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Plenty at stake as Miami Hurricanes face off vs. Virginia

Miami cornerback Brandon McGee pondered the irony of the Hurricanes being picked by the media to finish next to last in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division, but now atop the division battling for supremacy with Duke, the team projected to finish last.

“That’s human nature,’’ McGee, a senior, said. “You can never live up to other people’s expectations. If we did that, we’d have been wherever they had us — fifth. We control what we can control.’’

It’s November, and the Hurricanes (5-4, 4-2 ACC), who meet Virginia (3-6, 1-4) at Scott Stadium on Saturday, are relevant again.

Amazing what one win after three consecutive losses can do for a team’s outlook.

Then again, the Cavaliers just won their first game after six losses in a row.

The difference: The Canes go into their final three regular-season games with plenty on the line — bowl eligibility for one, and their first shot at winning the Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference since joining the league in 2004.

“It’s a lot of fun for us,’’ said UM quarterback Stephen Morris, “because we know what type of offense we have and the defense has been playing extremely well, as [have] special teams. We’re playing a complete game right now, which is something we’ve been preaching forever.

“The team wants to finish strong. We’ve had a pretty good season and everyone around this program is eager and excited. They know what’s at stake.’’

The Hurricanes are one win ahead of North Carolina (6-3, 3-2) in the Coastal Division and a full game ahead of Duke (6-4, 3-3). But because of NCAA sanctions, UNC is not eligible to play for the Coastal Division title.

A win Saturday would make Miami bowl-eligible for the fifth consecutive year, with one major caveat. The Hurricanes, who self-imposed a bowl ban the day after qualifying for one last season, might do it again after their next victory in an attempt to lessen pending NCAA sanctions related to former booster Nevin Shapiro.

Last year it came the day after they qualified.

“Personally, I’d definitely have mixed emotions to it,’’ Morris said. “I’m not in control of that and no one on this team is, and that’s really up to the athletic director and whatever they feel is best for this team. We really leave that into Coach [Al] Golden’s hands and the people above us.’’

Receiver Phillip Dorsett tried to look at the positive, should it happen again.

“I’ll understand,’’ Dorsett said. “I’d be upset at first, because we’re so close, but I think next year we can be better.’’

Other than possibly being a spoiler, the Cavaliers are not in the hunt for a Coastal title. Three victories in their final three regular-season games would qualify them for a bowl, however.

Miami has lost two in a row to Virginia and four of its past six against the Cavs. Saturday’s matchup marks the five-year anniversary of UVA’s 48-0 victory in UM’s final game at the Orange Bowl, though Golden wasn’t around for that one.

Golden’s first college coaching job was as a graduate assistant at UVA from 1994-96. He was the UVA defensive coordinator from 2001-05. He is still close with Cavs coach Mike London, an assistant with Golden for four years at UVA.

“I spent eight years there. I went to graduate school there. I started my coaching career there. That’s where I was living when we got married and when [son] A.J. was born — so sure,’’ he said, when asked if Charlottesville was nostalgic for him.

“But am I going to talk about it when I’m there? No. I’ll be in the hotel room or I’ll be watching film or being in a meeting, or getting yelled at on the field. But I won’t be talking about the birth of my son, or anything like that.’’

Virginia uses two quarterbacks — sophomore Phillip Sims (92 of 165 for 1,115 yards and eight touchdowns, with four interceptions) and junior Michael Rocco (107 of 184 for 1,285 yards and eight touchdowns, with eight interceptions).

Rocco threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns last season in a 28-21 Virginia victory at Sun Life Stadium.

Last Saturday, UVA dominated North Carolina State 33-6 in Raleigh, N.C., with 446 yards of total offense. But Golden seemed more concerned with UVA’s six sacks and five forced turnovers. “Not just six sacks,’’ Golden said, “but they must have hit [the quarterback] a dozen times.’’

The Hurricanes will be without starting safety Deon Bush (shoulder) and likely without starting outside linebacker Denzel Perryman (ankle).

But all Golden can see is what the Canes do have, and that’s an opportunity to win that sixth game and hold tight to their Coastal Division lead.

He said the Hurricanes are learning how to be frontrunners.

“It’s difficult because it’s the first time that we’re navigating that,’’ Golden said. “We were pretty much out [of the race] by this time last year. This is where you [need to be] disciplined, and your habits and process either hold up or crack.

“For us to go where we want to go in the coming years, this is the first step.’’

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