Duke beating FSU could be better for ACC long-term

Posted December 6, 2013

It’s hard to blame casual football fans and national pundits for having a bit of fun with Duke’s football season. There are plenty of jokes to go around, and the snarky tweets have no doubt flowed on Twitter timelines from coast to coast. Historically, this makes sense. After all, 10 wins or not, it is Duke — or as it’s often pronounced with a smirk, it is just Duke.

Of course, those well-versed in college football understand the enormity of what David Cutcliffe has accomplished in just a few short seasons in Durham, taking a perennial laughingstock of a program and winning more games in 2013 than nine other Blue Devil coaches ever won at Duke in their entire careers.

Sportswriters (good ones, anyway) know that no major conference team walks into double-digit wins, no matter how easy a schedule might seem, and that no program just falls into a conference championship game, no matter how weak a conference might be perceived.

But perceptions matter. And this presents quite the problem for the ACC and its fans as the league’s Saturday championship game (8 p.m., ABC, 620 AM The Buzz) between the Blue Devils and Seminoles approaches.

On the surface, it seems like Duke is nothing more than the sacrificial lamb to be feasted on at the table of Jimbo Fisher and top-ranked Florida State. Just look that the Las Vegas odds, where most casinos have the ‘Noles favored by — what seems like a typo — around 29 points. Or just look at the ESPN promos running for the game, where Duke essentially gets the treatment of the nameless opposing team in a sports movie.

The storyline is clear: Florida State is back.

There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this. Sports feed off narratives. It’s great for fans. It creates excitement. It sells tickets. The conventional wisdom is that it’s good for football for traditional powerhouses like FSU to be “back.” It makes us feel that everything is right in the world of sports; that things make sense again.

For FSU to win the ACC Championship Game and head to the BCS National Championship Game seems good for college football in general. And to raise the stakes, Jameis Winston and Jimbo Fisher aren’t just seen as saviors of this particular blue-blood program, but of the entire Atlantic Coast Conference — whose existence seemed in doubt just a couple years ago.

In that regard it doesn’t just feel like the ACC wants this, but needs this. And the end-game for Duke is quite obvious: don’t blow it.

Translation: don’t win. Sure, don’t forfeit or roll over. But certainly don’t ruin this for your conference.

What complicates things is that Florida State’s opponent isn’t a traditionally decent team. For fans and pundits, it isn’t just that an FSU loss would crush the ACC’s title hopes, but that a loss to Duke (or remember, Duke) would be an outright embarrassment for the league — proving that if the league's most dominant team in 15 years could lose to Duke, then the ACC really is just a laughingstock after all.

Yes, in the sensible world of sports, an FSU loss to an 8-4 Virginia Tech or 9-3 Miami team would make more sense and cause less ridicule than losing to a 10-2 Duke team who beat both of those aforementioned squads. Reminder: Duke hasn’t lost since it was summertime on the calendar, a time when the starting QB was injured, no less (Cue the Ryan Kelly-like “Duke hasn’t loss with Anthony Boone in the lineup” info graphics).

If it sounds a bit ridiculous that a 10-2 BCS school winning a conference title game could cause these PR problems, it’s because it is. No other conference would operate this way. It’s simply hard to wipe away decades of Duke history and “basketball school” jokes.

But it’s time for David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils to do away with this. If national pundits and fans don’t want to believe: too bad, force them. Odds are they’ll get crushed on Saturday. But if they don’t, it will be great for the league. It will prove that any coach can come to this conference and win and beat one of the more dominant college football teams in a decade. It will show that any ACC school can make a few smart coaching decisions, win a few recruiting victories and be in contention.

This would represent a total paradigm shift in college football — a sport controlled by old school traditions, where 6-6 teams from the SEC are regarded as top 25-esque simple because of the name on their jerseys, and where sportswriters with poll votes stick to their guns no matter how bad their early seasons predictions are by year’s end.

This is a sport where a winless team beating the best team in the conference is seen as a good thing — only if it’s from the right conference. In the traditionally dominant conferences, this shows depth, it shows strength. But for the little ACC, it has always shown weakness.

Duke can change all of that on Saturday, and then change it all again in the BCS. Sure, the Blue Devils probably don’t have a chance, but then again no one thought they had a chance to make it this far either.

The times, they are a changin’.


