Wahoos unfazed as heavy underdogs against Clemson

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- There are 10 conference championship games on the college football schedule this weekend. With Clemson favored by 28 1/2 points in Saturday night's ACC title game in Charlotte, no one is a bigger underdog than Virginia.

It's a status that doesn't faze the Cavaliers.

"I love framing it as what we can gain," UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall said after Tuesday morning's practice. "And I think that if we are that underdog -- I haven't looked, nor do I look -- that would probably be the company of everyone else they've played for a while."

The Tigers have won their 12 games this season by an average score of 45-10. Since escaping Chapel Hill in late September with a 21-20 win against North Carolina to improve to 5-0, that average score has widened to 50-8.

"Obviously, they blew everybody out. They've won what, 27 straight games I think it is?" UVA inside linebacker Zane Zandier accurately pointed out. "Nobody really gives us much respect anyway. So it doesn't really hurt our feelings or anything like that. It just makes us want to prepare and play even harder."

"We know the challenge at stake," said UVA quarterback Bryce Perkins. "And I think the guys know how they have to prepare. And these practices, how they have to be, as far as mentally and physically, for us to have our best chance to go out there and shock the world."

'Shocking the world' would be the next step for the UVA football program in four seasons under Mendenhall. After going 2-10 in 2016, his second team ended a six-year bowl drought the following season -- but lost 49-7 to Navy in the Military Bowl.

Last December, UVA won the program's first bowl game in 13 years, shutting out South Carolins 28-0 in the Belk Bowl. Then last Friday, the Cavaliers' ended their 15-game losing streak against Virginia Tech with a 39-30 win at Scott Stadium -- and with that win, clinched the program's first Coastal Division title.

"We set the goals at the beginning of the season, and now we're here," Perkins said. "And so far, everything that we have accomplished is right on cue with what we said in the beginning."

"We're looking at this game, the ACC championship. We're not going just to go and enjoy the sight-seeing and everything like that. We're going to go and we're going to try to win," said Zandier. "A lot of our guys were here for that first Military Bowl, and I think we might have gotten caught up in that sight-seeing and we got blown out."

"We have not been there. They have. It's new for us; it's not new to them," said Mendenhall. "Being a pioneer. Carving or blazing a trail that hasn't been blazed or carved for a while is exciting and challenging. So we're just calling it that, matter-of-factly. And then when we get there we'll play football, which is what we know how to do."

UVA is the seventh different team to represent the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship in the last seven seasons. The previous six all lost -- including the last four in a row to Clemson. A Coastal Division team hasn't won the ACC title game since the Hokies in 2010.

Earlier this week, Mendenhall called Saturday's game a "magical opportunity" for his team.

"I love, love, love challenge, and doing hard stuff. And this is just the next thing for this program to take on," Mendenhall said on Tuesday. "You're talking about a team that has won the national championship, two of the last three years. Man, where else would we rather be? And we've earned the chance to be there."

"All the years watching them in the ACC championship and watching them in the national championship, now we're here and now it's our time to be a part of it," Perkins said. "So we're excited, I'm excited and I can't wait for Saturday."

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