DuPree column: It's a bitter pill, but Duke's found Rx to football success
This one will be tough to swallow.
At the same time, Duke’s football program should have plenty to build upon after the Blue Devils’ 48-34 loss to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl on Thursday night.
Duke had everything going its way, including reportedly having sold more tickets for its postseason game than any other ACC school.
The Blue Devils even jumped out to a 16-0 lead with 4:45 left in the first quarter when Tony Foster broke through to block a Cincinnati punt and recovered the ball for a touchdown.
But like Lucy luring Charlie Brown into whiffing on a kick, the Bearcats snatched away the momentum with a second-quarter barrage and took advantage of four turnovers by the Blue Devils to spoil their first bowl game since 1994.
“Obviously, this is a bowl-worthy team, not just a bowl-eligible team,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said.
The Blue Devils earned the bowl trip by beating North Carolina 33-30 on Oct. 20. Duke finished with five straight losses, missing the school’s first winning season by a single game.
“It’s a step forward for this program,” Duke senior wide receiver Connor Vernon said of the Blue Devils’ season. “It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t get this win; that would have been that much of a bigger step in the right direction. (But) I think you can ask anyone in our conference and (anyone) who watched today, I think Duke football is relevant again.
“Obviously, Duke basketball is Duke basketball; it’s going to be Duke basketball forever. But at the end of the day, Duke does have a football program.”
It’s a program that has improved from a winless season before Cutcliffe’s arrival before the 2008 season to its 6-7 finish this year.
Vernon set standards for Duke and ACC receivers to pursue in future seasons, but he focused on more than numbers after his final collegiate game.
“You get the best of both worlds, really,” Vernon said of playing at Duke. “You’re going to a program that is competing for championships. We were one game away from going to the ACC Championship; we beat Georgia Tech, we play for the ACC Championship.
“You’re (also) getting that degree, ... (and) that Duke name goes a long way. ... That Duke connection is so strong. I never really believed that at first, but it’s absolutely true. It’s unbelievable, the power of that university. Just saying, ‘I went to Duke,’ how many doors that opens.”
Vernon knows that competing in postseason games that are decided in the final couple of possessions go even further in promoting the program.
“We’re a story worth telling,” he said. “We put up a great fight tonight. We had 115 guys who got behind each other. ...
“That was an exciting football game to watch. It was a fun game; a game of inches.”
Sustaining success will be the job for Cutcliffe’s staff beginning today. The exposure of a national television audience goes a long way in gaining the attention of major recruits.
Maybe they didn’t get the job done in their first bowl game in 17 seasons, but the experience gained could be the springboard that puts the Blue Devils in position to continue to improve.
“This team will be back in a bowl game; I promise,” Vernon said.
You may contact Jimmy DuPree at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-419-6674.