MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 26: Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden looks on during a game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Sun Life Stadium on October 26, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
When the Miami football staff showed up for work Saturday, there still was hope that the Hurricanes would have two games left on their schedule this season.
That won't be the case.
Miami was eliminated from the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division race Saturday afternoon when Duke topped North Carolina, an outcome that meant the Blue Devils will be heading to Charlotte, N.C. next week to take on unbeaten Florida State for the league title.
It also meant Miami coach Al Golden and his staff will be heading, well, just about everywhere next week — with recruiting becoming the top priority now, especially since the Hurricanes don't know who, where or when they'll be playing in the school's first bowl appearance since 2010.
"We're going to be in a bowl game for the first time in three years. We have a chance to win 10 games for the first time in a decade," Golden said on a teleconference from his office in Coral Gables, Fla. "It's been a rough couple years. So all said and done, let's keep recruiting, let's keep moving the program forward and have some opportunities here in the next four weeks that we haven't had the previous two years."
Miami's most likely bowl destinations would seem to be the Russell Athletic Bowl, where Louisville might be a possible opponent, or the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Sometime in the next week or so, all those decisions will be finalized.
Until then, the Hurricanes won't be thinking about the end of 2013, but rather building for 2014 and beyond.
"We just have too much work to take a deep breath now," Golden said.
Miami (9-3) capped its regular season with a 41-31 win at Pittsburgh on Friday, the nine wins matching the Hurricanes' most in a regular season since 2009. The Hurricanes haven't had a 10-win year since 2003, and that's been a rallying cry for the team over the last few weeks, especially after Miami knew its ACC hopes were in big trouble following a loss to Duke.
Wins over Virginia and Pittsburgh followed, keeping the 10-win dream alive.
The biggest win for Miami this season, though, doesn't even factor into the record. The Hurricanes are no longer under the cloud of an NCAA investigation, that 2½-year saga that revolved around the actions of former booster and convicted Ponzi scheme architect Nevin Shapiro finally ending this fall with the announcement of sanctions against the school.
The football team may lose nine scholarships over the next three years, though Miami hopes to have that penalty reduced. Other than that, the worst is over. So when Golden and his staff go recruiting now, there will be no more doomsday scenarios for them to address when talking to prospects and their families.
"Being able to go into bowl practice and having all the kids in South Florida come watch bowl practice and watch us operate and be around our players and get to know our team and players and then being able to go to a bowl site and getting all the residual that that brings with it ... it's tough to quantify," Golden said.
Miami self-imposed postseason bans in 2011 and 2012, the latter of which cost the Hurricanes a trip to the ACC title game. They were the preseason pick to get there this season, then fell short.
That's one of the many reasons why Golden isn't taking victory laps after a nine-win season.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Golden said, repeating a mantra he's often offered in recent weeks. "We're not where we want to be yet."