Someone really has to be a student of ACC football to notice what Duke coach Dave Cutcliffe has done this year, but he took his team into No. 16 Virginia Tech on Saturday and came back with much more than a 13-10 win.
He came back with respect.
While Al Golden is doing a great job at Miami and Jimbo Fisher is doing a similar job at Florida State, Cutcliffe could be the ACC Coach of the Year considering where the Duke program has come from. Breaking the basketball-only culture at the Durham, North Carolina school has been a long fight for Cutcliffe, a bespectacled, scholarly coach who probably has not been given enough credit by the fans there.
“In our last 20 games, we have a winning record now over time,” said Cutcliffe. “It may not sound like much to some people, but that is when you start believing you should win.”
Now Duke is a legitimate upper-tier ACC squad after consecutive road wins over the two Virginia schools in the conference. It’s hard getting great athletes into the school because Duke has some Ivy League-level academic requirements, but Cutcliffe has beat the bushes to field both a smart and athletic team.
At a time when the students spend all night camping out to get season tickets to Cameron Indoor Stadium in basketball, they might have to start putting some of their extra money into planning for a bowl trip because, for the second-straight year, the Blue Devils became bowl eligible. That’s not bad for a team that annually occupied the ACC basement until two years ago. The win over the Hokies provided an impressive exclamation point because Virginia Tech was coming into the game with a six-game winning streak.
Now both teams are 6-2 and Hokies, an already respected team in the league, has to give some back to their rivals from just south of the North Carolina border. Basketball is always No. 1 in Durham, but football is slowly closing the gap.