COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Virginia didn't earn a championship Saturday. Or clinch a winning season. Or even beat a quality opponent.
Yet there the Cavaliers were, dancing outside their locker room as the band played and fans cheered and administrators embraced.
As well they should have. Saturday's 31-13 road dusting of Maryland makes Virginia (6-3, 3-2 ACC) bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007 and breaks the program's 13-game November losing streak.
Yes, bowls — does college football really need the Beef O'Brady's Bowl? — have procreated like rabbits, and no, the Cavaliers aren't ready for the top 25. But consider where the program was and is.
Virginia's three-year postseason drought was its longest since the Cavaliers inaugural bowl, the 1984 Peach. Moreover, Virginia had endured three consecutive winless Novembers.
So go ahead and celebrate. But don't settle. Get greedy. Go for more.
Winning season? Absolutely.
Ending a seven-year losing streak against Virginia Tech? Won't be easy, but the game is at home, and Virginia's offense is rolling.
Coastal Division title? Probably not, but at least the Cavaliers are contending.
"That's what college football is all about, playing in the postseason," receiver Kris Burd said. "We just plan on building on that. Everything just feels like it's falling into place."
Indeed, the Cavaliers have won two straight and four of their last five. They should beat Duke at home next week before confronting their most difficult tests: at Florida State and the regular-season finale against Virginia Tech.
All three of those games will be more challenging than Saturday's. Maryland (2-7, 1-5) hasn't beaten a Bowl Subdivision opponent since the season-opener (Miami), and its defense ranks among the nation's worst.
Hardly an ideal debut for first-year coach Randy Edsall, who in March said, "Here at Maryland, we don't lose to Virginia."
Even as the Terps scored 13 consecutive points to take a 13-7 lead, the Cavaliers appeared the superior team. Their offense was simply too big, fast and balanced.
Quarterback Michael Rocco threw for 307 yards as Virginia gained 527 yards overall. Perry Jones rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Burd and Tim Smith gained 112 and 101 yards receiving, respectively.
Virginia has produced more than 200 yards passing and rushing the last two games. Florida State is the only other ACC team this season to have consecutive 200/200 games against FBS competition.
When your offense is that versatile, you have a puncher's chance in virtually any game.
"That's how our offense is designed," Rocco said. "Pound them with the running game and that opens up the passing game. You can see our offense becoming something special."
Despite some secondary breakdowns, Virginia's defense also distinguished itself.
Cornerback Demetrious Nicholson broke up a third-and-goal pass in the end zone, forcing a short field goal; Steve Greer and Aaron Taliaferro headlined a goal-line stand at the 1 that led to another field goal; and free safety Rodney McLeod intercepted three passes, the first Cavalier to do so since Anthony Poindexter in 1996.
Here's another, more important, first from Saturday: For the first time in coach Mike London's two seasons, the Cavaliers didn't regress after a notable victory.
Following last year's upset of Miami, Virginia lost at Duke. After beating Georgia Tech last month, the Cavaliers fell to North Carolina State.
Not this time. Nine days after winning at Miami, Virginia dominated Maryland.
"Hopefully that's a sign of progress," London said.
Like London, players were reserved after their on-field celebration.
"Getting bowl eligible is secondary," Jones said.
"This doesn't change our mentality at all," Rocco said. "We'll come out next week against Duke with a fighter's mentality."
"Coach London tried to shy away from it," McLeod said. "But as players we know six wins gets you bowl eligible. Now it's a matter of how far we can go as a team."
How far can the Cavaliers go?
"Sky's the limit," McLeod said.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times