Can Thomas Sirk step in and fill the shoes of Anthony Boone at Duke in 2015?
The Duke Blue Devils won their seventh game of the year on Saturday, guaranteeing them their first winning season since 1994. They also guaranteed themselves a second straight bowl appearance, the first time in school history that the team has gone to back-to-back bowl games. Duke is also in position to win nine games for the first time in school history since 1941. The key factor in Duke’s success has been Coach David Cutcliffe.
There should be no doubt that Cutcliffe is on the short list of candidates for the Coach of the Year Award. That list will likely include Auburn’s Gus Malzahn but given what Cutcliffe has done for a program that was considered one of the worst in the country cannot be overlooked. In six seasons, Cutcliffe has already won more football games than his predecessors won in the 13 seasons before he arrived after the 2007 season.
Cutcliffe has carried over Duke’s success from last year despite losing Sean Renfree at quarterback, all-time leading receiver Conner Vernon and third team All-ACC safety Matt Daniels. This season, Cutcliffe’s team didn’t miss a beat after starting quarterback Anthony Boone went down for three games with a broken collarbone.
The high point of the season so far for Cutcliffe and Duke was the 13-10 victory over 16th ranked Virginia Tech. It was the first time Duke had beaten a ranked opponent since 1994 and the first time since 1981 that Duke had beaten Virginia Tech. It was also the first time Duke had beaten a ranked opponent on the road since 1971 when Duke defeated Stanford.
The season is far from over and Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils have a chance at continuing to make history beginning this week when they take on the Miami Hurricanes, a team that was ranked in the Top 25 prior to their loss against Virginia Tech and at one point was ranked as high as 10th in the nation in early October.
No matter what happens this Saturday, or even the rest of the season, Cutcliffe has earned the right to be the frontrunner for college football’s Coach of the Year Award. His program might not be as sexy as Auburn’s or Baylor’s but Duke has gone from football afterthought to contender for the ACC Coastal Division title. The work done by Cutcliffe can’t be denied and nor can the idea that the Duke football program is just getting started in showing the country what it can do.