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Head coach David Cutcliffe has taken Duke to bowls in five of the last six years.

The Chronicle's top 10 sports stories of 2017: Duke football goes bowling for the fifth time in six years

With the end of 2017 quickly approaching, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest sports stories of the year. Each day, The Blue Zone will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year in Blue Devil athletics.

Coming in at No. 7 on our list: Duke’s rollercoaster football season, capped off by two straight wins, lands it in a bowl game for the fifth time in six years.

Before the season started, the media correctly picked Duke’s finish in the ACC Coastal standings at sixth. 

But surely, nobody could have envisioned how it got there—rebounding from a six-game midseason losing skid to win its final two games and reach bowl eligibility. 

“They know what they did,”  head coach David Cutcliffe said of the late-season resurgence. “Literally, the grave digger had the last shovel load. Somebody knocked it out of his hand, and then we found a way to dig out of it. You’re always appreciative of that, but I think that’s been the theme.”

After reaching the 60-point milestone for the first time in more than 60 years to start off the season against N.C. Central, the Blue Devils reeled off three straight victories against Power Five opponents to start the season. That included a 41-17 dismantling of now-No. 21 Northwestern and a 27-17 win against North Carolina to secure the Victory Bell for the second straight season.

At the time, with no clear favorite in the ACC Coastal division and Miami coming into town for a Friday night matchup, some thought Duke had a chance to fight for a spot in the ACC championship.

But just as quickly as they got rolling, the wheels fell off. 

The Blue Devils were blown out by the Hurricanes and lost four straight conference matchups before heading to West Point and losing to Army. The six-game losing streak was highlighted by poor offensive play and a constant stream of mistakes that had them look like they might finish the season with just four wins. 

But somehow, some way, Duke turned its performance around in gritty fashion to avoid missing a second straight bowl appearance against two tough opponents in Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.

In the second quarter against the Yellow Jackets, the Blue Devils were faced with a 20-13 deficit and were expected to flop as they had in their past six games. But behind a strong rushing attack and a lockdown defensive effort, Duke outscored Georgia Tech the rest of the way, scoring 30 unanswered points to snap the skid.

At five wins with just one game remaining, there was a chance the Blue Devils could sneak into a bowl game due to their high academic performance. As it turned out, though, no five win teams qualified for the postseason, so the rivalry game against Wake Forest turned out to propel them to the postseason.

Down 17-3 against one of the most powerful offenses in the conference, it seemed all but impossible for Duke to reach the six-win mark. But once again, the defense buckled down and quarterback Daniel Jones hit his stride, throwing for a season-high 346 yards as the Blue Devils clawed their way to victory with their backs against the wall for the second straight week.  

Now, Duke will face Northern Illinois Tuesday in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit, hoping to end the rollercoaster ride of a season on a three-game winning streak. Against all odds, the Blue Devils somehow rediscovered their early-season magic in what has been one of their most frustratingly exciting seasons under head coach David Cutcliffe to date.

Check back in tomorrow to see what story comes in at No. 6 on the Chronicle's list. 


Film room: Is Duke's offensive revival for real?

Duke football set for Quick Lane Bowl vs. Northern Illinois with winning record at stake

Scouting the opponent: Northern Illinois brings similar style as Duke to Detroit

READ MORE on Duke's crazy football season:

BOWLY COW: Duke football explodes in second half to win regular season finale 

PALPABLE BUZZ: Duke football puts up 43 points to blow past Yellow Jackets

Costly end-of-half sequence continues troubling theme for Duke football

Finding an identity

Improved run game bodes well for Duke football's future in 2017

GAME OF JONES: Duke football dismantles Northwestern in statement win

A look at the rest of our top 10 countdown to date:

No. 10: Men's soccer makes first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011

No. 9: Duke softball play its first-ever game

No. 8: Both men's and women’s golf take ACC titles

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