Six wins down, but how many to go?
Last weekend in thrilling fashion, Duke made it to the promised land of bowl eligibility for the first time since 1994. And while that accomplishment created one of the greatest football memories in school history, it also shifts expectations moving forward.
All season long this team’s goal was to make it to six wins, and now that they’ve done that the real question is: can they get more?
The celebrations following Saturday’s exhilarating win against North Carolina were more than well deserved—not only did this team gain bowl eligibility for the first time in 18 years, but Duke also overcame its history of struggles against the Tar Heels after losing 21 out of their last 22 matchups.
The Blue Devils defeated North Carolina at home for the first time since 1988, and did so in front of a sell-out crowd that included more than 3,500 students—twice the size of the student section at Cameron Indoor Stadium and a greater student attendance than LDOC last year.
Now that six wins are a thing of the past, we must realize that although this milestone means Duke gets to strap up its bowling shoes come December, it also would fail to meet the standards set forth by other teams at this university.
If the Blue Devils finished this season with six wins, they would be nothing more than a .500 team. This is not meant to take anything away from the great strides the program has made this year—keep in mind the team head coach David Cutcliffe inherited had amassed just four wins in its last four seasons—but rather to remind us that Duke athletics does not typically settle for .500 teams. It strives to be champions.
Any other .500 team at this school would quickly drift into irrelevancy along with its struggles, which makes it perplexing that many students would still consider this season a great victory if the Blue Devils did not have another victory for the rest of the year. If the men’s basketball team were to finish as a .500 team, Krzyzewskiville would likely go up in flames. But even if the Blue Devils did not win another game this season, six wins would still be considered a resounding success by most.
But it’s very possible Duke won’t be celebrating just a .500 campaign when this football season draws to a close. There is still a legitimate conversation to be had about this Duke team, but the nature of this conversation has shifted drastically since the beginning of this magical season—gone is the argument of whether or not the Blue Devils can be a bowl team. Now we’re left wondering if this team is capable of competing for an ACC Championship.
With four games remaining on its schedule, Duke has tough challenges ahead, namely back-to-back games against Florida State and Clemson, the ACC’s top two teams, beginning this weekend in Tallahassee, Fla. But this team has proven that it is capable of competing with and beating anyone in this conference. Keep in mind that the Blue Devils’ lone ACC loss came by blowing a 20-point first-quarter lead on the road in Blacksburg, Va.—one of the toughest home environments in college football.
Duke closes its season with two very winnable games against an underachieving Georgia Tech squad and Miami. If the Blue Devils can defeat the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta, they will likely face the Hurricanes in the final week of the season with the ACC’s Coastal Division crown on the line. This matchup will take place at home, where the Blue Devils are a perfect 5-0 this season. Even if it loses its next two games, Duke could still end its season with two victories and find itself in the ACC Championship game, competing for a BCS bowl berth.
Duke’s record is not the only reason why this is a different brand of football than we’re used to seeing in Durham—this team is finally playing with a winning mentality. Maybe you doubt the Blue Devils’ ability to even split their last four contests, but they sure don’t. This team’s newfound confidence is the key to its success.
“There’s a lot of swagger about a lot of guys. I’m seeing a lot of confidence in guys I didn’t see much confidence in before,” redshirt sophomore tackle Takoby Cofield said. “And even in myself, just knowing that we have the ability to win every single game we play. At the end of the day, I just see us taking it week by week and it’s very much a reality you could go 4-0 to end the season.”
This team has been competing the entire season with the immense pressure of ending nearly two decades of disappointing futility. Think about what Duke can do now that the pressure is off.
“We have that big old monkey off our back,” sophomore linebacker David Helton said. “But now we’ve created an idea in our mind that we have a four-game season, and this four-game season will determine what happens afterward.” Who’d have thought we would ever see the day where six wins wasn’t enough for Duke football? It looks like we may have arrived.