At halftime of Duke's dominant victory over Clemson Saturday, I saw something that's been rare in my four years here. No, not those awesome jump-rope kids.
As new football head coach David Cutcliffe and his staff were introduced in Cameron, I saw a genuine excitement for Duke Football.
Before Saturday, there had been moments indicating the student body's willingness to support a football program. Much of the campus came out to celebrate a victory against Northwestern on the road. And at the end of recent close games, such as the five-point defeat to Miami in Wallace Wade two seasons ago, the student section filled up quickly in the fourth quarter as students alerted their friends to the possible upset. Of course, there is also the tendency to storm the field after the last two Division-I victories.
These are positive signs for the future of Duke Football. Students aren't apathetic about the program; they're apathetic about losing. When the prospect of winning arises, students certainly get riled up about their team. Just ask the Department of Athletics, which has had to put up three new sets of goalposts in the last five seasons.
In an effort to stoke that excitement, here are five reasons why, in January, the Duke student body should already be looking forward to Game #1:
- Eli Manning
That's right, the only quarterback to go interception-free in the NFL championship games. As you're likely aware, Cutcliffe tutored Manning at Mississippi, and Manning credits him with helping develop his (immense) talent. Cutcliffe also coached Eli's older brother, who incidentally has a Super Bowl ring and MVP on his resume.
On Feb. 3, just days before seniors in high school sign their letters of intent, Eli Manning will lace 'em up in the Super Bowl to be watched by, oh, 100 million people.
Cutcliffe can sit across the table from a high school QB, read some quotes Eli and Peyton have said about him, and ask the recruit to watch the Super Bowl. There's no better way to attract pro-caliber talent, such as four-star pocket passer Sean Renfree, to the Gothic Wonderland. For the sake of Duke football-and all that is holy-(and me) root for Manning to throw 4 TDs and beat up the Patriots.
Not only did Joe Alleva open the coffers to lure in a coach as well respected as Cutcliffe, who will make a reported $1.5 million annually, but the athletic department went all out to give Cutcliffe a coaching staff. According to a Jan. 15 report on ESPN.com, Duke's assistants will make a combined $2 million next season, more than SEC powerhouse Tennessee's assistant coaching staff made last year.
Making these investments is a necessary step in resurrecting this program. But it can't stop with the coaching staff. Hopefully, this support will be augmented by financial commitments in areas like facilities and recruiting in the long term. If this team becomes successful, it will generate enough revenue to make Duke Football a profitable investment.
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- New Bathrooms
One area in which Duke has already announced its support will be the most bittersweet change next season. Renovations to the urinal troughs, a personal favorite, have been approved and should be in place by the beginning of next season.
It'll certainly be exciting to be able to go to the bathroom and discern between the sink and the toilet, but we'll be losing some of Wally Wade's patented homey charm.
- Seven home games
Next year's schedule looks very favorable on a number of fronts. Opponents such as James Madison, Navy and Northwestern will likely visit Wallace Wade as underdogs. Add to that ACC home games against North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia, and Wade Wackos could see a stunning number of victories at home.
More importantly, however, seven games at home means seven possible Tailgates. The ACC will likely make the genius decision to play Duke-Carolina during Thanksgiving again, robbing the student body of one Saturday morning drink-a-thon. But the administration may be somewhat warmer to Tailgates if a good team can attract students to stumble into the game. Students, therefore, can look forward both to a record-setting six Tailgates and several victories.
- Putting points on the board
Finally, on the field, this will be a nearly unrecognizable football team. Alleva said he wanted a coach who would get the Blue Devils to score some points, and he found the right guy. Cutcliffe's teams are known for tossing the ball all over the field, mainly out of no-huddle sets. Look for Thaddeus Lewis, returning for his junior season, to sit back in the shotgun and pick apart the ACC. Lewis is already on pace to break many of Duke's passing records and that will only accelerate with the heralded tutelage of Cutcliffe.
Whether the Blue Devils can play any defense remains to be seen, but there is no question that this team will be much more exciting to watch than those in recent years.