The Blue Devils will square off with Cincinnati in Duke’s first postseason appearance since 1994.
Chronicle Graphic by Chris Dall and Elysia Su
The Blue Devils will square off with Cincinnati in Duke’s first postseason appearance since 1994.

Six weeks after earning bowl eligibility for the first time since 1994 with a last-second victory against North Carolina, Duke finally has a date on its postseason calendar.

The Blue Devils have accepted an invitation to play at the Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. and are set to square off with Cincinnati Dec. 27 at 6:30 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN. Each team will receive a $1.7 million payout for its participation in the game.

“We are thrilled to announce that Duke University will be playing in the 2012 Belk Bowl against the University of Cincinnati,” said Will Webb, executive director of the Belk Bowl, in a press release. “Duke has made great strides this season, and we are very proud to have them representing the ACC against the co-champions of the Big East. We feel that the Blue Devils will provide a good matchup against the Bearcats in Charlotte. We look forward to hosting both Duke and Cincinnati, and their fans, for the 2012 Belk Bowl and all the surrounding events.”

After a 6-2 start, Duke (6-6) finished the 2012 regular season on a four-game losing streak, dropping conference tilts to Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami. A win in the Belk Bowl would clinch the team’s first winning season in 18 years and be the Blue Devils’ first bowl victory since the 1961 Cotton Bowl, when Duke defeated Arkansas 7-6.

The Blue Devils have made just two bowl appearances since then, falling to Texas Tech 49-21 at the 1989 All-American Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. and suffering a 34-20 defeat to Wisconsin in the 1995 Hall of Fame Bowl.

The Bearcats (9-3) earned a share of the Big East championship this season—their 5-2 conference record tied them with Louisville, Rutgers and Syracuse for the league title. A matchup with Duke will be Cincinnati’s second exposure to the ACC this season. The Bearcats defeated Virginia Tech 27-24 in a neutral site game Sept. 27.

“One of the more attractive things about the Belk Bowl is [playing] such a quality opponent like Cincinnati, a team that has had so much success in recent years,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “It’s something that you’ve got to do. You’ve got to beat teams like that. You need to win these postseason bowls. These are all steps that we’re taking and to me it presents itself as a huge challenge. But what an opportunity it is for our program on national television. I think our guys are excited about the challenge.”

The 2012 Belk Bowl will be the first meeting between Duke and Cincinnati on the gridiron. It will also be the Blue Devils’ first postseason game played in the state of North Carolina.

Not only does the bowl game’s close proximity allow an easy commute for a number of fans as well as Duke students—who will receive free tickets to the game thanks to an unnamed donor—it will also signify a homecoming for a number of Blue Devil players who hail from the Charlotte area, including Jamison Crowder, Brandon Braxton, Ross Cockrell, Jela Duncan and Justin Foxx.

“I’m truly excited that it’s Charlotte,” Cutcliffe said. “How appropriate is that for our team and our fan base. It’s an area in recruiting that is extremely important to our program. We couldn’t be happier.”

The team will travel to Charlotte Dec. 22 with bowl festivities set to begin that evening. The week’s schedule will feature a number of receptions and events for players and fans, including a trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway and a shopping spree at the flagship Belk store in nearby Southpark, N.C.—which will feature an expanded “Big & Tall” section for the players—and a trip to the Levine Children’s Hospital on Christmas Eve.

The Blue Devils have nearly four weeks to prepare for their matchup with Cincinnati and will resume practice next weekend. Cutcliffe noted that aside from preparing for the bowl game, the additional practices the team earned with its postseason selection will aid Duke’s transition into spring practices.

“It’s the end of the 2012 season, but it’s certainly the beginning to the 2013 year. You get a little extra time with those guys that have redshirted, and we have a significant amount of redshirt freshmen that are important to us. It gives us a look at what our team can look like,” Cutcliffe said. “There are times when we will let our seniors finish a few periods early and actually take a real look at what our 2013 team minus the signees that we’re going to have. It’s interesting to watch some leaders emerge when they’re not out there in the shadows of those seniors, some of those rising seniors take charge. I always sit back and look forward to that.”

The ACC’s Coach of the Year is not taking the next few weeks of practices lightly, however. He added that the Blue Devils could have some tricks up their sleeve for their first bowl appearance in his tenure at Duke.

“I’m even considering a few little position changes as we go into this thinking ahead,” Cutcliffe said. “I haven’t talked to the players, but I’ve done a lot of thinking about this over the last three or four weeks of the season. I’ve got some things that we’re going to want to look at, and I might do it as early as the [bowl] game.”