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Cutcliffe Touts Tauiliili For All-American

Duke hasn't been represented on the All-American First Team since 1989, and it hasn't been honored with any All-Americans since 2000. If head coach David Cutcliffe has his way, though, that could change this year.

For weeks, Cutcliffe has extolled linebacker Michael Tauiliili, and he has only ratcheted up the praise in the last few weeks in his attempt to singlehandedly stump the case of his senior. The buzz should continue in the next month, as Cutcliffe said he would push for a media blitz to alert both national and local writers about Tauiliili's credentials, which might speak louder than Cutcliffe's words. Tauiliili leads the ACC in tackles with 120--10 more than the nearest competition--and has picked off three passes, forced three fumbles and recovered two more.

Tauiliili, an SI.com midseason second-team All-American, now has more impressive numbers than the players SI.com selected over him, albeit in a weaker conference. Of the six linebackers dubbed All-American by the magazine, Tauiliili has the second-most amount of tackles and the third-most amount of tackles,  is tied for the lead with three picks and his 10.5 tackles for loss are third-most in the crop of the six elite linebackers.

Crunch the numbers, and Cutcliffe's praise sounds more objective than simple coachspeak.

"I really believe he should be the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and should be a first-team All-American," Cutcliffe said. "I want to see his picture on the wall [of Yoh Football Center], because he's earned that. I don't like All-Americans that are there by reputation and you look at them on tape and they don't look like much. I've seen that my whole career. You've got a guy like Tauiliili on a team that has only won four games--he deserves that reputation, and we're doing everything we can.... It's not going to happen if we don't make people aware of what he's done."

And if All-American status seems ambitious, Cutcliffe wants his fellow league coaches to single out Tauiliili, even though he anchors the defensive unit of the ACC's last-place team and other squads have been more statistically flashy.

"It's difficult to put into words, but he's the best defensive football player in the ACC," Cutcliffe said Sunday. "I've seen everyone to this point, and there's not another one like him."

Even Duke's athletic director, Kevin White, has started to pitch in. White, the former Notre Dame athletic director, was a member of the Bowl Championship Series committee and has substantial ties in the college football world. White has made calls to relevant officials to pitch Tauiliili's candidacy, as well.

For a player from a program not used to an All-American delegate, every last effort counts.

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Tackles Solo/Assisted TFL INT
Scott McKillop, Pittsburgh 106 72/34 14.5 1
Brandon Spikes, Florida 74 39/35 8 3
Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri 119 60/59 15.5 3
Brian Cushing,

USC

60 34/26 8 1
James Laurinaitis, Ohio State 121 46/75 5.5 2
Michael Tauiliili,

Duke

120 56/64 10.5 3