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It was a season of firsts for Duke Football. First season with 10 wins, first time reaching back-to-back bowl games and first appearance in the ACC Championship game. It will all be capped off with the program’s first appearance in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
The start of next season will bring another first for Duke Football: the presence of high expectations.
For the past two decades, expectations for Duke’s football season (for those that even bothered to follow the team) consisted of “I hope we don’t get blown out” or “maybe we can steal this game.” Not anymore. In six seasons, David Cutcliffe has taken Duke from arguably the worst program in FBS football, to levels of relevancy the program hasn’t seen in a quarter of a century. The enjoyment the fanbase is now feeling because of the rise from the basement to the top floor of the conference should not be taken for granted. However, in the current sports climate of immediate gratification, consistency is a must for Duke Football. Fans are proud and appreciative of the accomplishments by Cutcliffe and the team but sports fans are never completely satisfied. And Duke fans are no different.
While fans shouldn’t expect the football program to begin competing for National Championships each year like the basketball team, they shouldn’t expect the team to slide back down to the bottom of the Coastal Division, either. Duke has the coaching staff, talent, depth and support to maintain their current position as a relevant competitor in the ACC and as a Top 40 team.
It is impossible to know where the program will be a few years down the road but the immediate future of the program certainly looks bright. While the coaching carousel has just begun to turn, at this point Duke looks to return all the coaches on staff. Experience on the field will also be a huge advantage for next year’s Duke team. This year’s team featured only 11 scholarship seniors. The majority of the playmakers for this team will return next year with more experience and confidence. Defenders Ross Cockrell and Kenny Anunike, and offensive linemen Perry Simmons and Dave Harding, among other key players, will surely be missed but Duke appears to have the guys to step into their place. It’s reassuring to know Anthony Boone, Jamison Crowder, Jela Duncan, Brandon Connette, Jeremy Cash, DeVon Edwards, Breon Borders and many others will all return next year ready to build on the successes of this season.
Recruiting for Duke Football has also continued to pick up under David Cutcliffe. As if the talent increase on the field isn’t obvious enough, Duke’s place in the recruiting rankings continues to rise each year. Based on most analysts’ rankings, Duke seems to be poised to have a Top 50 incoming class next year and could end up even higher depending on which of the late signers Duke can close. In addition, the effects of this year’s success should begin to show on the recruiting trail soon.
College football is the most difficult sport to be successful in. The physical nature of the game itself, combined with the administrative commitment required to build and sustain a program cannot be understated. Duke fans should be grateful for the current state of the program and thankful for the hard work and commitment of Coach David Cutcliffe and Athletic Director Kevin White that has brought the program out of the dark ages. Fan support is instrumental in maintaining a successful program. While 10 win seasons shouldn’t be expected every year, fans should feel confident in the program’s ability to build on their successful season and strive for more ‘firsts’ for Duke Football in the future.
For my thoughts on Duke, the ACC, and the wider world of sports, follow me on Twitter @BdotEdot.