David Miller doesn't quite get what all the fuss is about. True, his William and Mary team is ranked No. 1 for the first time in school history, but the Tribe's senior punter doesn't see how that makes Saturday's game at James Madison any bigger than it already was.
"If the No. 1 by your name means that teams are going to play you harder, then that just means that they're not really focused in on you," Miller said. " … We know that we're a good team. I don't think that the ranking really proves that we're this or that. It's just a number."
It's a number, though, that William and Mary (7-2, 5-1 CAA) hasn't achieved in 116 years of football.
"Everybody is handling it like a pro," senior cornerback Ben Cottingham said. "No one's running around saying, 'Yeah, yeah, we deserve to be No. 1.' We're all saying, 'We're No. 1. Now let's stay No. 1. Let's keep working hard to be No. 1.' It can go just as fast as it came. It's a one-week season every week."
The Tribe garnered 105 first-place votes in The Sports Network/Fathead.com poll in a testament to its weathering of a season-opening loss at Massachusetts and a spate of injuries at linebacker, offensive line and quarterback, a position likely to be filled by No. 4 QB Terrance Schmand against the Dukes (4-5, 1-5 CAA).
"We feel like we've actually achieved something and we're getting a little more respect, but we want that ultimate respect," Cottingham said. "We want something we can hold onto, a little bit of legacy. We're seeking the conference championship, and we have national championship dreams."
The Tribe came close to fulfilling those dreams last season, losing to eventual national champion Villanova 14-13 on quarterback Chris Whitney's 1-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of the FCS semifinals. The memory of that near-miss, more than a No. 1 poll position, remains a source of motivation.
"We were this close to being in the national championship, and that makes us want it that much more," Cottingham said. "We lost last year on a quarterback sneak. There were some mistakes made on that one play that lost the game for us. It just shows that every detail of every snap matters. That's really been ingrained in every player's mind, and that experience has helped us so much this season."
The 2010 season, so far, has included wins against three top-10 teams for the first time in school history, beginning with a 31-24 against then-No. 1 Villanova on Oct. 2. The Tribe then beat No. 2 Delaware 17-16 on Oct. 23 before edging then-No. 8 New Hampshire 13-3 last weekend despite just 30 passing yards and 11 punts from Miller, who averaged 43.8 yards per punt as the Tribe's defense-first game plan gave it its seventh win in its last eight games.
"I think a lot of people doubted us," said junior tailback Jonathan Grimes, who had 111 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries against UNH. "I think that just shows how hard the team has worked and come together."
The Tribe can lock up a playoff berth and perhaps a first-round bye with a victory at JMU, and a top two national seed, guaranteeing home field advantage until the national title game, is a possibility with a win against Richmond at home on Nov. 20.
"Rankings start to become more important in November, but they're even more important later on in the season," Grimes said. "The main thing is to be No. 1 when it's all said and done."