CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) -It hardly seemed possible a month ago, but when Miami plays at Virginia on Saturday, the winner will become a favorite to reach the ACC title game.
Virginia (5-3, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) moved into first place in the Coastal Division last week with its fourth consecutive victory, 24-17 victory at Georgia Tech. It was the Cavaliers' second victory in a row against a ranked team, a first in six years.
But division rival Miami has been surging, too, with three consecutive victories. The young Hurricanes (5-3, 2-2) are among the nation's statistical best on both sides of the ball, and have memories of a 48-0 loss last season in the finale at the Orange Bowl as motivation.
Considering that Virginia lost its first three games against Bowl Subdivision teams by a combined 128-20, and that Miami started 2-3, it's as if their seasons are starting over.
For both, it's as if the season is starting over.
not win another game,'' Cavaliers coach Al Groh said this week. ``We might win them all. I can see where every one of them is going to be hard to win and I can see where (in) every one of them, we've got a chance. I think the players see that too.''
Cornerback Vic Hall, who had an interception in Virginia's stunning blowout last season, expects an angry opponent, especially since the game will mean so much to the winner.
``This is going to be a very hard game for us to win,'' Hall said.
The Cavaliers' confidence should be soaring, though, because their turnaround coincides with the emergence of Marc Verica at quarterback and the return to form of bruising tailback Cedric Peerman. He has averaged 111 rugged yards on the ground during the winning streak.
``We're much farther along than we were a couple of weeks ago,'' said Verica, a sophomore who has started the last six games. ``We're pretty confident right now, but I think it's important to stay hungry and humble and not be satisfied with these past four games.''
For Miami, a key figures to be finding a way to deal with Virginia's 3-4 defense. The alignment has stymied them in two losses in a row, when they've totaled just seven points.
Robert Marve, one of two redshirt freshmen sharing the quarterbacking duties for Miami, said coping with the Virginia defense isn't so much a matter of figuring out the schemes.
y have good players over there,'' Marve said. ``They have players that definitely know their assignments. They run the 3-4 very well, they have a good linebacker corps. So we're definitely going to have to bring our `A' game and be ready to play ball.''
Before Virginia started winning, Groh's job seemed in jeopardy. Now, he's far more likely to earn his second consecutive coach of the year award than to be looking for work.
It is, Miami coach Randy Shannon said, no surprise to him.
``They're playing a lot better from earlier in the season to now, but that's typical of how coach Groh does it,'' the second-year Hurricanes coach said. ``He does a great job of getting his guys to respond from early in the season to late. It's like the NFL mentality - late in the season is when you want to be your best. They don't make a lot of mistakes, not at all.''
They sure didn't make many last season in ruining the finale at the Orange Bowl, which drew greats from when Miami was the king of college football, and ended with a loud thud.
For junior left tackle Jason Fox, who called the whipping ``embarrassing,'' this week is about preparing with the memory of 2007 in his mind, then concentrating on the 2008 game.
``It's in the back of your mind,'' Fox said. ``But when that whistle blows and you're out there, you're playing for a victory and nothing else matters. It's just football from then.
``You just want to win because you hate losing.''

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