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  • Leave it to Beaver Reruns Dec 20, 2013

    View quoted thread

    nope, he is one of yours

  • Objective Scientist Dec 7, 2013

    The case made in the article that Duke winning today would be better for the ACC long-term is convoluted and speculative at best. However, after reading posted comments there are seem to be many that feel the opposite... that FSU winning is better for the ACC long-term. That is also speculative at best. I have difficulty buying the logic behind that premise. If - IF - FSU wins today and should then subsequently play in the National Championship game and win that one... yes, we would have an ACC team being National Champion - that would be a fact. Would that fact lead to knowledgable football folks thinking that because the National Champion if from the ACC that the ACC is now a stronger conference? I think not! More likely it would be seen as ONE outstanding team/football program in the ACC - FSU - then there are the "others" that are at best mediocre. For the ACC to be seen as a strong conference in football the conference needs multiple teams in the top 20-25 with probably at least 2 in the top 10. Neither Duke nor FSU winning today and subsequently the National Championship will - in and of itself - accomplish that in the next 10-15-20 years. I simply cannot buy into all the hyperbole in sport today... and hyperbole is at an all-time high!

  • S.HOLMES Dec 7, 2013

    the article he seem to be just rattling on.

  • S.HOLMES Dec 7, 2013

    View quoted thread

    where does wral get these people from- Bob Holiday writes a good column but very seldom but the rest along with the clowns on the radio
    its time for a new sports station.

  • jmcdow2792 Dec 7, 2013

    I can understand someone pulling for a local team. I cannot understand the logic that makes it better for the conference for a local team with no chance at a title to take that title hope away. Does anyone think Duke will become the LSU of the ACC? How do you think the SEC get's all those athletes? With the promise of a national title and a good chance at the pros. Of course the ACC will be better off with a title team. Let's revisit this question in the future, say right after the title game, and see how we collectively feel then.

  • grh90 Dec 7, 2013

    View quoted thread

    Well it compares like this. VT is fast like a jack rabbit, FSU is fast like an F16. FSU is a legit #1. Elite Speed and size everywhere.

  • PricelessGemUNC Dec 6, 2013

    I just hope that the Heels will join the SEC even if we get killed in Football and Duke joins the Big joke 10! So tired of the ACC. The ACC has become a joke just like the ACC championship this year. Swafford is terrible! They act like schools like UNC and State are locked into the ACC but if the SEC comes calling wanting the North Carolina TV dollars someone that takes the SEC up on the offer will win big. Remember its all about money and the SEC makes the most!

  • Objective Scientist Dec 6, 2013

    View quoted thread

    jgunn-- I understand and respect your thoughts and reasoning. However, I simply cannot buy the notion that FSU winning the game tomorrow will have any significant long-term impact on the ACC - 10-15-20 years down the road - as some have suggested. For me that is simply more hyperbole that is now so much a part of the sports world. As I said in my earlier post I will always pull for the team I want to win in a particular, specific game... with no thought about a conference. I have loved traveling to and visiting a variety of locations in Florida... and will again, but I have no allegiance or ties to the state of FL or any University and its teams within FL. I have the strongest possible allegiance to the state of NC and to UNC-CH. If UNC-CH is not in the game, but another NC team is... I'm pulling for the NC team over teams from any other state... regardless of what that could mean for the ACC. Tomorrow... I am pulling for Duke because Duke is the NC team, and I also believe Duke has athletes that are more STUDENT-athletes than most schools. Additionally, I really like Cutcliffe - he has shown himself to be an excellent football coach by taking Duke from where it was in football to what the team accomplished this season - regardless of the debate about Duke's schedule. And the "cherry on top" is that he seems to be an even better "man" than he is a coach! During the game tomorrow - for me - it is unequivocally - GO DUKE!!!

  • rushbot Dec 6, 2013

    i really would like to does fsu's team speed is compared to vatech's???

  • cjw6105 Dec 6, 2013

    It would be good for me and many others who have been deserted by the ACC if they NEVER, EVER win another championship. Our regional pride, our ACC, has been hijacked by a greedy bunch that's determined to make the ACC a financial empire covering the entire eastern third of the country, border to border, by destroying what it once was. No more can we see our favorite teams maintain the rivalries that inspired us to follow the league (sailing with the Pilot, so to speak) through the NCAA playoffs, regardless if it was Duke, Wake, Carolina or State.

    As for Florida State football, I wouldn't pull for them against USC, Texas, Ohio State, or especially against Duke. Why should I support a far-flung school that has never been a good fit for the ACC? I felt that way 20 years ago, but now we have Syracuse, Pitt, Boston College, Miami and Louisville pushing our long-time rivals off our schedules, plus Notre Dame too, although they won't share their football revenue.

    As for whether or not the conference will be "better" if Duke wins or if FSU wins, I cannot understand how anyone who grew up here as an ACC fan could hope for anything that benefits this conference anymore. It's all about John Swofford, ESPN, and big-city markets like Atlanta, Boston and New York.

    I'm not aware of any CONFERENCE ever having won a national championship in anything, but if FSU finishes #1, you can bet Swofford and his lemmings will make the claim.

    Go Duke!




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