The scene at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday was jubilant, ecstatic, and chaotic, as fans rushed the field and the players doused head coach David Cutcliffe in Gatorade and coated the Victory Bell, which goes to the winner of the rivalry game, in Duke blue spray paint.
After the game, fifth-year senior quarterback Sean Renfree said: “This is why you play college football. You dream of this as a kid, playing your rival to go bowl eligible, doing something special pretty much the last play of the game – it doesn’t get any better.”
Renfree led the team 87 yards downfield at the end of the the fourth quarter and, on fourth down, threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder for the win.
As exhilarating as it was to win in such dramatic fashion, Cutcliffe thinks it can get better.
On Sunday, the coach told CBSSports.com’s Bruce Feldman that becoming bowl eligible was just the first hurdle. With half a season left and one goal already met, the team can set its sights even higher.
“I’m gonna congratulate them, but I’m also going to tell them, ‘Don’t be thinking about bowl games. It’s one game at a time. There’s a lot more we can do.’ We have to change the mentality here and it’s about competing for championships,” he told Feldman.
Duke and ACC Championships aren’t usually mentioned in the same sentence until basketball season, but a title isn’t out of reach for this year’s team. The Blue Devils are 6-2 overall, and with Miami‘s loss to Florida State on Saturday night, Duke is at the top of the ACC‘s Coastal Division.
Duke’s campus is only a few hours from Charlotte, the site of the 2012 ACC Championship game, but the Blue Devils won’t have an easy trip to get there.
Their next two games are against Florida State and Clemson, the ACC’s only other bowl eligible teams, and the only ACC teams ranked in the current BCS standings. (FSU is at 12; Clemson is 18th.)
Duke could lose both those games but would still have to beat at least one of those teams in order to win the conference. FSU and Clemson are both in the ACC Atlantic Division, and since the ‘Noles beat Clemson in their head-to-head game in September, it seems likely that, if all goes as expected (when does that ever happen in college football?) the winner of the Coastal Division would face Florida State in Charlotte.
Duke has one of the toughest remaining schedules among Coastal contenders: at Florida State, vs. Clemson, at Georgia Tech, and home to wrap up the season against Miami.
If Duke drops its next two but beats Georgia Tech, the Blue Devils will be 4-3 in conference play heading into the season finale against Miami, who’s also in the hunt for the Coastal crown.
If Miami beats Virginia Tech this weekend, the Hurricanes will be favored to win their next two, against Virginia and South Florida, and could conceivably be 6-2 and leading the division by the final week.
If, however, Miami loses to Virginia Tech and wins its next two, the teams would have the same conference record heading into the final game. A Duke win would give Duke the edge, but not necessarily the Coastal Division lead. If Miami loses to Virginia Tech, and the Hokies win two of their last three (a loss to FSU, wins over Boston College and UVA), the Hokies would also finish 5-3, and they already have a win over Duke this year.
That’s a lot of ifs between now and December 1, and the Blue Devils first must continue to play well and finish strong. One thing is certain, though. With its six wins, the Duke football team is bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. Anything else is just a bonus.