There has been relatively little talk about the Coastal Division football race coming out of Charlottesville this week.
That’s what happens when the reigning national basketball champion is beginning the season.
Now that the men’s basketball team has begun play with a bang, defeating host Syracuse 48-34 at the Carrier Dome, Virginia fans can turn their attention back to the Cavaliers’ football program.
UVa (6-3, 4-2) will continue its bid for a Coastal Division title and a berth in the ACC championship game when it entertains Georgia Tech (2-6, 1-4) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Scott Stadium.
The Cavaliers have a one-half game division lead over Pittsburgh (6-3, 3-2) and a one-game lead over Miami (5-4, 3-3) and North Carolina (4-5, 3-3).
Virginia Tech, the only Coastal team with four remaining conference games, is 1½ games back at 5-3 and 2-2.
Virginia will enter play as a 15-point favorite to beat the Yellow Jackets, who are in their first season under Geoff Collins, the successor to Paul Johnson, who retired last season after 11 years at the helm.
Johnson’s trademark was an option attack that Collins — most recently the head coach at Temple for two seasons — has revamped.
Collins, whose coaching resume includes stints at Georgia Tech in a variety of roles, was the defensive coordinator at Florida before getting the Temple job.
This Georgia Tech season started with a 52-14 loss to defending national champion Clemson. But the low point thus far was a 27-24 home loss to The Citadel, a member of the FCS Southern Conference.
Later, the Yellow Jackets went to Miami on Oct. 19 and upset the Hurricanes 28-21 in overtime.
Only one week earlier, Virginia had lost at Miami 17-9. That was the second of three UVa road losses for the Cavaliers over a four-week span.
While a 4-0 start set the table for bowl eligibility, it took a 38-31 victory at North Carolina last Saturday for Virginia to snap out of its road-trip doldrums and claim a bowl-qualifying sixth win for the third straight year.
“All the North Carolina game did was make this one [against Georgia Tech] more important than even that one,” Mendenhall said this week.
“The players want to move the program forward. They want this team to do something the previous three teams [under Mendenhall] haven’t done.
“They’re anxious to grow and expand the program and they realize the time frame and the margin for error they have.”
Georgia Tech, with 18 winning and one break-even season records over the previous 22 years, was a little different story.
However, over Johnson’s last four seasons, the Yellow Jackets were 24-25.
“The first thing that has to be addressed and has to be developed is the culture,” Collins said. “And I think our guys have embraced it. They’ve engaged in it every single day.
“They’re living it and there are moments that you can really tell that things are starting to get really ingrained in them.”
Collins pointed to a moment in last Saturday’s home game with Pittsburgh, won by the Panthers 20-10.
“We’re about to tie the game up, we fumble at the 3-inch line and they return it to the far 21-yard line,” he said.
“Our guys said ‘put the ball down,’ and they forced [Pitt] to kick a 49-yard field goal. There was zero quit.”
Collins’ take on Virginia was somewhat different than most.
“One of the biggest things is that it is a team that is really long and really athletic,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of height across all the positions.”
Virginia men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett had been saying the same thing about his team just days earlier, although he didn’t mention his two 5-foot-9 point guards.
Collins has been wearing a baseball-style hat with the number 404 on it to express the importance of recruiting players from an area code that includes the greater Atlanta area.
Don’t think Virginia hasn’t dialed those digits a few times.
The Cavaliers have 11 players from Georgia on their roster, including starters Jordan Mack at linebacker and Joey Blount at safety, as well as promising freshman Nick Jackson, who was Mack’s replacement during a targeting suspension.