48,000 squeezed into Scott Stadium, top-ranked Virginia and No. 16 Georgia Tech will try to stop each other's unbeaten streaks and bring an end to some wild dreams.
The Cavaliers (7-0, 4-0 in the ACC) need a victory to maintain their No. 1 ranking, as well as their position as the leader of the pack in a race for this year's national championship. The Yellow Jackets (6-0-1, 4-0-1) want to keep their unbeaten string alive at 11, and would like to prove that a great defense is capable of shutting down the country's top-scoring offense.
As is his nature, Virginia coach George Welsh has tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to play down the importance of a game that likely will determine the ACC championship and conceivably the national championship. "I don't like big games in the middle of the season," Welsh said here earlier this week during one of several news conferences. "What do you do next week?"
The Cavaliers, led by Heisman Trophy candidate (and possiblyfront-runner) Shawn Moore, will try to do to the Yellow Jackets what they have done to everyone else: score points. Virginia is averaging more than 48 points, going over 50 four times. "You have to realize that Georgia Tech's defense is one of the best in the country," said Moore, the grad-student quarterback. "But if the game comes down to the fourth quarter, I think we have enough experience to win."
In recent years, Virginia-Georgia Tech games usually have come down to the final minutes, or seconds, with the same result: The Cavaliers have won the past three meetings. Considering that the margin of victory in those games has been a total of 17 points, and considering the Yellow Jackets' improvement this season, it's hard to explain today's nearly two-touchdown spread in favor of Virginia.
"We still don't get any respect," said Ken Swilling, Georgia Tech's All-America safety, who has led a defense that has registered 34 sacks, gave up its first touchdown pass of the season last week against Duke and is ranked second in the country in pass-defense efficency.
If anything, the biggest question mark for the Yellow Jackets is Swilling's sprained right ankle. Injured while returning a kickoff during Georgia Tech's 21-19 victory over Clemson three weeks ago, Swilling missed the past two games and didn't practice until Wednesday. "I don't think any of us expect Swilling not to be out there," said Shawn Moore.
Another question is whether Georgia Tech can score enough points to stay with the Cavaliers. Georgia Tech's 48-31 victory last week over Duke represented both the highest point total this season and the most points allowed. It followed the Yellow Jackets' one blemish, a 13-13 tie against North Carolina, a game in which two turnovers led to 10 Tar Heels points.
"We think we can score against anybody," said offensive tackle Mike Mooney, a junior from Mount Airy. "We know they're a very good team, but so are we. Publicitywise, the pressure is on them, but we've put pressure on ourselves. We want to prove that we deserve to be ranked. Everybody thinks Virginia is going to win. We've been close the last few years, and I think this is the week we could beat them."