Duke football must play for seven

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

Seven wins is the elusive magic number to success

DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke Blue Devils will kick off the 2013 season, their 101st overall, against in-town  neighbor, the NC Central Eagles, in the annual Bull City Gridiron Classic on Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Though speculation about how much the controversy and attention surrounding the recent firing of Central’s head coach Henry Frazier III has impacted the opposing team’s  psyche, it’s a concern farthest from the mind of Duke head coach David Cutcliffe.

He’s ready to coach his team to a victory, but doesn’t expect the Eagles to lay down and give the Blue Devils the win either.

“Well, I think these guys have been so busy,” Cutcliffe said when asked about the situation during the weekly Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) coaches’ teleconference.

“You know, we certainly addressed it, but they’ve been so busy with their own camp and own practices, I don’t think it’s distracted them at all. Obviously, they know that the staff is intact otherwise. So they’ve just settled down and gone about their business, and I certainly won’t expect it to be a deterrent for us.”

Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils are coming off a 6-7 season that included a bowl appearance, which were both marks of accomplishment that hadn’t been attained in 18 years.

Even before 1994, Duke hadn’t won more than six games in a season since current South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier led the Blue Devils to 7-3-1 and 8-4 seasons back in 1988 and 1989 respectively.

Before that, the last time the Blue Devils recorded seven or more victories in a season was 26 years earlier in 1962 when they finished the season at 8-2, following up on a 7-3 season in 1961.

Thus, counting back to 1989, Duke is coming up on 24 years towards achieving the elusive seven-victory plateau.

Does that mean they’ll have to wait another two years to do it?

It’s a mark that must be in Cutcliffe’s sights and one that the Blue Devils must get to now, to prove if any change has really taken place at Duke.

No one around the ACC or beyond expects them to get there though.

Even by becoming bowl-eligible and completing their program’s best season in recent years, losing five straight games to end the 2012 season, including the Belk bowl game against Cincinnati, didn’t sway opinions much.

Cutcliffe’s squad was selected to finish no better than seventh, or last in the Coastal Division in the ACC Preseason media poll.

The savvy and experienced coach knows that nothing will come easy for his team that will feature new faces in starting roles.

He’s anxious and equally excited to see how they will respond, and he’s stated that fact early and often already.

The typical speculation that has led expectations outside the program to once again be reset to low is evident.

The pattern that Duke football has set and followed for decades is the one that Cutcliffe, his staff, and players must change in order to turn speculators into believers.

“I’m certain we’re like every college football team in America right now, anxious to play, anxious to see a few new faces, and just to see how we’ve grown,” Cutcliffe stated.

“We have a team that’s breaking in a new starter at quarterback after three years and a few other key people in the secondary. I’m excited for those people, and I’m excited to see how they respond.”

In year six of Cutcliffe’s tenure leading and reconstructing the Blue Devils, seven is the magic number.

Claiming that many victories or more this season will make a strong statement that Duke football is committed to competing in the ACC to win games, and not just to play in them.