It was midweek when Miami leading receiver Braxton Berrios wistfully spoke of his four years as a Hurricane and how it might feel to run out of the smoke and play in front of the home crowd for the final time.
“I have no idea,’’ Berrios said. “It hasn’t hit me yet. People say it to me and it registers – but it doesn’t. I truly don’t know what it’s going to feel like – very, very bittersweet at least.
“I’m not ready to be done here. I’m not ready to leave that locker room and this group of guys and this group of coaches and just everything the University of Miami stands for.’’
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Be assured that Berrios, as well as the 13 other upperclassmen who will wear a “C’’ on their uniforms as honorary captains Saturday in the regular-season home finale against Virginia (6-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), knows that the noon game at Hard Rock Stadium represents more than just the culmination of memories.
The No. 2 Canes (9-0, 6-0), ranked third in the latest College Football Playoff standings, are playing to extend their hopes of competing for their sixth national title.
One by one they’ve mowed down the teams that beat them last year: Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame.
Now, as they battle for their first 10-win season since 2003, can the Canes stay just as focused against a team that Las Vegas says they will beat by at least 19 points?
“I asked them, ‘Can [you] handle any prosperity?’’’ UM coach Mark Richt said of his Hurricanes. “Just to clarify everything, last week I think you might have asked the question about players feeling like they were disrespected. All I did was take the video of the television copy of people making predictions. Most everybody predicted Notre Dame, and some of them said why they predicted Notre Dame. Some of the ‘whys’ got their blood pumping. When I saw it, I’m like, ‘I think I’m going to show the guys this.’ Just collect them all and show them a copy of it.
“I think guys play better ball when they’re a little bit mad. It’s a tough game. It’s a physical game. Sometimes you just need something to get your blood pumping. That’s what we did. If I did a video of what’s going on now, it would be everybody saying, ‘Gosh, Miami is not so bad after all.’ Can they handle that? I’m not going to be showing videos of that, I can promise you.”
The Cavaliers, known this season for a hearty defense and run-stifled offense, started 5-1 but have lost the past three of four games.
Senior safety Quin Blanding needs three tackles to make Virginia the nation’s only school that would have two players with 100 tackles this season. Linebacker Micah Kiser leads the ACC with 106.
Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall was asked if he would “play up’’ the opportunity for his Cavaliers to be spoilers this week. Though their loss last week catapulted the Hurricanes to their first Coastal Division title for a spot in the ACC Championship game on Dec. 2 against Clemson, Virginia would take UM out of the CFP’s top four and likely ruin their chances to get in the playoffs by winning Saturday.
“Not necessarily,’’ Mendenhall said of stressing the spoiler role. “It’s an awesome opportunity for our program to play another ACC opponent that’s having success. Regardless of who we’re playing…it just so happens to be against a really good team in a game that matters.’’
And against some seniors that have helped become the catalysts for change after their previous coach, Al Golden, got fired and his regime scorned by UM fans who all but gave up on the program and left Hard Rock Stadium looking empty game after game.
“I think about it every day,’’ said senior defensive end Chad Thomas, a Miami native who has succeeded in helping his Hurricanes become relevant again. “When I got to the U we weren’t so good, still under probation and everything. Now, where we’re at, I’ve just got to thank God for. …Last home game down here in Miami. Just to play in front of my family, it’s going to mean a lot to me and my teammates, people who I started here with and stayed. It probably will be more emotional.
“The young guys probably call us old,’’ Thomas said with a grin. “I don’t feel old, [but] we might have that feeling Saturday.’’
Saturday: Virginia at No. 3 Miami
Kickoff: Noon; Hard Rock Stadium.
TV/radio: ABC; WQAM 560; WMEN 640; 990 ESPN Deportes.
Favorite: Miami by 17 1/2.
Records: Miami 9-0 (6-0 ACC); Virginia 6-4 (3-3 ACC).
Series: Miami leads 8-6.
Miami injuries: Out — LB Charles Perry (knee); DL Demetrius Jackson (knee); RB Mark Walton (ankle); WR Evidence Njoku (knee); LB Jamie Gordinier (knee).
Virginia injuries: Out — WR Ben Hogg (undisclosed); CB Tim Harris (wrist).