By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Sports Writer
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Coastal.
It’s been a one-word rallying cry all season for Miami, which is still trying to make its first appearance in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s championship game. Whenever any Hurricane has been asked about goals for the season he has invariably responded by saying that winning the ACC’s Coastal Division is the top priority.
Somehow, after blowing a late lead against Florida State, losing to Clemson by 58 points and seeing coach Al Golden fired, the Coastal is still in play.
Miami (6-3, 3-2 ACC) doesn’t control its destiny, but knows any hope of winning the division hinges on going into Chapel Hill and beating No. 17 North Carolina (8-1, 5-0) on Saturday. The Tar Heels have won eight consecutive games, have won their six home games by an average of 31 points and oddsmakers expect them to roll by two touchdowns this weekend.
"This is right where you want to be — you want to be in position to go play these games," Miami interim coach Larry Scott said. "That’s why you come to the University of Miami. That’s why you embrace these types of challenges. We know what we have ahead of us, but we also know what we need to do to be in the best position possible to go play as best we can to continue our progress towards our goal."
North Carolina can win the Coastal and wrap an ACC title game date with Atlantic Division champion Clemson — the nation’s No. 1 team — by topping the Hurricanes and if Pittsburgh loses earlier Saturday at Duke.
If Miami pulls off this upset, then the Coastal race gets interesting. North Carolina goes to Virginia Tech next weekend, in what will most definitely be an emotional game for the Hokies as they rally around retiring coach Frank Beamer. In short, it might be in the Heels’ best interest to wrap up the division sooner than later.
"Miami’s got a lot of pride," North Carolina defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said. "So regardless of the circumstances, they’re going to play really, really hard. They’ve got very talented guys, so they’re a dangerous team. They’ve got a lot to play for. They’re still in the hunt for a championship. I would be certain that that’s their thing."
The Hurricanes are 2-0 since Scott took over, have wrapped up bowl-eligibility and see no reason why they shouldn’t be talking about their ACC hopes.
"This is a major opportunity," safety Deon Bush said. "It’s one of the biggest opportunities we’ve had since we’ve been here. We’re in a good race in the Coastal right now and this game means a lot. So right now we’re just putting our hardhats on and working for it."
Miami beat North Carolina last season 47-20. Quarterback Brad Kaaya threw for three touchdowns in that game, and he was somewhat amused to learn how much of an underdog the Hurricanes were this weekend.
"It is what it is," Kaaya said. "I’m not a statistician. I’m not a math major. I just play football and control what I can control."
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