Virginia's seniors looking to finish on high note
The goal for Virginia seniors was pretty modest to start the year: Make a bowl game.
Lately, thanks to four straight victories, their ambitions keep growing. The No. 24 Cavaliers, ranked for the first time since 2007, are one victory away from the ACC title game.
To get there, though, they need to pull off their most impressive victory yet.
Virginia (8-3, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) plays No. 6 Virginia Tech (10-1, 6-1) on Saturday, and the winner advances to next weekend's ACC championship game against 18th-ranked Clemson.
''They've had our number here the past few years,'' senior wide receiver Kris Burd said Monday of the Hokies, who have won seven straight in the series, and 11 of 12. ''They're a good team and they've been competing for the Orange Bowl ... in recent years.
''It's going to be a tough game. ... It's just something that you talk about, you think about basically your whole college career - the opportunity where you're going to get to play those guys down the road for the ACC championship game, and it's here now.''
Burd is among 31 seniors to be honored before the game, including 12 fifth-year seniors. Some of them traveled with the team when Virginia made its last bowl appearance in 2007, but that also means they have been playing throughout three consecutive down seasons.
Finishing on a high note has been a topic of discussion all year long, too.
''As fifth-year seniors, we talk a lot amongst ourselves about the legacy we want to leave behind and about being that class that turned the UVA football program back around and brought them back to the light that we should be in,'' the Cavaliers top receiver with 53 catches said.
''It's something we think about and talk about, just the legacy, how we want to be remembered. We have a lot of big wins this season, but this game is the game that really counts. To go out there and beat Tech, that's something that hasn't been done around here in a long time. It would be something that would be remembered and just an echoing part of history.''
The Cavaliers have long had two clocks hanging in their locker room. One counts down the seconds until their next game, and the other the seconds until they play the Hokies again.
''We don't even need to look at it anymore because it's right here. Everybody's amped up, everybody's motivated and we're just ready to go out there and play the game,'' Burd said.
And the past month, with victories at Miami, Maryland and their first win at Florida State, and even a home victory against Duke, which had beaten the Cavaliers three times in a row, have made the Cavaliers increasingly believe that they can keep doing what outsiders don't expect.
''We said the same thing for Florida State and same thing with Duke,'' left tackle Oday Aboushi said of ending the various losing streaks, almost on a weekly basis. ''We set a goal at the beginning of the year to become ACC champs and to keep pressing on. As we start to accomplish these goals and get closer and closer and closer to our thing, it's huge. It's definitely encouraging as a team to see what we're capable of doing and how we produce.''
Oddly enough, Burd said, it was early season losses - to North Carolina, Southern Miss and N.C. State - that helped the Cavaliers collect themselves and regroup to pull things together.
''It really helped us find our identity and get us together on the same page that we're a good team and capable of winning games,'' Burd said.
And that, in turn, has made everything they have accomplished since more fun.
''We went down to Miami and everybody was expecting us to lose, but we knew going in that we were very confident in our gameplan and we went in with the mindset that we were going to win the game,'' he said. ''And the same thing last week with Florida State, and we did so.''
And now, they hope to make ending the streak against Virginia Tech part of the legacy, too.