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Cavaliers hope tough schedule leads to 'dream season'

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Posted: Monday, August 26, 2013 10:45 pm | Updated: 8:47 am, Tue Aug 27, 2013.

Virginia, coming off an 8-5 season, began 2012 against Richmond, a Football Championship Subdivision opponent with a new head coach and a 3-8 campaign to show for its 2011.

The Cavaliers were prohibitive favorites and played like it, dispatching the Spiders by 24 points at Scott Stadium.

At 3:30 p.m., Saturday, UVa starts 2013 by hosting BYU, an independent foe of the Football Bowl Subdivision with an All-American linebacker and eight straight seasons of at least seven wins.

Virginia is a 1-point underdog.

So, how do you like your opener? With a cupcake or heavyweight?

Kevin Parks grinned when the question was posed Monday.

“To build a dream season, you got to schedule tough opponents,” said the Wahoos’ junior running back. “I feel like this is a great challenge for us. I feel like we’re ready for it and Saturday’s going to be the big kick-off for us. Everybody’s excited.”

As of Monday afternoon, around 3,900 tickets remained for Saturday. There’s certainly a buzz about this edition of the Cavaliers. There’s the new staff, the new starting quarterback and that schedule.

CBSSports.com ranks the non-conference portion of it as the 10th-toughest in the nation.

UVa gets the Cougars (8-5 in ’12) followed by Oregon (12-1) followed by VMI (2-9). Ball State (9-4) visits Scott Stadium on Oct. 5.

BYU received a vote for The Associated Press Top 25. The Ducks are ranked third. The Cardinals received three votes for winning the MAC West Division title.

The layout provides Virginia with perhaps its stiffest non-ACC challenge since 2002 when it took on Colorado State (six preseason votes for The AP Top 25; finished 10-3), No. 22 South Carolina and Penn State (24 votes; finished 9-4 and ranked No. 16).

With the league games thrown in, Virginia’s 2013 schedule features contests with seven teams at least receiving a vote in the preseason Top 25. Two opponents — Oregon and Clemson — rank in the top 10.

The theme, however, is to dream.

“Guys want to create a dream season,” said junior safety Anthony Harris. “In order to do that, you have to create a dream schedule. Guys are very excited. We obviously believe in our talents. We believe we can play with the best. This gives us an opportunity right here to see where we can measure up.”

The non-conference portion of this schedule was altered in January when Oregon was added and a Penn State matchup was moved to a later date.

The Ducks, defending Fiesta Bowl champs, are loaded with Heisman Trophy candidates at quarterback and running back. A team with this much hype hasn’t entered Charlottesville since a certain Mark Sanchez led No. 3 USC to a 52-7 rout of the Wahoos in 2008.

Does that make Saturday’s clash with the less-mighty Cougars more crucial?

“I think any opening game or any opponent to gauge yourself and use as a barometer is always important,” said Virginia head coach Mike London. “Obviously, these two that are coming in are some of the best teams. One is in the top 5, top 10. The other one has perennially been a bowl team. They’re as good as you get.”

The mere presence of them on the schedule has increased training intensity since the winter months.

“Everything gets ramped up,” London said. “Spring practice, how they train during the summer, how we practiced during August camp. Everything gets turned up.

“Having two great teams coming to Charlottesville — Scott Stadium — is a challenge, but I think it’s a challenge the players have embraced and are looking forward to meeting.”

Saturday’s game will be televised by ESPNU. Next week’s Oregon meeting gets the more national ABC/ESPN2 treatment.

Consider this week a test run for the Cavs, 4-8 finishers a year ago.

“It’ll be a broader audience,” said senior guard Luke Bowanko. “They’ll be watching to see what BYU’s going to do and hopefully by the end of the game they’ll be like, ‘Wow, those kids from Virginia can play ball.’

“It’s great having the spotlight on you. It helps you motivate yourself. Obviously, BYU’s the first opponent and we’re only worried about them right now. But they pose a lot of specific things that they do that’s going to be difficult to handle.

“We’re ready for the challenge.”

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