Notre Dame Virginia Football

Virginia fans react as Notre Dame's Will Fuller (7) scores on a touchdown pass with UVA's Maurica Canady (26) falling after attempting to stop the play during an NCAA college football game in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.

Who knows where Virginia's football program would be if the Cavaliers had emerged victorious from their most recent meeting with Notre Dame?

In all likelihood, nothing would have changed, but the 2015 game between UVa and then-No. 9 Notre Dame might have been the last best chance for sixth-year Cavaliers' head coach Mike London to make a case to keep his job.

Virginia had gone on the road to begin the 2015 season, taking a 34-16 loss to 13th-ranked UCLA in the season opener at the Rose Bowl.

That game, which featured the college debut of future first-round draft pick Josh Rosen, was close for a while but was nothing like the UVa-Notre Dame game, where the Cavaliers led a 27-26 lead on a 1-yard run by Albert Reid with 1:54 to play in the game.

Anyone who was there can surely recall the sight of the UVa students pressed up against a makeshift fence just outside the north end zone, preparing to storm the field if the Cavaliers prevailed.

As Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer dropped back, Virginia defensive lineman Mike Moore took aim, but Kizer eluded him and connected with Will Fuller on a 39-yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds left.

The crowd of 58,200 was stunned, except for a large contingent of Notre Dame fans estimated at 10,000. It wasn't one of the top 10 all-time crowds that UVa ranks in its media guide, but there hasn't been a comparable crowd since then.

The Cavaliers got their first win of the season one week later, when they edged visiting William and Mary 35-29. However, the three-game homestand concluded with Friday night most Hoos fans would like to forget — at 56-14 rout by Boise State, but that was followed six days later by a trip to Boise State, where the Cavaliers were routed 56-14.

Virginia went on to beat ACC foes Syracuse, Georgia Tech and Duke at Scott Stadium but the Cavaliers were to go 4-8 and London was fired after the final game of the season, a 23-20 loss to Virginia Tech.

A win over the Hokies, as overdue as it was, might not have saved London. However, if Virginia had beaten Notre Dame, maybe that would have provided the Cavaliers with the motivation to perform at a higher level.

There wasn't an immediate turnaround following the selection of Bronco Mendenhall as London's successor but the program has been on an upswing, going to back-to-back bowl games and now being ranked for a third week in a row.

The Cavaliers don't need to win this Saturday in South Bend to validate the program's turnaround. If UVa could pull off an upset over a double-digit favorite on the road, the college football world would be impressed but it's not like Mendenhall's future is hanging in the balance.

Doug Doughty is in his 44th year at the Roanoke Times, having produced an estimated 10,000 by-lines, a majority of them on University of Virginia athletics.

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