CORAL GABLES (AP) – Since the day he took over at Miami, Al Golden has said the path for the Hurricanes to get back into the national picture starts with winning the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division.
The Hurricanes now control the path to that title.
Stephen Morris threw for two early touchdowns, both set up by Virginia Tech special-teams miscues, and Miami took a major step forward in the chase for a berth in the conference title game by beating the Hokies 30-12 Nov. 1 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
The Hurricanes were outgained 421-347, went 1 for 12 on third down, and managed exactly 3 yards on 12 plays in the third quarter. And in the end, somehow, none of that mattered.
Duke Johnson had a 7-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and finished with 217 all-purpose yards for the Hurricanes (5-4, 4-2), who snapped a three-game slide.
Miami has conference games left with Virginia and Duke, both on the road, and the Hurricanes have the inside track to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division title and the program’s first berth in the league’s championship game, where a spot in the Orange Bowl would be at stake.
Thing is it’s unclear if the Hurricanes would even accept such a prize.
Being atop the Coastal Division this late in the season is both thrilling and thorny for Miami, which is expected to soon decide whether to self-impose a postseason ban for the second straight year, a move that would be related to the ongoing NCAA investigation into the Hurricanes’ compliance practices.
Such a decision would be an attempt to lessen the impact of whatever sanctions ultimately get imposed against Miami. Those sanctions are likely to be handed down early next year, based on the expectation that the Hurricanes will receive their notice of allegations — in essence, the end of the investigation phase and start of the penalty phase — from the NCAA in the next few weeks.
“You have to be very careful and think through all the ramifications,” acting Miami athletics director Blake James told The Associated Press on Friday, the day after the Hurricanes beat Virginia Tech 30-12 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
The NCAA has long taken into account when schools self-impose penalties prior to any hearings before the committee on infractions.
“The committee then will determine if it will adopt those as appropriate and whether any additional consequences are warranted,” NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said.
For his part, Miami coach Al Golden wasn’t involved in the decision to forgo postseason play last year and plans to keep it that way this time around, as well.
Miami said its decision to self-impose the ban in 2011 was made by “university leaders, athletic administrators and outside counsel.”
“I’m just trying to keep my team and ourselves focused on the things that we can control and not letting anything on the outside interfere with our goals,” Golden said.
And those goals are important.
First, Miami (5-4, 4-2 ACC) still has work remaining to win the Coastal. Victories over Virginia at noon Saturday in Charlottesville. Va., and Duke on Nov. 24 in Durham, N.C., would wrap up the division and there are other scenarios that would assure Miami at least a share of the Coastal title by the end of next weekend’s games but the Hurricanes also aren’t even bowl-eligible yet.
And until Miami gets that sixth win — “until you’re bowl-eligible, it’s not a situation you need to address,” James said — the Hurricanes likely won’t be announcing any decision related to postseason plans.
“My job right now is to get this team to win the Coastal,” Golden said.
A year ago, Miami was 6-5 when it announced the ban, then dropped the season’s final game and would have gone only to a lower-tier bowl anyway. This season, a return to the Bowl Championship Series — the Orange Bowl, in the stadium they call home, no less — is still a very real possibility.
Still, James indicated that the potential bowl destination wouldn’t ultimately affect Miami’s call.
“It’s a situation where you just have to look at what’s best for your program and institution and that’s the decision you make going forward,” James said. “I don’t think you necessarily weigh all sorts of different variables. You have to look at the whole picture and decide what’s best.”
The financial concerns related to another self-imposed ban are believed to be minimal.