This was to be the mother of all Duke games, the one that would elevate the normally ho-hum snoozer into a thrilling celebration to defy a rocky season.
Win, and the Miami Hurricanes for the first time would represent the Coastal Division in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game — the one they won’t be going to after self-imposing a postseason ban Monday.
Now, as in 2011, when the Canes imposed their initial bowl ban in hopes of softening expected NCAA sanctions, the 2012 regular-season finale has taken on a melancholy feel.
“In my dream of coming here, this wasn’t part of the dream,” sophomore defensive end Anthony Chickillo said. “But I love this school, and president [Donna] Shalala thought it was the right thing to do, so I’m going to support her, and we’re going to move forward.”
Despite the reality that Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. game at Wallace Wade Stadium will not get them where they wanted to go, the Hurricanes (6-5, 4-3 ACC) say they’re intent on winning a share of the Coastal crown, something they would still do with a victory.
“We have a chance to tie for first,” UM coach Al Golden said. “I know it’s not what I ultimately want, but I give the kids a lot of credit. We’ve played a tough schedule with a young team, and they’re still fighting.
“We’re grateful to the seniors, but if you’re a freshman or sophomore and you can say you got a piece of that, [then] you can understand what it takes to get there. We have to learn how to go to do that this weekend — block everything out and go play a good game.”
UM’s postseason ban put Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game against Florida State on Dec. 1 in Charlotte, N.C.
Last season, when the Canes weren’t in a position to win a share of the Coastal, they lost their finale 24-17 at home to a Boston College team that finished 4-8.
“Guys kind of felt sorry for themselves,” senior cornerback Brandon McGee said. “But this year, Coach Golden did a great job of conveying the message that, ‘Hey, we can’t do what we did last year.’
“It comes from the top down as far as leaders on the team. If a guy sees me go in the tank and it’s like, ‘I’m ready to get the season over with,’ then they’ll have the same attitude. Like Coach Golden said, ‘Every leader has to deal with crisis.’ We have to keep moving forward, and this team will do great in the future.”
The Blue Devils (6-5, 3-4 ACC) have proven unusually competent, winning six of their first eight games before dropping three in a row to Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech.
Vernon leads duke
Duke, which has beaten Miami only once in nine meetings, is led by Miamian Conner Vernon, a receiver who is averaging 76.9 yards per game and is the ACC’s all-time leader in receiving yards with 3,521.
His quarterback, Sean Renfree, has thrown for 2,323 yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions in 10 games. Renfree’s accuracy percentage is 67.3.
Duke’s lone win in the series — by a 20-7 score — came in 1976 at Miami.
The Blue Devils already have guaranteed themselves their first bowl game since January 1995 (Outback), but the Canes still want that piece of the ACC Coastal title.
“That’s still our goal,” said running back Dallas Crawford, who scoffed at the thought that a victory Saturday would be hollow.
Junior guard Jon Feliciano, like his teammates, was shaken by the news of the postseason ban that the team received in person.
“We worked so hard all season,” Feliciano said softly. “But we still have one more game. We want to beat Duke and make a statement that, ‘Yeah, it’s unfortunate that we’re not going to a bowl game, but we’ve come a long way from last year.’ ”
Running back Mike James, one of 17 UM seniors, promises to savor Saturday’s experience. No matter what happens, be assured he will digest it with gratitude.
“Mad? No,” James said when asked if he resented what has unfolded. “But that I didn’t get an opportunity to play for an ACC championship — the total ACC championship — is sad.
“I look on the brighter side of things. I’m blessed with the opportunity to play one more game; I’m blessed with the opportunity to have been in college. Most people didn’t make it to college, some people don’t graduate from college. I’m blessed.
“ I can’t be mad at anyone.”