DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — No. 24 Duke is in the midst of one of the most successful seasons in program history. Just don’t refer to the Blue Devils as one-year wonders.
The perennial losers are a victory against North Carolina from setting a school record with 10 wins and earning a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Players insist this season hasn’t been a flash in the pan. Rather, it’s the latest step forward in the construction of a consistent program.
“I’m confident in what coach (David Cutcliffe) has done here, and what we’ve done as a team, and it’s (to) turn the program around to where now we expect to have winning seasons,” linebacker Kelby Brown said Tuesday.
That’s a bold statement for a program that, until now, hadn’t finished above .500 since 1994.
Beat the Tar Heels on Saturday, and Duke (9-2, 5-2) will have the Coastal Division title all to itself and will face No. 2 Florida State in its first ACC title game.
Cutcliffe said before the win over then-No. 24 Miami two weeks ago that that winning 10 games would be “getting into the dream year” for Duke.
Now the Blue Devils are one victory from making it a reality — but are keeping from getting too caught up in it.
“The mood in the locker room is happy and up-spirited because we’ve never been in this position,” receiver Jamison Crowder said. “At the same time, the coaches are doing a good job managing our spirits and everything, not to get too high, and go out and play and enjoy the moment and realize that things can go backwards.
“Enjoy the moment,” he added, “but don’t get too overjoyed.”
They’ve come a long way from the hapless bunch that from 1996-2007 had four winless seasons and two years with one win. They’ve been a perennial preseason last-place pick in the Coastal — even this year.
Duke’s seven-game winning streak is its longest since a seven-game run in 1994, also the last time the Blue Devils appeared in the national rankings.
“This is why we came here,” Brown said. “We came here to build this program up. I fully believe that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Even during those numerous down seasons, they always received one courtesy vote in the coaches’ preseason poll from South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, whose first head coaching job was at Duke from 1987-89.
“That’s where I learned whatever I learned,” Spurrier said. “I always pull for those guys. Always.”
Naturally, with so much still on the line this year, the Blue Devils’ focus is on the present.
But there are indications that they also could contend in 2014, too.
“I think now that the program is off and rolling now,” Crowder said.
Only four players on the offensive depth chart are seniors. Both quarterbacks will be back, and so will three of the four running backs and every receiver but one — including Crowder. Brown will return to lead the linebackers, and eight of the 10 defensive backs on the two-deep are either freshmen or sophomores.
“It’s not like now that we won nine games, that every season’s going to be easy and we’re going to roll over people,” Brown said. “We’re going to have to repeat this every year. It’s a lot of work. I think guys know that, and hopefully young guys who weren’t a part of losing seasons don’t feel like it comes easy, because it really doesn’t.”