Last week Duke’s matchup with Miami had the potential to decide the ACC Coastal Division title. But now, both the Blue Devils and Hurricanes are out of that race for entirely different reasons.
Falling to Georgia Tech 42-24 in Atlanta last Saturday, Duke’s run at an appearance in the ACC Championship game met its demise. Miami gained bowl eligibility with a 40-9 victory against South Florida last weekend but did not hold on to it for long. With the NCAA set to announce its findings of its investigation into impermissable benefits provided by Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, the Hurricanes turned around and self-imposed bowl ineligibility for the second-straight season, joining North Carolina as the second ACC team ineligible for postseason play.
“A determination was made that voluntarily withholding the football team from a second postseason was not only a prudent step for the university to take but will also allow for the football program and university to move forward in the most expedited manner possible,” said the university’s statement.
With the ACC Championship’s matchup now set between Florida State and Georgia Tech, Saturday’s contest between Duke and Miami has no impact on conference standings. With no additional practices for a bowl game to follow, the Hurricanes (6-5, 4-3 in the ACC) have four quarters to go through the motions before their season draws to a close.
But do not tell Duke head coach David Cutcliffe that Saturday’s game is meaningless. Although the Blue Devils (6-5, 3-4) are no longer in contention for the division crown, they can clinch their first winning season since 1994 with a win against the Hurricanes.
“We’re in the midst of a significant season,” Cutcliffe said. “I’m not down. I’m not frustrated. Sometimes the best efforts you have in life just don’t pay off like you expect them to.... It’s too significant a year to not prepare and play great against Miami.”
Miami head coach Al Golden is echoed this sentiment. Many will question the Hurricanes focus entering the final week of the season, having nothing to play for. Self-imposing bowl ineligibility at the same point last season, Miami lost their final game 24-17 at home to a weaker Boston College squad. With the prospect of self-imposed bowl ineligibility hanging over his team’s head all season, Golden said the Hurricanes are determined to finish strong—bowl game or not.
“It’s business as usual. It’s been like this all year,” Golden said. “They know what’s at stake this week against Duke, and everybody is taking care of the things they need to take care of.”
In a matchup that features two dynamic offenses, the Blue Devils’ top priority Saturday will likely be stopping the Hurricanes’ star running back, Duke Johnson. As a freshman, Johnson ranks third in the ACC with 781 yards on the ground this season—averaging 6.3 yards per carry—and has scored seven rushing touchdowns. After allowing 330 yards to Georgia Tech’s ground-and-pound rushing attack last Saturday, the Blue Devils will hope to contain Miami’s explosive freshman tailback.
The Hurricanes have struggled to stop opposing offenses this season, allowing a conference-worst 477.6 yards per game in 2012, including 224.0 per game on the ground. Hoping to capitalize on Miami’s defensive inefficiencies and recover from a rough second half offensively against Georgia Tech, Duke could be in for yet another high-scoring affair this weekend. Seven of the Hurricanes’ 11 opponents this season have topped 30 points.
Saturday’s game also marks Duke’s Senior Day. The Blue Devils will honor their 14 seniors, including quarterback Sean Renfree, wide receivers Conner Vernon and Desmond Scott and safety Walt Canty.
“Our seniors are 5-1 in Wallace Wade Stadium on the 2012 season—that’s significant. I’m telling you that is hugely significant.... They know that,” Cutcliffe said. “The dream wasn’t just a Coastal Division championship. It’s a winning season—a significant winning season. These seniors have talked about that a lot every day we go to work.”