Duke’s remarkable season

Dec. 05, 2013 @ 07:02 PM

The warm weather has not been the only unseasonable phenomenon of this past week.

It has been a long time since Duke University, in the first week in December, saw its football and basketball team with the same number of losses.

That remarkable convergence -- the basketball team, after Tuesday night’s win over No. 22 Michigan is 7-2; the football team, after Saturday’s win over archrival UNC is 10-2 – is the result of a football season that can only be described as breathtaking.

The accolades have mounted week after week:

-- The first time in 101 years of football at Duke that the team has won 10 games.

-- The first time the team has won nine games since 1941.

-- The first winning season since 1994.

-- Duke’s first-ever back-to-back bowl games – and with the expectation that it will be playing in a relatively high-profile bowl game this year. (If Duke wins, it will claim its first bowl victory since 1961.)

The story of this Duke season, which has set blood racing for Iron Dukes and casual fans alike as Saturday after Saturday saw the string of Duke victories grow, is attracting national attention.

A Sports Illustrated email touting this week’s cover story on a season of unexpected developments mentioned “Duke’s emergence” in the same paragraph with Auburn’s amazing victory over then-number-one archrival Alabama. That’s pretty heady company.

Coach David Cutcliffe, who has led this remarkable resurgence of Duke football, has been named coach of the year nationally and in the ACC and achieved heroic stature among Duke’s long-suffering faithful.

To understand the transformation, consider that its record 10 wins (so far) this season equaled Duke’s total number of victories in the eight seasons prior to his arrival. A popular public speaker who has exhorted students and community alike to support the football team, his public-outreach skills have complemented his undeniable coaching skills.

“He really re-energized the fan base,” Jeff Faris, who has played for Cutcliffe since the coach’s arrival, said this week. “And with his community service and how approachable Coach Cut is, we had a lot of fans gravitate to him because of all the stuff he does in the community.”

Now, Duke’s remarkable season has them set to play for the ACC championship Saturday night against Florida State, the top ranked team in the nation as it happens.

Duke is the decided underdog, and some might be tempted to say a victory would be all but unthinkable.

But six years ago, when Cutcliffe set out to turn what he has termed “the fattest, softest football team I ever saw in my life” into this amazing team, anyone who had watched Duke struggle for decades might have thought a 10-2 season was unthinkable.

So we’ll be watching Saturday night, as will Duke fans everywhere – many recently minted, we’re sure – knowing this team has made it not at all unthinkable to hope for an upset.