Blue Devils still a factor in Coastal race

By Tom Shanahan Special to the Times
Posted 10/25/19

DURHAM — Duke football expected to contend for the ACC Coastal Division title, especially after opening conference play with an encouraging 45-10 win over Virginia Tech. But then came last …

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Blue Devils still a factor in Coastal race

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DURHAM — Duke football expected to contend for the ACC Coastal Division title, especially after opening conference play with an encouraging 45-10 win over Virginia Tech. But then came last week’s crushing 48-14 loss toVirginia.

In between those up-and-down results, Duke trailed Pitt 26-3 only to rally for a 30-26 lead and ultimately lose 33-30. Althoughthe inconsistency stands out in Durham, the reality is Duke has plenty of company.

Boston College was embarrassed losing lost its second game to Kansas 48-24, but last week the Eagles routed N.C. State, a school coming off back-to-back nine-victory seasons. Miami, which lost its first two ACC games, upset Coastal preseason favorite Virginia. One week later, the Hurricanes were the victim of Georgia Tech claiming its first conference victory.

That’s a short look around the ACC, but other conferences have their own topsy-turvy results.

“It’s an era when the most difficult thing is to find is consistency and focus,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who is in his 12th year at Duke following seven as the head coach at Mississippi. “There are a lot of various distractions we didn’t have to deal with in previous generations.

“But it’s not just our conference if you look across the country. None of us know on each team who has somebody that is playing hurt and not as effective. It’s a multitude of things.”

This should be an easier week for both Duke (4-3, 2-2 Coastal) and North Carolina (3-4, 2-2 Coastal) to focus when they meet in the rivalry game at 4 p.m. Saturday at Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill.

The winner can remain in contention for a share of the Coastal title in a division considering last year Pitt won with two losses.A 6-2 record might do it again, making Duke-UNC an elimination game.

Cutcliffe doesn’t
pretend to know all the answers,but he’s in his 19th season as a head coach and 38th working with college athletes. His opinion matters.

In addition to social media and the times, there are NCAA rules limiting practice time and contact. The rules are response for public opinion demanding a safer game to preserve the sport’s future.

“It’s different than it used to be and the amount of focused time that we can teach,” Cutcliffe said. “We get them in here early in the morning. We have meetings. You have a 15-minute margin to get to the field. You have to get on the field and get your work done. And then they have to get off and go to class.”

Cutcliffe added the Blue Devils have played some good football under the circumstances, winning the 2013 Coastal and earning bowl bids six of the last seven seasons.


Duke has turned over the ball 16 times this year, with 11 in the two conference losses to Pitt (six) and Virginia(five).

The Blue Devils didn’t have any turnovers in the wins over Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.


Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s tradition of rewarding the NCAA Division II champion with an exhibition game at hallowed Cameron Indoor Stadium now spans a decade. Northwest Missouri State’s players are the wide-eyed ones this year.

The Bearcats play the Blue Devils at 7 p.m. Saturday in the first of Duke’s two exhibition games.

Duke’s season opener is on Nov. 5 at Madison Square Garden in New York. With AP Top 25 rankings released earlier this week, the Champions Classic double-header matches No. 4 Duke against No. 3 Kansas in the opener and No. 1 Michigan State against No. 2 Kentucky in the nightcap.

Tom Shanahan is a freelance writer based in Cary and author of “Raye of Light,” a book featuring Fayetteville’s Jimmy Raye as a pioneering black quarterback for College Football Hall of Fame coach Duffy Daugherty on Michigan State’ sUnderground Railroad football teams of the 1960s.