Bowl hardware would cap gem season for Cutcliffe, Duke

Dec. 31, 2013 @ 08:18 AM

Chick-fil-A Bowl festivities have been fun, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Monday.

That included the ceremony Monday morning when Cutcliffe won the Bobby Dodd Award as national coach of the year.

Game time, though, is what has No. 20 Texas A&M (8-4) and No. 22 Duke (10-3) fired up the most, and that happens tonight (8 p.m., ESPN) when they square off at the Georgia Dome.

“It’s time to play football now, but it’s been a great week,” Cutcliffe said.

In between practicing, the Blue Devils and Aggies have competed against one another in video games, go-karting, milkshake making and a “Family Feud”-style trivia contest.

Tonight, the competition finally reaches the playing field where Duke’s defense must deal with last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, while the Aggies will try to stop Duke’s balanced, potent offense.

“You look at this football team we’re going to play, and they’ve been in big games,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “You don’t beat Miami and Virginia Tech, and North Carolina, and N.C. State by just kind of going out there. They’re a well-coached, physical football team, talented players on the perimeter. Offensively they play extremely hard, I think, across the board. Don’t make very many mistakes.”

The committee that picked the Bobby Dodd Award winner agreed with Sumlin’s statement. Cutcliffe became the 10th ACC coach to pick up that award, symbolic of the national coach of the year.

It’s the fourth national coach of the year award for Cutcliffe this season. He’s already been named the nation’s top coach by The Sporting News, the Walter Camp Foundation and the Maxwell Award.

Cutcliffe attended a dinner with previous Bobby Dodd Award winners Sunday night. Many of them were at the award-presentation ceremony Monday morning, including former ACC winners Jim Grobe (Wake Forest, ’06), Dick Sheridan (N.C. State, ’86), Ralph Friedgen (Maryland, ’01) and Fred Goldsmith (Duke, ’94). Ken Hatfield, Fisher DeBerry, Vince Dooley and Bill Curry were also on hand.

“This is the most meaningful thing that has happened to me,” Cutcliffe said. “When these gentlemen walked into the room, the meaning of the Bobby Dodd Award just took hold of me.”

Winning the Chick-fil-A Bowl would only add to a meaningful year for Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils. Duke has already established a program record for wins in a season.

A year ago, Cutcliffe praised his team’s preparation prior to the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. The Blue Devils jumped to a 16-0 lead and were tied 34-34 late in the fourth quarter against Cincinnati. But the Bearcats scored two touchdowns in the final 1:20 to win 48-34.

This month, seeking the school’s first bowl win since the 1961 Cotton Bowl, the players and coaches have prepared for Texas A&M while dealing with some distractions. Running back Jela Duncan was suspended from school and reserve safety Dwayne Norman is suspended from the first half of tonight’s game because of an illegal hit during the ACC championship game.

Duke will play without starting right tackle Perry Simmons, who is out with a torn ACL. Running back Shaquille Powell sprained his MCL against Florida State but has returned to practice.

Despite all that, Cutcliffe is happy with how his team has practiced.

“It’s been no different in the bowl preparation,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve just picked up and continued to go practice. Our peer leadership, our captains, our seniors, this is important to them. It’s the seniors’ last football game, so it’s going to be important to them. They’ve set the tempo well. We’ve prepared well in Durham, and we’ve certainly done the same thing here.”