Nov 30, 2013; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils quarterbacks Anthony Boone (7) and Brandon Connette (18) with quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper after the game. The Duke Blue Devils defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels 27-25 at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
When you lose your star quarterback and wide receiver to the draft, you’re not supposed to come back the next season with an offense that is every bit as potent.
When your new quarterback misses three games and goes into a slump for four more, you’re not supposed to win many, if any, games at all.
When you’re picked to finish dead last in your division, you’re not supposed to finish first.
These are all true, yet, here the Duke Blue Devils find themselves, atop the Coastal Division with zero regular season games remaining and a date with Florida State in the ACC Championship game on December 7th.
As much as we all would love to say we believed this team could pull off such a feat, I don’t think anyone can honestly say they saw this coming back in August. Hell, it took DeVon Edwards picking off Marquise Williams with thirteen seconds remaining in Duke’s 27-25 victory over North Carolina before I really, truly believed. And even now, I’m waiting for someone, something, to bring a sudden end to this magical ride.
So far, it hasn’t happened. An opportunistic defense, a balanced offense, and an abundance of new faces wouldn’t let it.
Whether it was freshman DeVon Edwards swinging the momentum with one of his highlight-reel returns or interceptions, Brandon Connette pounding in one of his 26 touchdowns, or Ross Martin booting a couple 50+ field goals, Duke always managed to prevail, regardless of the challenge they faced. And in a year full of the establishment of new habits and traditions, they made sure to obliterate the old ones.
Heading into the season, they hadn’t beaten a ranked team in years; this year, they beat two in a three-week span. They hadn’t beaten Virginia Tech since 1981; this year, they went to Blacksburg and handled the Hokies, 13-10.
A year like this couldn’t have been accomplished without a strong leader.
Leading the way for Duke was head coach David Cutcliffe, whose confidence never wavered, and support remained limitless. Back when he first received the job, he was adamant in his belief that he could turn this program around.
From an article by ESPN’s Chris Low on January 15th, 2008:
"I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I think I’m good at this. I feel like I was meant to be this, and I’m not just talking about coaching on the field. I’m talking about every facet of developing a program, and one of the biggest parts of that is the development of young people"
Anthony Boone reiterated this point nearly six years later when asked of Cutcliffe in an interview with the Associated Press:
"“He’s the first one to really come here when the team was in the dumps and say, `I’m going to change this program around,” Boone said of Cutcliffe. “And people were laughing at him. It all goes back to him.”"
I’m thankful for Cutcliffe, and you should be, too. In a time where coaches are quick to bolt for bigger paychecks and flashier jobs, he saw his rebuilding project through, and now he and the Blue Devils get to reap the rewards together. His relentless and consistently growing expectations of this program and everyone involved in it were essential, and watching it all culminate into this remarkable season has been a pleasure.
Now, Cutcliffe, his team, and the entire program are just one win away from a spot in a BCS game. Standing in their way is Florida State, who has laughed their way to blowout victory after blowout victory all year, unlike the Blue Devils, who have scratched and clawed their way into the position they’re in.
I don’t know what to expect on Saturday; no one has been able to touch Florida State all year, but perhaps this Duke team has a bit of magic left in them. I can already see it: the Blue Devils will be trailing 31-28, with the Seminoles a few yards away from seemingly clinching a victory. Then, as if by fate, DeVon Edwards will jump a Jameis Winston pass and race off, untouched, for the game-changing touchdown.
No matter what happens, I’m proud as hell of this team and everything they’ve done. Whether they win 55-0 or lose 100-0, I’m proud.
With that said, let’s go kick Florida State’s ass.