The Hurricanes are well aware that their meeting with No. 4 Clemson in the conference championship game next Saturday will serve as the ultimate arbiter of whether they belong in the College Football Playoff. The loss to Pitt could become irrelevant if the Hurricanes beat Clemson, the defending national champion, in Charlotte, N.C.

“We have no idea what’s going to happen in the big picture,” Miami Coach Mark Richt said. “How many teams lost a game on a Friday and came back and got in the top four? How many teams lost one game and won a conference championship and got right back in it? Who knows? So we don’t know.”

Flat at the start and flatter at the finish, the Hurricanes let the swagger they developed during their rebirth under Richt evaporate against the Panthers, who know a thing or two about pulling off the improbable.

A year ago, the Panthers handed Clemson its only loss of the season with a thrilling road victory in Death Valley. A decade ago they stunned West Virginia in the regular-season finale, a setback that cost the Mountaineers a spot in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

Pitt Coach Pat Narduzzi referred to that history during a brief sideline interview as his team returned to the field after halftime.

“It happened in West Virginia, where we knocked off No. 2,” Narduzzi said, with his team leading by 10-3. “It happened in South Carolina, and it’s happening in Pittsburgh today.”

Pitt’s defense frustrated Rosier all afternoon, tipping passes at the line of scrimmage and creating pressure that forced him into the kind of mistakes he has avoided for much of the season. Even when he had time, Rosier was sloppy, overthrowing open receivers.

“I guess I got complacent,” Rosier said. “I was just out there to be out there. I was going through my reads instead of dialing in and focusing in on every snap. After that, it put this football game in perspective that at any moment I could get pulled. It hurts.”

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