College Football: Duke ending losing streaks
By Joedy McCreary
DURHAM ó When Duke lineman Fred Roland peeked at the national rankings, something unusual caught his eye: Some coach included the Blue Devils on his top-25 ballot.
Unlike those token thank-yous every preseason from former Duke coach Steve Spurrier, this time the Blue Devils earned that vote.
“It does feel a little better not to be the laughingstock of the league anymore,” Roland said Tuesday.
They aren’t chuckling anymore in Durham. Not when they’ve already welcomed Orange Bowl scouts, snapped unwanted streaks seemingly on a weekly basis and cruised to a four-touchdown victory despite their quarterback’s worst performance of the year.
It’s only a month into the season, and these David Cutcliffe-led Blue Devils (3-1) no longer resemble perennial losers.
“We’re not surprised at all, because we knew it all the time,” quarterback Thaddeus Lewis said. “Coach actually had made this team go out there and believe and know that every week, we can win. So there’s no doubt in our mind that we’re going to win each week. The guys practice like it, they prepare like it and on Saturday, if you’re in that locker room before we come out, (they’ll) sure as heck let you know that they’re actually ready to go out there, get out there. And they’ve been playing like that, and they’re not even content with it.”
From the season’s opening series, it was clear these weren’t the same Blue Devils that became synonymous with comically bad football during the two decades after Spurrier left for Florida.
Widely ridiculed as the worst program in the six major conferences, Duke posted four winless seasons since its last bowl berth in 1994 and lost at least 10 games in each of the past three years. That prompted the school to fire Ted Roof and lure Cutcliffe from Tennessee’s staff to turn things around.
“The thing that made it all a little bit simpler is the fact that we all bought in at the beginning, and we didn’t question,” Roland said. “That really made a big difference. If we didn’t have the faith or believe in his system, then it would have been a little tougher than it had to be. So I guess we made up in our minds that we were going to buy in from the beginning, just get it done.”
The Blue Devils have already taken care of that streak of 10-loss seasons.
Then, they went to work on some other pesky footnotes: The season-opening victory over James Madison ended a 16-game losing streak at Wallace Wade Stadium, and last week’s 31-3 win over Virginia ó an “off day” for Lewis, Cutcliffe said ó marked the end of a 25-game slide in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
“You kind of, sort of, for a quick second get to take a sigh of relief,” Roland said. “But you don’t sit there too long ó there’s still work to be done.”
On the line this week at Georgia Tech is a 16-game slide in ACC road games, but a win would give Duke its first three-game winning streak since 1994 ó the last time the Blue Devils reached the postseason.
They’re already getting some attention from the bowl officials. The Orange Bowl sent its blazer-wearing representatives to Wallace Wade Stadium last weekend, and they spoke to the team after Friday’s practice and attended Cutcliffe’s post-game press conference.
“I thought they were guys from Virginia hanging around at first, with those orange jackets on,” Cutcliffe quipped.
And perhaps the most surprising thing about the Blue Devils’ start is they’re one play from being undefeated: A holding call nullified the go-ahead touchdown in the final minute of a 24-20 loss to Northwestern.
Yet skeptics say Duke’s results came against a weak schedule. Sure Virginia isn’t having much of a season, but that win over Navy is looking pretty good since the Midshipmen beat Wake Forest last week.
Still, even Cutcliffe isn’t getting carried away yet. He’d rather wait and see how things shake out in the ACC’s late-season stretch run.
“A lot of people wanted to make a lot about the start, but this team will be defined in November,” Cutcliffe said.