MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. It must be time for high fives and fist bumps. The Miami Hurricanes are bowl eligible.
Well, not precisely.
The Hurricanes (6-5) did reach the NCAA-required six wins Saturday with an impressive 40-9 rout of South Florida at Sun Life Stadium. But Miami, in a possible effort to get more mercy from the NCAA in its investigation of case involving a rogue booster, could self-impose a bowl ban for a second straight year.
So pardon the Hurricanes if they're a bit cautious this time after a win over the Bulls. Last season, they beat USF 6-3 in Tampa on Nov. 19 to get to what they thought was bowl eligibility. Instead, they were told the next day the team would be staying home.
"True," senior wide receiver Kendal Thompkins, who caught one of the three touchdown passes from 413-yard passer Stephen Morris, said of being wary after what happened last year. "I mean, I don't know what is going to happen. I don't know what to really expect."
Miami officials owe it to the players to make a quick decision. If the Hurricanes (4-3 ACC Coastal) aren't going to a bowl, it would be unfair for them to spend much of the week thinking a win over Duke next Saturday would keep their hopes alive for a BCS bowl.
If Miami officials decide to go bowling, beating the Blue Devils would give them the Coastal Division crown and a berth against Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. If the Hurricanes bow out, they would be in the same boat as North Carolina (4-3 Coastal), which is bowl ineligible and can't play in the title game. If Miami doesn't represent the Coastal in Charlotte, N.C., the only other school that can is Georgia Tech (5-3), which has completed conference play.
It doesn't sound as if Miami officials are doing a very good job of letting players know what the situation is. Two prominent players said after the win on Senior Day they believe Hurricanes coach Al Golden will make the call on whether to go to a bowl.
"It's on Coach Golden. It's his decision," said freshman running back Duke Johnson, who ran for 66 yards and a touchdown.
"It's in Coach Golden's hands," said sophomore wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, who, with 11 catches for 104 yards, was one of three Miami players with more than 100 yards receiving. "He's going to do whatever he thinks is great for the program and I believe that he's going to make the right decision."
It's unclear what Golden has told told his team. But at least he's let the media know he will have nothing to do with the decision. It primarily will be in the hands of Miami president Donna Shalala, with acting athletic director Blake James offering input.
"I'm not part of it, and most of that is to protect me from the legal side of it, to be quite honest," Golden said. "I'm not privy to what the president is privy to. I don't know what the president knows, or our legal counsel, or what Blake James knows, and I'm not a part of that. I'm sure there will be some discussions (Saturday night) and (Sunday) and we'll go from there."
Golden offered no timetable as to when a decision will be finalized. But you better believe the ACC would love find out in a hurry if the Hurricanes plan to remove themselves from title-game consideration.
The allegations broke in July 2011 that renegade booster Nevin Shapiro allegedly spent years before Golden's December 2010 arrival providing illegal benefits to Miami players. Golden can't wait until the day he puts this all behind him.
"I want to reiterate how proud I am of the guys," Golden said of his Hurricanes having their biggest margin of victory this season in their home finale. "You can say whatever you want, come at me, bury me all you want. Attack me all you want. These kids who have stuck it out, who have stayed here, who have never gone one week in two years without hearing this nonsense, don't blame them. I appreciate all those kids that not only stayed here, but those guys that answered the bell, that answered the call to fix this. We will get it fixed."
The Hurricanes have a tough decision on whether to bow out of a bowl. But, listening to Golden, it would be the better move to do so in an effort to help put more of that so-called "nonsense" behind them.
Yes, it's a long shot Miami could beat the Blue Devils and Seminoles to advance to the Orange Bowl. But more than likely the Hurricanes would be giving up a minor bowl in hopes they would be eligible for a better one down the road.
"I wouldn't really be disappointed because, coming in, I already knew what I was walking into," Johnson said about if Miami doesn't end up going to a bowl.
But another freshman was pushing for the Hurricanes not to bow out.
"We want to play in a bowl game," said wide receiver Herb Waters. "I think everybody would be happy to play in a bowl game. It would just give us the experience, like to us freshman knowing how to experience a bowl."
Waters at least experienced perhaps his greatest football moment Saturday. After entering the game with just five catches on the season for 32 yards, he pulled in four for 130 yards, including an 87-yard TD grab. Afterward, he cracked, "I didn't know college would be this easy."
The Hurricanes were weak at receiver due to Rashawn Scott, second on the team in catches, being suspended and Allen Hurns, tied for third, playing Saturday with a broken hand and not catching a pass. But Dorsett and Waters came up big along with tight end Clive Walford, who caught three balls for 135 yards, including a 65-yard TD.
The guy doing the throwing was Morris, who completed 21-of-32 passes with no interceptions. He tied Gino Torretta's school record with his third career 400-yard passing game.
"That's unbelievable," Morris said. "That's just a testament to everything that we've done here with this program I'm just blessed. I'm truly blessed."
Morris might not feel as blessed if word arrives the Hurricanes will be home for the holidays.
"It is what it is," Morris said. "I say that because we don't control it."
At least on Senior Day, the Hurricanes could control matters on the field. They responded with their best all-around game this season.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson