Virginia has gone undefeated in non-conference play only once in the last 15 football seasons, in 2005, and with No. 2 Oregon visiting Scott Stadium on Saturday, that trend figures to continue.
The Cavaliers upset No. 2 Florida State at home in 1995, but that squad, headlined by the Barber twins, was among the best in George Welsh’s 19 years as coach. This Virginia team doesn’t appear as capable.
Indeed, a victory over the Ducks would rate as the Cavaliers’ most monumental against a non-conference opponent – by far. Virginia is 0-19-1 all-time against non-league foes ranked among the Associated Press’ top 10 at kickoff, most recently falling to No. 3 Southern California 52-7 in 2008, back when Mark Sanchez, then the Trojans’ quarterback, could play.
The tie, by the way, was against No. 2 North Carolina Pre-Flight in 1944. And speaking of quarterbacks who could play: Otto Graham started that day for Pre-Flight.
Three of the Cavaliers’ losses to top-10 non-cons were by a point: 21-20 at No. 9 Army in 1954, 13-12 at No. 5 Georgia Tech in 1966, and 23-22 to No. 10 Tennessee in the 1990 Sugar Bowl. In 1960, Virginia fell to No. 8 Navy and the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, running back Joe Bellino, 41-6 – talk about a different era for the service academies.
With all that in mind, here’s a quick review of the Cavaliers’ most notable non-conference victories, by ranking:
* At No. 12 West Virginia, 27-7 in 1984: Fullback Steve Morse’s 141 yards rushing propelled Virginia into the AP poll for the first time since 1952 and assured the program its first postseason invitation – the Cavaliers defeated Purdue in the Peach Bowl. In their previous two games, the Mountaineers (7-2) had defeated Penn State for the first time in 29 years, and rallied from a 14-point deficit to upset Doug Flutie and Boston College. WVU finished 8-4 and ranked 18th after defeating Texas Christian in the Bluebonnet Bowl. The Cavaliers (8-2-2) were No. 20 in the final AP poll, odd given their road rout of the Mountaineers.
* At No. 12 Penn State 14-6 in 1989: After a disheartening 36-13 loss to No. 2 Notre Dame in the opener, Virginia handed the Blair Thomas-led Nittany Lions their first home-opening defeat since 1965. Shawn Moore threw two first-half touchdown passes to Herman Moore, and the defense did the rest. The Cavaliers (10-3) went on to claim their first ACC championship, won 10 games for the first, and only, time in program history and finished 18th in the AP poll. Penn State went 8-3-1, defeated Brigham Young in the Holiday Bowl and was 14th in the final AP poll.
* No. 13 Texas 37-13 in 1996: On a soggy night in Charlottesville, Tiki Barber outplayed future Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams. Barber scored three first-quarter touchdowns, and the Cavaliers limited Williams to 44 yards on 19 carries. Virginia lost three of its last four games, including to Miami in the Carquest Bowl, to finish 7-5 and unranked. The Longhorns stunned No. 3 Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game, lost the Fiesta Bowl to Penn State and were No. 23 in the season-ending poll.
* No. 14 Virginia Tech 42-24 in 1994: The Cavaliers dominated the first U.Va.-Tech game to match top-25 teams. Led by Kevin Brooks’ 103 yards, 16th-ranked Virginia outrushed the Hokies 249-33. Tech committed eight turnovers, five on interceptions thrown by Maurice DeShazo. The Hokies then got rolled by Tennessee and Peyton Manning in the Gator Bowl to finish 8-4 and unranked by the AP. Virginia subsequently lost its regular-season finale, to North Carolina State, but rebounded with a victory over TCU in the Independence Bowl to complete a 9-3 season and finish a program-high No. 15 in the AP poll.
Here’s a list of the Cavaliers’ games against top-10 non-league opponents:
* 1940: at No. 5 Tennessee, 41-14.
* 1943: at No. 7 Duke, 49-0.
* 1944: North Carolina Pre-Flight 13-13.
* 1946: at No. 6 Penn 40-0.
* 1947: at No. 4 Penn 19-7; at No. 10 North Carolina 40-7.
* 1948: No. 4 UNC 34-12.
* 1952: No. 6 Duke 21-7.
* 1954: at No. 9 Army 21-20.
* 1957: No. 9 Army 20-12.
* 1958: at No. 1 Army 35-6.
* 1960: at No. 8 Navy 41-6.
* 1966: at No. 5 Georgia Tech 13-12.
* 1968: at No. 1 Purdue 44-7.
* 1971: at No. 4 Michigan 55-0.
* 1989: No. 2 Notre Dame 36-13 in East Rutherford, N.J.
* 1990: No. 10 Tennessee 23-22 in Sugar Bowl.
* 1999: No. 8 Virginia Tech 31-7.
* 2000: at No. 6 Virginia Tech 42-21.
* 2008: No. 3 Southern California 52-7.
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