CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Virginia's Greyson Lambert has been in this position before. He hopes the ending is different this time.
The redshirt sophomore quarterback is preparing for the first start of his college career on Saturday against No. 7 UCLA, and said the daunting challenge reminds him of one he faced in high school.
"The first game that I ever started, I was a sophomore, and I was playing the hardest team on our schedule," the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Georgia native said. "It was 9-11, I was thinking 9-1-1. I was thinking I was going to get killed. I was nervous. But at the end of the day, I was excited, too.
"It's what you train for, it's what you go through two-a-days and camp and workouts all with your teammates just for this reason, to go out there ... and play against some of the best in the country."
Lambert and the Cavaliers, trying to turn their program around after losing their final nine games last season and finishing 2-10, don't expect to get "blown out" like their QB did in that high school game.
The quarterback has worked hard to ensure a different outcome against UCLA.
He returned from Christmas break last January determined to unseat last year's starter, David Watford. He helped to organize summer workouts, as well as social gatherings that brought the team together, figuring improved team chemistry could only help, especially in tough times.
In those last few months, Lambert has become increasingly assertive, defensive tackle David Dean said.
"I feel like his leadership has taken off a bit more. He seems more comfortable and the offense is really reacting to him in the huddle and just making plays and having his back," Dean said.
A second season in offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild's scheme has made a big difference, Lambert said, not only because he's learned the schemes better, but the Cavaliers' skill players have, too.
"I've seen a bigger difference in the team in how we're flying around," he said.
Fairchild said before this preseason began Aug. 1 that Lambert was "in no way, shape or form" ready to play last season, but now, it's like a night and day difference.
"I understand the speed of the game, but also what defenses are actually trying to accomplish on every play, how they call their defense according to our offense and that sort of thing," Lambert said.
The offense also looks different, All-ACC safety Anthony Harris said.
"It seems like they are changing. Last year they were a little predictable from a defensive standpoint," Harris said, "and this year, they've thrown a lot of different looks at us."
The Cavaliers, 21-point underdogs on their home field, are aware that not many outside their locker room have high expectations for them. Nonetheless, even with a brutal early schedule that also includes Louisville and BYU in September, Lambert knows the approach needed.
"The way we want to go at this is to prepare as hard as we can all week, go out on Saturday and put our best effort out there on the field, and whatever the outcome is, it's over that Saturday," Lambert said, making it apparent that the Cavaliers togetherness will not be fractured if they lose their opener.
"Whether it's good or bad, win or lose, it's over. It's not going to make or break anything."
Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr