CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- The fun has just begun for the Miami Hurricanes.
Thriving in a relaxed atmosphere cultivated by first-year head coach Larry Coker, the Hurricanes are headed for the national championship game in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 3.
They earned the berth and finished the regular season 11-0 by beating Virginia Tech 26-24 Saturday.
Coker has encouraged his players to enjoy the season, and they've commented often that the new coach is easier to relate to than his predecessor, Butch Davis, now with the Cleveland Browns.
"This is college football - let's go enjoy it and have fun," Coker said. "I told them, 'You may hopefully live to be 100 years old and may not ever have an opportunity to be in a show or a situation like this in a sport in a game of national magnitude. You're going to have that opportunity now, let's enjoy it."'
The Hurricanes will have to wait to find out their Rose Bowl opponent, which will be decided following the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday.
"We really don't care," Coker said. "Whoever wins their part of it or comes through the computer, that's who we'll play. We'll get the video and get ready for whoever shows up."
If No. 2 Tennessee (10-1) beats No. 21 LSU (8-3), the Volunteers will play Miami. If LSU wins, No. 4 Nebraska (11-1) might sneak into second place over No. 3 Oregon (10-1) in the final Bowl Championship Series standings and wind up playing Miami.
Miami will have a month to prepare and get some key players healthy. Outland Trophy contender Bryant McKinnie had an MRI on Sunday on his sprained left knee, which he hurt in the second quarter against Virginia Tech. McKinnie returned to the game but was later replaced. In addition, receiver Andre Johnson and defensive end Andrew Williams are recovering from sprained ankles.
Coker doesn't believe the injuries are serious.
"If we played this Saturday, we'd certainly be a little short-handed," Coker said.
The players will have time off to concentrate on final exams before turning their attention to their national championship opponent.
"I really like the comments that our players made," Coker said. "I heard, 'Hey, we've got one more step."'
The Rose Bowl berth is Miami's first.
"I've always, for whatever reason, really dreamed of being in the Rose Bowl game," Coker said. "I just thought it was a phenomenal thing. I've never been to a bad bowl game, but to go this one, especially now that it's a national championship type game, it's unbelievable."
The undefeated regular season is the Hurricanes' first since 1992. They're bidding for their fifth national title, and first since 1991.
"We expected to have good year this year - expected to have an opportunity to win every week," Coker said. "They certainly found a way to do that, and it's a just great tribute to them and to the way they've been prepared by their assistant coaches."
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