Duke relishing its return to the postseason

Coach Cutcliffe

The Blue Devils will be bowing for the second straight season - the first back to back post season run in program history.

DURHAM, N.C. — Maybe Duke isn't just a basketball school anymore.

The Blue Devils' once-sagging football program has made a name for itself — and not as a punch line — now that it is bowl eligible for the second straight season following its first road win over a Top 25 team since 1971.

So with no game this week, Duke (6-2, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) is waiving the unwritten 24-hour rule.

Instead, it's savoring last week's upset at then-No. 16 Virginia Tech for a little while longer before focusing on the November stretch run.

Quarterback Anthony Boone said Tuesday that "people are realizing that we play football and not just basketball here."

Coach David Cutcliffe says this success has "got value because it's not been handed — it's been earned."

For many schools, simply winning six games and qualifying for one of the 35 bowls isn't that big of a deal.

But it is for Duke.

A program that reached two Rose Bowls and a Sugar Bowl in the 1930s and 40s, and was the launching pad for Steve Spurrier's coaching career in the late '80s, set a standard for football futility among power-conference programs by finishing with two or fewer wins nine times between 1996 and 2007. It went winless four times during that span before Cutcliffe arrived in 2008 and sparked the turnaround.

"A lot has gone into this, even if it's a day, to reap the benefits of all of that," Cutcliffe said. "It's not supposed to be easy."

The Blue Devils, who lost to Cincinnati in last year's Belk Bowl, have never played in bowls in consecutive seasons. Now they're all but a lock for one of the ACC's nine contracted postseason games.

Boone, who's unbeaten in six career starts, says the football players have been attracting attention on campus for all the right reasons, with fans and fellow students congratulating and thanking him "for really turning the program around.

"It's a great feeling to get recognition, but it's all part of a process," Boone said, "and we're not done with that process."

The Blue Devils took a big step forward last week with their 13-10 victory over the Hokies for their first win over a ranked team since 1994 and their first away from Durham since knocking off No. 9 Stanford in 1971.

And now they have some extra time to enjoy it before North Carolina State visits Nov. 9.

"You can afford to" keep soaking it in, Cutcliffe said. "If you've got that good emotion, use it to accomplish something during an open date."

What the Blue Devils don't want to do is to stop at six wins — especially not after the way they collapsed last year.

Duke also started 6-2 in 2012 following an upset of rival North Carolina, and promptly lost the next five games, including the bowl game, to finish with its 18th straight losing record.

It's not entirely inconceivable that these Blue Devils could reach 10 wins.

They don't leave the state of North Carolina again during the regular season, and they face three instate rivals with .500-or-worse records — N.C. State, Wake Forest and the Tar Heels — and get a visit from a No. 7 Miami team that looked beatable in its last two games.

To make that happen, they'll have to figure out how to win in November after going 2-31 in that month since 2003 — including 1-19 in Cutcliffe's first five seasons.

"We all know a year ago it was almost like, 'We've done it. We're a bowl team,'" Cutcliffe said. "There's four games left. Each one of them have significance to us. ... What you want to do is give yourselves the best opportunity to compete and win and that's going to be preparing and keeping focused. I believe this team understands that."

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