Duke believes they can win
Posted December 6, 2013
29 1/2 points.
TWENTY NINE AND A HALF POINTS.
Four touchdowns with a 2-point conversion -- and a half -- thrown in.
That's what the wise guys think of the 2013 Duke Blue Devils. In other words, they don't think much. There are six other conference championship games this weekend and if you totaled up all of the points the sharps in the desert are using as enticements it wouldn't even come close to the 29 1/2 points they favor Florida State over Duke.
The biggest spread among the dirty half dozen is in the Conference USA title game where Marshall is a touchdown favorite over Rice. That's a far cry -- heck, that's a continental divide -- from the way the guys on the strip view the disparity between the Blue Devils and the undefeated Seminoles.
Doesn't matter. Duke believes in Duke. Oh, they're under no illusions that Florida State is vulnerable. They don't believe for a minute that the Seminoles, who have laid waste to every single team on their schedule this year, will overlook this game tonight and dream about playing for the national championship for the first time in over a decade. Duke isn't counting on FSU taking them lightly. The Devils just believe that they're here for a reason.
Duke believes they can win -- and they mean it.
Duke knows that Florida State has arguably the best talent in the country. Duke knows all about the Heisman Trophy favorite, quarterback Jameis Winston, the talented trio of running backs and bevy of future NFL receiving targets. Duke knows all about how explosive the Seminoles' offense can be. They're also aware of the speed and power of the FSU defense. It's been more than two months since anyone has scored more than 20 points against them.
Florida State has been held to fewer than 40 points once.
Other than the early scare at Boston College, where the Eagles actually had the audacity to hold a 17-3 lead in the second quarter, the Seminoles haven't been bothered at all by anyone on their schedule this year. After BC kicked a short field goal to take that 14-point lead, FSU took a collective sip of water and proceeded to blow the Eagles out of Alumni Stadium over the next two quarters. Six possessions, five touchdowns, please drive home safely.
Duke's not scared. Oh, they're worried, but they're not afraid of the big, bad Seminoles. Duke thinks they're right where they belong. They expected to be here. You can say all you want about the quality of the Atlantic Coast Conference, specifically the quality of the Coastal Division, and you might have very valid points to make. Maybe Virginia Tech should have beaten Duke in Blacksburg. Maybe Miami and their supposed superior athletes should have done more with a 10-0 lead at Wallace Wade Stadium. Maybe North Carolina should have been smarter, faster and more physical last week.
Duke is -- was -- better. Better in almost every measurable way.
It's simply the most remarkable story in college football this year. Yes, the rapid resurrection of the Auburn program under Gus Malzahn -- especially the miraculous ways the Tigers have won games the last two weeks -- is the stuff of storybooks. Sure, Alabama was poised to win a third consecutive national championship, and frankly still can if a few things break in their favor today. And even the Ohio State Buckeyes deserve a world of credit for having gone two straight regular seasons without a loss under Urban Meyer.
All of that pales in comparison to what David Cutcliffe and Duke have already accomplished this year. And it's not even close.
In the nine years BC -- Before Cutcliffe -- Duke football mustered just 13 wins. That's 13 TOTAL victories over the previous nine seasons. Only one of those were against teams from the FBS level of football. Three times Duke was winless. The program was dormant. David Cutcliffe was essentially running a start-up. Last year, thanks to a wild finish and a victory over the Tar Heels in Durham, Duke returned to a bowl game for the first time in 18 years. That they lost that game, in excruciating fashion, fumbling the football as they were about to score the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter, was the blessing in disguise they never thought they needed.
Losing the Belk Bowl was the kick to the groin that brought the program even closer together that it already was. They weren't happy to be in a bowl game for the first time since the first Clinton administration. They were furious that they let an opportunity pass at a winning record and the bad taste of a five-game losing streak to close out the season was going to linger until the next game.
As you might expect from a bunch of Duke football players, they learned a lot from that night. They learned about family, and dedication, and self-reflection, and what it takes to be a champion. Mostly though, they learned about belief, in their incredibly dynamic head coach, in themselves, in each other and what could be accomplished by a team that acted more like a family.
Individually, Duke can not compare with the Florida State team that will line up on the opposite side of the ball. To a man, every single player in the Blue Devils' traveling party understands that dynamic. But, they also understand that this is not a game played by individuals, it's played by teams of brothers in arms and over 60 minutes, anything can happen if your belief is strong enough. It's why there is no substitute for live, competitive athletics.
Duke's belief in Duke, in their mission is why I believe in them. It's also that belief that makes them winners even before the game kicks off. Six years after David Cutcliffe talked a great game about building a championship program he and his players have backed it up.
Welcome to championship college football, Duke.