By J.T. Wilcox | Staff Writer

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MIAMI (CBS Miami) – All season, the Canes players and coaches have talked about winning the ACC Coastal Division.

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After falling to Cincinnati earlier in the year, the Coastal was still in front of them.

Losing to bitter rival Florida State didn’t damper their Coastal hopes.

Even after suffering the worst loss in the school’s football history at home against Clemson – the conversation optimistically pointed towards UM still being able to win the Coastal.

But after the Canes suffered their second worst loss of the season this past Saturday – a 59-21 drubbing at the hands of No. 17 North Carolina, which also made school history as it was the first time that two different opponents scored 58 or more points against UM in the same season – the Coastal is off the table.

So what’s left to play for?

“You play because you love the game,” senior defensive back Tracy Howard said after practice Tuesday. “If you love the game, that’s what you’re playing for. I can’t speak for everybody but I love football. You shouldn’t have to talk to people about not coming out flat or making sure they have something to play for. I love football and any opportunity I have to play football, I’m going to enjoy it and have fun.”

“No we can’t win the Coastal anymore, but I love football and I want to continue to play football…I want to play football at the next level – so why would I slow down or quit. I don’t care if we were 0 and whatever, I’m still [going to] play football because I love football,” Howard said.

Said junior linebacker Jermaine Grace: “We’re just still fighting. Even though we can’t win the Coastal, we want to go to a good bowl game.”

Overall hope among fans has waned as the season progressed. Attention has completely shifted to the hiring of Miami’s next head football coach – especially since the school announced its search committee.

But the players have to play out the strings – two more regular season games and a bowl game.

The seniors on the team have come to the final home game of their collegiate careers as the Canes (6-4, 3-3 ACC) host Georgia Tech (3-7, 1-6) and its triple-option offense Saturday at Sun Life Stadium at 12:30 p.m.

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With the Coastal out of reach, interim head coach Larry Scott said that the process motivating the team is a multi-step process.

“First and foremost message is an individual challenge for every person in the building…you must have pride in yourself, your work, who you are, who you were raised to be – but most importantly who you are to become,” Scott said.

“When tough situations happen in life, you can’t be a guy that wants to just shut down. You have to find a way to scratch, claw and bring yourself out of it. It’s more than just about football; it’s about the person that you’re developing into as a person. There are life lessons here.”

Playing for pride can sometimes be a tough pill to swallow, more so for fans. Given the early kickoff time and Miami’s underwhelming performance against the Tar Heels last week, one of the lowest attendances of the season is expected despite it being “Senior Day”.

“The second thing is the commitment that these guys made to each other when they decided to become a Miami Hurricane,” Scott said. “These guys joined a team and as a team of people, you owe it to the guy to the left and to the right to always give it your best so that the team continues to grow and move.”

Going Bowling

Growth and movement is relative.

Growth could be Miami cutting down on the almost nine penalties that they’ve accrued on average per game this season.

Movement could be improving on the lack of a consistent run attack – given that the Canes have finished with less than 100 rushing yards in four of the past seven games.

Still, UM has won six games and is bowl eligible. So the Hurricanes can and will be invited to a postseason bowl game. The level of that game depends on the team’s growth and movement going forward.

And that’s the last part of Scott’s approach in motivating his squad.

“Bowl positioning. The kids have worked their butts off and the team deserves to be a bowl team. We’re a six-win team right now, but the next thing is ‘how do we become a seven-win team and an eight-win team’. We just have to win every aspect of each day and if we ultimately do that we could be an 8-4 Miami team that’s in pretty good bowl position.”

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Listen to the Miami Hurricanes take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets this Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on Sports Radio 560 WQAM, your official radio home for the Canes!