Duke Beat: Blue Devils Put ACC on Notice

Before you start thinking that I’m going to try to convince you that Duke is going to win the ACC Championship or something, I really am not.

But I still think that the Blue Devils victory over Wake Forest on Saturday, which moved them to 4-1 (1-0 ACC), serves as a wakeup call for the rest of the league. You can’t just overlook Duke anymore.

Coaches have politely said as much ever since David Cutcliffe arrived in Durham, but honestly there have been times over the last 18 years that the rest of the ACC could almost look at their game weeks against Duke as a second bye.

Duke has been that bad, but not anymore.

And it isn’t so much because the Blue Devils went into Winston Salem and beat a Wake Forest team for the first time since 1999. It also isn’t because they have beaten one potentially overrated team in Florida International, and a couple of overmatched opponents in Memphis and FCS level North Carolina Central.

Duke’s maturation from conference cellar dweller to competitive threat has taken time, but it appears at least for now, that Cutcliffe has managed to transform his program into one that can no longer be viewed by the rest of the conference as a gimmie win.

Many have tried to juxtapose the Wake Forest program with Duke’s, yet the Blue Devils have not even come close to matching the level of success that the Deacons have under Jim Grobe.

Grobe built his program over time by redshirting little valued players out of high school and turning them into quality college football players. Duke has struggled to follow this model due to a combination of bad play and just bad luck.

Injuries have forced guys to play before it is their time, lack of experience has led to critical and constant mistakes, and while many have said Duke’s first string always plays tough, it has been a lack of depth in the second stringers that has sank the Blue Devils over the years.

Cutcliffe has finally closed the gap in recruiting, and despite being bit hard by the injury bug again this year, the Blue Devils have enough depth and experience to finally overcome some of those previous short comings.

During his weekly teleconference last Sunday, I asked him if he felt that the program was where he wanted it at this point.

“We have the program exactly where we want it,” Cutcliffe said. “This one (program) is running and running well.”

He talked about having a team that isn’t just satisfied with being close or just winning a few games. It is clear he wants a team that will challenge itself and do more than just get six wins a year.

“Hopefully you have a team that can find a way to compete for a championship, not just compete to be in bowl games,” Cutcliffe said.

“You have to do that over a period of time;  to say you’ve reach a point of that’s your level of expectation. I know that is the track we are on.”

Duke isn’t quite at that level where they will be competing for a championship this year, at least I don’t think. And at this point I’m pretty sure everyone in the program would be satisfied, to an extent, with getting six wins and getting to play some football in December or January if things go really well.

Still, beating a quality Wake Forest team despite losing your starting quarterback and several key defensive players, and already being  without several more key players, means that this Duke team is good enough, deep enough and confident enough to give even the toughest, most disciplined teams in the ACC fits.

This isn’t your classic old Duke football anymore. This is a good football team that may not always beat you, but they will earn your respect and the rest of the ACC had better take notice.

Duke Sports BlogMike Kline is the operator of DukeSportsBlog.com, a site dedicated to coverage and analysis of Duke Football and Basketball from a fan’s perspective. He is also a regular contributor for DukeReport.com. Mike does a monthly podcast with Jim Oliver of Duke Report focusing on Duke Basketball and occasionally football. Mike is a long time Duke football and basketball fan. A former journalist, Mike is now a mild mannered middle school teacher by day and blogger by night. Follow Mike on Twitter at @DukeBlogMKline

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