MIAMI (CBS4) – No 10-win season. No Atlantic Coast Conference title. No Bowl Championship Series berth.

It’s an all-too-familiar refrain for the University of Miami Hurricanes.

After losing 31-17 to Virginia Tech on Saturday, the best finish the ‘Canes can hope for this season is 9-4, which would match Miami’s record from a year ago. Any remaining ACC title hopes ended with that loss to the Hokies, and instead of returning to the BCS, Miami might be returning to Orlando or San Francisco, its bowl sites for the past two seasons.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Miami center Tyler Horn said of the ACC title hopes getting dashed once again. “It stinks.”

Big games are little more than big disappointments these days for the Hurricanes, who fell to a baffling 5-16 since the end of the 2005 regular season in match-ups with opponents ranked in the Top 25. Only nine teams have lost more often to ranked teams during that span and Miami is 0-3 in those games this season, falling to Ohio State, Florida State and now the Hokies.

So if there is one bright side for the Hurricanes, it’s this: Next week’s opponent, South Florida, is unranked.

“We’re going to keep playing,” defensive lineman Adewale Ojomo said. “We’re looking forward to winning the South Florida game, point blank.”

For a program that’s built on, and craves, greatness, playing out the string would be unacceptable.

There’s a clear plastic box on Miami coach Randy Shannon’s desk, holding the glitzy championship rings the Hurricanes have collected over the years. No new baubles will be added this season. It’s wait-’til-next-year again for the ‘Canes.

“We’ve got a lot of little things we’ve got to look forward to,” Shannon said. “We have another game next week against South Florida, it’ll be the senior night. Lot of seniors on this team that did a lot to help this program to get back where we’re at right now. They know we have a long ways to go. But it’s a start.”

To put it nicely, Miami has a relatively impatient fan base, spoiled somewhat by five national championships in 19 seasons from 1983 to 2001, the last of which was one of the best teams ever assembled in the college game. Shannon inherited a team in 2007 that had countless holes, and his track record showed progress — five wins in 2007, seven in 2008, nine in 2009.

The trend of improvement will end this season, at least with wins as the sole measure.

“I can’t really put it together,” said senior wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, who will leave with at least one school record — he broke Michael Irvin’s single-season mark with his 12th touchdown catch of the year on Saturday — but no championships. “We know we have a good team around here. We know we’ve got good players. We know what we’ve got. It’s just been the little things, us not finishing drives, us not making enough plays and turning the ball over.”

The Hurricanes insisted they wouldn’t allow being out of title chases to keep them from showing up against South Florida.

The Bulls entered into a five-year deal to play Miami with eyes on developing another true Sunshine State rivalry, although it’s not quite there yet. Last season’s meeting was one-sided, the Hurricanes winning 31-10. And that came under the same scenario as this year’s game will, with Miami playing for nothing more than impressing those who hand out bowl-game invitations.

“We can’t let this affect us. No way,” Horn said after the Virginia Tech game. “We’ve got South Florida next week. We’re going to beat them. It’s an in-state rival, we’ve got them, we’re focused on them.”

Which is exactly what Shannon demanded from his team in their locker-room meeting following the loss to the Hokies. His message was simple and short, said running back Lamar Miller.

“Just end on the right note,” Miller said.

(© 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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