PROVING TIME: Coastal champ Duke out to prove '13 no fluke
The month of spring practice last February followed by players-only practices all summer and finally three weeks of preseason camp leads to this for Duke’s surging football program.
Coming off a school-record 10-win season, the Blue Devils take their first step toward showing they are a program with staying power when they open the season against Elon tonight (6 p.m., ESPN3.com) at Wallace Wade Stadium.
The Blue Devils won eight games in a row to end the 2013 regular season, winning 10 games and the ACC Coastal Division championship for the first time. Losses to Florida State in the ACC championship game and Texas A&M in the Chick-fi-A Bowl dimmed, but certainly didn’t diminish, Duke’s status as a rising star in football.
The proof, though, comes when the games start again this season The players and coaches began getting that feeling that comes from proving time as this week progressed toward game time.
“You can feel it,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “There is a motor starting to run.”
In years past, when Duke was considered the worst Division I football program in the country, games against a lower-division opponent like Elon would contain danger similar to any other game on the schedule.
Three times — in 2006, 2009 and 2011 — Duke lost to Richmond. Cutcliffe coached the latter two losses. All three of those Duke teams proceeded to suffer losing seasons, like all Duke teams did from 1995-2012.
(The 2012 team finished 6-7 after losing to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl).
Last season’s 10-4 breakthrough brings a different feel to tonight’s season opener. Duke has been to bowl games in the last two seasons and all expectations are the Blue Devils can go bowling three years in a row.
Despite some glitches in the online ticketing system over the last week, a near capacity crowd is expected at Wallace Wade Stadium. The number of employees who have taken advantage of Duke employee appreciation night mean more than 10,000 tickets were accounted for by that group.
“The butterflies will kick in,” Cutcliffe said of the expected pregame mood for his team. “The anxiousness will kick in. We are expecting a great crowd and that will help as well.”
Duke’s veterans were around in 2011 when Richmond celebrated a win at Wallace Wade Stadium. They were also around the last two seasons when Duke rolled to lopsided wins over N.C. Central.
Elon won’t be overlooked if guys like redshirt senior running back Josh Snead get their message across.
“We are not looking at them as an unworthy opponent,” Snead said. “We are going to approach this game like it was an ACC game. Going into this game, we have to have the mindset that we are going to come in and dominate.”
Duke’s work in practice this week was described as solid, which could be an indication of a good outcome tonight.
“People say `Well that’s just practice,’” Cutcliffe said. “Well, it’s not. Part of a 60-minute game preparation is being ready to play on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Not having one good practice in a week. Or two. Do we want to go out and play the first quarter and third quarter well and not play very well in the second and fourth? That’s how I judge it. I want to look at the body of work.”
A coaching veteran, Cutcliffe is quick to say it can be a mystery to determine with precision if a team is mentally ready to play. Still, he expects a good performance from his team as it looks to keep the positive momentum going.
“I think our work is what it needs to be,” Cutcliffe said. “I think our minds are where they need to be. Now we’ve just got to go play.”
Cutcliffe on Showtime
A Showtime cable network special examining Cutcliffe’s work with Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning will air Tuesday at 10 p.m.
A video clip of the show can be seen by following this link http://www.sho.com/sho/video/titles/32980/coach-cutcliffe-and-the-manning-brothers---60-minutes-sports-preview