Chick-fil-A: Duke was 1st choice

Dec. 13, 2013 @ 12:45 AM

Last year’s Belk Bowl game in Charlotte allowed Duke to let the nation now it was still very much in the football business.

This year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl appearance, facing Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in a prime-time television slot, offers a chance to market Duke’s brand exponentially more.

Ranked among the nation’s top 25 teams for the last month, the No. 22 Blue Devils (10-3) get a chance to show they play football at a high level while facing one of the nation’s top players.

Duke athletics director Kevin White said Blue Devil coach David Cutcliffe has “transitioned our football program from irrelevant to relevant a year ago to, right now, pretty damn relevant.”

The increase in relevance came with eight consecutive wins, including beating ranked teams Virginia Tech and Miami, as well as winning the ACC Coastal Division championship and finishing the regular season at No. 24 in the Bowl Championship Series standings.

Chick-fil-A Bowl president Gary Stokan, a former N.C. State basketball player who graduated in 1978, said the Blue Devils jumped on his bowl’s radar when they beat Virginia Tech 13-10 at Blacksburg, Va., on Oct. 26.

“Having been from this area, seeing what Coach Cutcliffe has done with the Duke football program is nothing short of miraculous,” Stokan said. “With Kevin White’s support and President (Richard) Brodhead, it’s truly one of the great stories in college football this year.”

As he said when announcing the pairing of Duke and Texas A&M last Sunday, Stokan insisted Duke earned its way into the bowl with its strong overall season. Winning the Coastal Division and beating Miami and Virginia Tech head-to-head, Stokan said, were reasons why Duke was favored over the Hurricanes and Hokies by the bowl’s selection committee.

The only team that could have knocked Duke out of the Chick-fil-A Bowl and down to the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando was Clemson. Had the Tigers not been selected for the BCS, Stokan said, the Chick-fil-A Bowl would have invited them.

Stokan spoke to John Swofford on Friday night in Charlotte at the ACC’s Night of Legends banquet to get clearance on where Clemson stood with the BCS. Swofford’s indication was Clemson was headed to the BCS.

That caused Stokan to tell White and Cutcliffe on Friday, about 24 hours before the Blue Devils played No. 1 Florida State in the ACC championship game, that they were his bowl’s pick contingent upon Clemson going to the BCS.

That, Stokan said adamantly, was the extent of the selection process on the final weekend.

“There were no politics,” Stokan said. “That denigrates the season Duke had and how we feel about Duke.”

Last season, when Duke played in the Belk Bowl, it was the school’s first bowl appearance in 18 years. This year marks the first time Duke has played in bowl games in back-to-back years.

While traveling on the recruiting trail in the weeks and months after the Belk Bowl, Cutcliffe said he received a lot of positive feedback about the Blue Devil program. He only expects that to be larger by playing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

“Everybody is going to tune in to see Johnny Manziel,’’ Cutcliffe said. ‘’…We’re all competitors. This is what you live for. You’re kidding me — Johnny Manziel? That’s how it hits our team. I think that’s good. ... We know it’s a challenge, but you’ve got to be excited about that. We are excited about that challenge.’’

The Chick-fil-A Bowl is played in prime time on New Year’s Eve when no other college football games are being played. Last year’s game was viewed by 8.4 million people on ESPN.

“Suffice to say, this game is going to be very highly viewed,” Stokan said.

For a Duke football program emerging from nearly two decades of football malaise, the situation is perfect.

“I don’t think there’s any question that the ratings for this game will be through the roof,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re the only game on television that night. That’s a great opportunity for us.”

While the game is technically sold out, tickets remain available through the participating schools. Each school has an allotment of 18,500 tickets. As of Thursday morning, White said, Duke had sold more than 8,000 tickets, a number that pleased White.

EDWARDS NAMED ALL-AMERICAN

Duke redshirt freshman DeVon Edwards was named to the Walter Camp All-America second team as a kickoff returner, the organization announced Thursday.

Edwards, a 5-9, 185-pound safety, did not take over as Duke’s primary kickoff returner until week five but then averaged an ACC-leading 31.1 yards per kickoff return with two touchdowns returns covering 100 and 99 yards. He has returned 18 kickoffs for 559 yards to rank second nationally in kickoff return average.

Edwards accounted for three touchdowns in Duke’s 38-20 win against N.C. State on Nov. 9, returning two interceptions for scores and a 100-yard kickoff return. His interception returns came on back-to-back plays and covered 25 and 45 yards.

Also a starter at safety, Edwards has logged 55 tackles, three interceptions and six pass breakups in six starts. He has reached double-digit tackles twice and secured the game-winning interception with 13 seconds remaining in Duke’s school-record 10th victory of the year at North Carolina on Nov. 30.

Edwards is the second Duke player to earn All-America honors this season, joining USA Today All-America second team selection Jeremy Cash, also a safety. Edwards is the eight player in Duke head coach David Cutcliffe’s six seasons to receive All-America honors.