Duke headed to Atlanta

Dec. 08, 2013 @ 10:56 PM

Duke’s loss to No. 1 Florida State on Saturday night left the Blue Devils in play for two bowls on Sunday.

While the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando had an outside shot to be Duke’s bowl destination, officials from the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta decided Duke had done too much to slip past their event.

The No. 22 Blue Devils were the selection over Miami and Virginia Tech for the Chick-fil-A Bowl and Duke will play No. 20 Texas A&M on Dec. 31 (8 p.m., ESPN) at the Georgia Dome.

Chick-fil-A Bowl officials had been scouting Duke (10-3) for the last month, attending games and talking with fans while the Blue Devils rolled through a memorable eight-game winning streak.

That streak ended in Saturday night’s ACC championship game when the top-ranked Seminoles trounced Duke 45-7 to earn a spot in the BCS National Championship Game.

But Chick-fil-A Bowl president Gary Stokan said Sunday that Duke’s magical run included so much success they were his bowl’s pick.

“With the team selection committee, we look at the game as a reward to the players,” Stokan said. “The players have the right to play their way into the game. In this case, we feel like Duke, in beating Virginia Tech and Miami head to head, being ranked 24th in BCS and winning the Coastal Division, played their way into our game.”

The Blue Devils have won a school-record 10 games and Duke coach David Cutcliffe has won the ACC Coach of the Year award as well as being named national coach of the year by the Walter Camp Foundation.

Those facts played a role as well.

“It’s just a wonderful story of how Duke’s David Cutcliffe has really grown and progressed the football program at Duke University,” Stokan said.

In a season of firsts, the Blue Devils will add another. In addition to their first winning season since 1994, first Coastal Division championship and first 10-win season, this will be Duke’s first Chick-fil-A Bowl appearance. It’s also the first time in school history Duke will play in bowls in consecutive seasons.

Cutcliffe said playing in Atlanta, against Texas A&M (8-4) and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, will help his Blue Devils (10-3) bounce back from the tough loss to Florida State.

“Our players are just going to be thrilled with the opportunity to play in one of the premier football cities in the country in Atlanta,” Cutcliffe said. “I think the invite to the Chick-fil-A Bowl is the perfect medicine. To play a team with the reputation and the history and tradition of football that Texas A&M has will revive our team quickly.”

Duke may get the unusual experience of playing against Heisman Trophy winners in back to back games.

In the ACC championship game, Jameis Winston threw three touchdown passes and ran for another, earning the game’s MVP award, for the Seminoles. Winston is considered the favorite to win this year’s Heisman Trophy when it is awarded on Saturday night.

Duke and Texas A&M have never met in football. The Aggies (8-4) will enter the Chick-fil-A Bowl on a two-game losing streak, having lost to Louisiana State, 34-10, and Missouri, 28-21, in their last two regular-season games.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said he’s been impressed by what Duke has accomplished under Cutcliffe.

“I’ve got a huge amount of respect for what Coach Cutcliffe has done,” Sumlin said. “Whenever you play in and around NYD you are going to okay a good football team.”

Manziel is expected to leave Texas A&M for the NFL following this season. Sumlin said that decision has yet to be made.

"If he does, he does," Sumlin said. "Right now, we're looking through that and evaluating his future. Then we'll go from there."

The Blue Devils haven’t won a bowl game since beating Arkansas 7-6 in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2, 1961 in Dallas, Texas.

Chick-fil-A Bowl officials announced a sellout last month. But that includes the tickets which will go to the two schools. Tickets from Duke’s allotment are available at goduke.com.