When head coach Bronco Mendenhall thinks about the chance that is before his Virginia Cavaliers this week vs. the No. 3 Clemson Tigers in their first ever appearance in the ACC Championship, one word describes the opportunity --magical.
"It's off the scale for our program at this time on our quest for national relevance. Last week (against Virginia Tech) did wonders for achievement and moving the needle for our program, hitting new benchmarks and metrics. Now all that does is qualify us, and that qualification isn't a gift and it's not random, it's something we've earned. It's qualified us and our team has earned the chance now for the next and significantly bigger opportunity and challenge.
"Those two things are usually synonymous: opportunity and challenge. We've framed it as such. It's a magical opportunity for our program."
When he thinks about the opportunity, there is nothing that excites him more because it is the reason that he chose to take the Virginia job.
"I came to the University of Virginia because I like hard things, doing hard things. I chose this job because I crave building and developing and growing. The harder the better," Mendenhall said. "There hasn't been one easy step or one easy game in the past four years for our program. But the players have earned this chance in the time frame they've earned it. It just seems fitting. It doesn't guarantee outcome in any different way except that it is directly in alignment with the things we like to do, which we view as hard things together. This will be exactly that.
"What else would we rather be doing? If you ask myself or my team, there's nothing else we'd rather be doing. The bigger, the harder the challenge, the more we like it. This just happens to be one of the biggest and hardest. Yeah, we're really looking forward to it."
While Mendenhall may be excited about showcasing his Cavalier program in prime time Saturday (7:30 p.m., ABC) in the crown jewel of the ACC, the pundits in Las Vegas see the game as more of a mere bump in the road toward a fifth conference championship for the Tigers.
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The Tigers opened as 24.5-point favorites, but the line had jumped to 28.5 as of later in the evening. But even with the Cavaliers facing monumental odds in their first championship game, Mendenhall does not see the challenge of facing the Tigers as daunting.
"I don't see the word as 'daunting'. I see an amazing opportunity," Mendenhall said. "The brutal fact acknowledgment, everyone else will draw that, come to their own conclusions that way. I see an amazing chance for my team."
Mendenhall's confidence comes from the success that his Cavaliers have experienced the last couple of years in building to this moment. Boise State, Miami and South Carolina are a few of the teams that have fallen at the Cavaliers.
But even though his teams have had some success, he believes his team is through needing any reminders of how good they are, or that they are capable of beating anyone on their schedule.
"Not so much. Our team is, I would say pretty much over that," Mendenhall said. "They want to win every single week. They believe they're capable of performing against any opponent on any given week. Really the mindset has as much to do with outcome as anything. I'm really not looking to present points of reference for them as to things we've done in the past against other opponents. I'm really working on and just presenting to our team what can we control, what we can we influence, spending all of our time focusing on that. There aren't any other points of reference against this team that are relevant.
"The other points of reference that have been mentioned, other games we played, it's not this opponent, it's not this stage. Really the only point that's similar is the mindset we had going into those games in terms of our preparation. So really that's the best gift I can give our team, is to be well prepared and help them be well prepared."