Lewis Bowling: 2013 Duke good, but not close to '41 Devils

Nov. 26, 2013 @ 04:32 PM

THIS ’N THAT — Coach David Cutcliffe and his Duke football team just won their ninth game of the season, as you’ve heard repeatedly, it’s the first time since 1941 a Duke team has won that many games.

Coach Cut and his players, along with the assistant coaches, the Duke administration, athletic donors, and supporters deserve praise for making Duke football relevant again. Also, all you have to do is look back at the second-half comebacks and deficits Duke has overcome this season to know that the football strength and conditioning staff has done an outstanding job.

With a win over UNC this week, Duke will win its 10th game for the first time ever in 101 years of football and has already been assured of playing in back-to-back bowl games for the first time ever.

Coach Cutcliffe showed he was a winner in his previous head coaching job at Mississippi and is doing the same at Duke.

There is no question he should be ACC Coach of the Year over Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, with that undefeated record with a team loaded with talent and an accommodating schedule this season.

But let’s get a couple of things straight here. This 2013 Duke team is not one of the best teams in Duke history. The main reason Duke has never won more than nine games in a season is because back when Duke football was very good, there were only nine or 10 games played in the regular season and there were very few bowl games in existence.

Now we reward mediocrity by allowing teams with 6-6 records to play in bowl games, and yes, I’m well aware that the 2012 Duke team was one of those. To give just one example, back in 1952, under Bill Murray, Duke finished 8-2 with a 34-0 win over UNC and did not play in a bowl. That team finished 16th in the final AP poll, ahead of Tennessee and South Carolina among others.

And let’s be clear; that 9-1 1941 team of Wallace Wade’s at Duke was a national power, a level this 2013 Duke team does not approach, not yet.

Duke won all nine of its regular season games in 1941, beating Tennessee in front of 48,000 fans at what was then called Duke Stadium, now Wallace Wade Stadium.

In those nine regular-season games, Duke outscored its opponents 311 to 41.

As Ted Mann, Duke’s sports publicist at the time, said, “This team simply beat the hell out of everyone.”

Duke was handed its only loss that season by Oregon State 20-16 in the 1942 Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1942. That 1942 Rose Bowl game was played in Durham because of the onset of World War II after the conclusion of the regular season — Pearl Harbor was Dec. 7, 1941. Duke finished with a 9-1 record and No. 2 national ranking.

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Don’t get me wrong; I do not believe in embarrassing your opponent. But I strongly believe that it is your opponent’s job to stop you, nor your job to stop your own team. That’s what happened last week in UNC’s 80 to 20 win over Old Dominion.

Coach Bobby Wilder of Old Dominion asked the referees to shorten the fourth quarter by five minutes because of the lopsided score, and Larry Fedora of UNC agreed. Play the game out, I say. If you agree to play the game, take your full whipping. Even with the shortened time, UNC took delay of game penalties so as not to score more. Those kind of actions just let the other team know how bad the situation is. UNC deserves much credit from climbing out of its 1-5 start to be 6-5 heading into this week’s big game with Duke.

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One season should certainly not decide a coaching move. But one wonders about N.C. State’s decision to fire Tom O’Brien after last season. The Wolfpack is just not a good team this year. The Pack won 24 games over O’Brien’s last 3 seasons in Raleigh, going 9-4 in 2010, 8-5 in 2011, and 7-5 in 2012, with two bowl game wins and three straight bowl appearances.

The Wolfpack, should it lose to Maryland Saturday, would finish winless in ACC play for the first time since 1959.

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N.C. Central got a historic win in basketball last week with a victory at N.C. State, its first against the Wolfpack and first against any ACC competition.

NCCU has a rich basketball history, with former coach John McClendon being one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time and former player Sam Jones being voted one of the 50 best players in NBA history.

Coach Levelle Moton and this year’s team are adding to that legacy.

EDITOR’S NOTE — Lewis Bowling teaches at N.C. Central and Duke and is the author of the book, “Wallace Wade: Championship Years at Alabama and Duke.” His column will appear monthly in The Herald-Sun.