On Thursday, Nov. 2, 1995, Virginia upset second-ranked Florida State 33-28, but that wasn't the most shocking news of the week. The truly shocking news broke the next day when a photo editor rushed breathlessly into the newsroom of the school paper, The Cavalier Daily. Stop the presses! Exclusive! He had it right there on film: Coach George Welsh was...smiling!
It wasn't much of a reaction, really, considering that the upset of the Seminoles was one of the biggest victories in school history. Eyes wide, mere millimeters of teeth unveiled beneath his sharp nose—there was some question whether it was even a smile. Maybe he was just startled by the photographer's flash. Maybe someone stomped on his foot during the postgame celebration. Still, the paper decided to play the picture big for its readers, who are still getting used to their beloved Cavaliers' new status as media darlings. Well, get used to it, folks. Virginia, led by the winningest coach in its history, will inspire even more grins this year.
Before Welsh arrived from Navy in 1982, Virginia, with two winning seasons in 29 years, typically gave student journalists experience covering the loser's locker room. Then, just as he had done in Annapolis—where in nine seasons he became the Midshipmen's alltime wins leader (55-46-1)—Welsh imposed his will on Charlottesville. He instilled a gritty work ethic and, most of all. composure. Step by step he led the Cavaliers to their first bowl game, their first conference championship and, in 1990, a stint as the No. 1 team in the nation. Just like that, Virginia football had tradition.
With 13 returning starters from a 9-4 team (the four losses were by a total of 14 points), the Cavaliers are not only primed to defend the ACC title they shared with Florida State last fall but also have their sights set on a Top 10 finish.
The defense features one of the strongest linebacking corps in the ACC, anchored by seniors James Farrior and Jamie Sharper, but the secondary is young. At quarterback Virginia has to settle on either senior Tim Sherman, the backup last year, or promising sophomore Aaron Brooks. Either way, the quarterback's primary job is to get the ball to senior running back Tiki Barber, a Heisman Trophy candidate who holds school records for single-season rushing (1,397) and all-purpose yardage (1,906).
Naturally, Welsh is concerned, though he has plenty of talent to work with. Even if fortune has been smiling on Scott Stadium during his era, don't bet on him showing off his dimples again any time soon.