If there is any concern on the part of Virginia fans about their team getting wrapped up in the Coastal Division title that’s at stake and not concentrating entirely on Saturday's game at Florida State, consider this perspective from senior cornerback Chase Minnifield:
“We’ve never even been in the conference race since we’ve been here,” Minnifield said. “It’s always been one game at a time for us, whether the game was just to get to five wins or whatever it is. Around here, we haven’t been playing for championships, so all we know is one game at a time.”
Next up: Florida State.
This is unfamiliar territory for the Cavaliers, who can clinch the Coastal Division title by winning their final two games of the regular season. If Virginia Tech beats North Carolina tonight, Virginia cannot afford to lose to the Seminoles on Saturday, or the Hokies will clinch the division title. Any other scenario between Virginia and Virginia Tech will set up a showdown in Charlottesville in the regular-season finale to determine the division winner.
And you better believe the Hoos will be watching tonight.
Quarterback Michael Rocco said there is no official team plan, but many of the players will get together at each other’s houses to watch the Hokies and the Heels.
“It’s going to be a good ACC game, so we’ll be watching it and keeping a close eye on it,” Rocco said.
Aside from the obvious awareness of their place in the ACC standings, Virginia coach Mike London said the staff hasn’t used the Coastal Division race as motivation.
“We don't talk about that,” London said. “We talk about the options that are presented to us right now. That's a Florida State team, I mean, they're truly outstanding in the last four or five games we've seen them play. At their place they have a lot of things going on themselves. We just have to worry about taking care of ourselves and what we do in order to execute because defensively they're outstanding, offensively they have so many playmakers, and even in the kicking game they're dynamic.
“We don't think ahead of anything that's out there,” he said. “We just have to think what's clear and present right now, and that's FSU.”
Virginia has never defeated Florida State in Tallahassee, where the Noles are 8-0 in the series. FSU is 14-2 overall against Virginia. The Cavaliers, though, have been hitting their stride and finding an identity in the past three wins. During that span, Rocco has 724 yards passing with six touchdowns and one interception. Perry Jones is averaging 139.7 all-purpose yards (419) per game, and opponents are averaging 67.7 rushing yards per game.
They’re cautiously optimistic they can keep it up against the No. 25 team in the country.
“Like it says in the bible, pride comes before a fall,” Rocco said. “We’re trying to keep our minds level-headed and keep focused on the game ahead of us, because once you let your guard down, bad things happen.”
The players have said there is a sense of pride in becoming the first bowl eligible team the program has had since 2007, but they are also in agreement that they’re not satisfied with that.
“Keeping it consistent has kind of been our motto all season, and we’ve been pretty consistent as of late, so we’re not going to make it bigger than what it is, but we all know it’s a big game for us,” Minnifield said. “We just want to go out there and play hard. We understand what things look like -- the coaches brought it up -- but at the end of the day, don’t let that matter more than the game on the schedule.”
It’s an approach they’ve gotten a little too familiar with in recent years.