Regardless of Cutcliffe's future, Duke a winner

Staff WriterNovember 3, 2009 

Lots of Duke fans are mad at me, and it has nothing to do with Mike Krzyzewski, Cherokee Parks, Bill Foster, Gerald Henderson or even Shavlik Randolph.

That's how much things have changed with Blue Devils football.

Duke fans are upset because I had the unmitigated nerve to suggest in Saturday's column that David Cutcliffe might be interested in looking around for a more favorable place to coach than the one that last recorded a nine-win season in 1941.

So be it.

Cutcliffe already has bagged my ACC coach-of-the-year vote. But that doesn't change the fact that I still think it's about 10 times more likely that you'll go 4-8, rather than 8-4, at Duke regardless of how much you know about offense or how many Christmas cards you get from the Manning brothers.

The more important issue, for now, is that Cutcliffe has put football back into the annual game against North Carolina. For once in what seems like forever, the outcome of the game this week in Chapel Hill will be more about records than coaching security.

Thanks to Cutcliffe's magic and Butch Davis' win at Virginia Tech last week, the Heels and Blue Devils finally are playing for something more positive than the Buyout Bowl.

For most of what seems like the past quarter century or so, a Duke-Carolina football seemed like a game of Russian roulette. The losing coach often was as good as gone, and the winning coach was no more than a season or two from the same fate.

It helps some that this season each team will have three more games to play after Saturday. But the prevailing factor is that both are 5-3 overall. The winner will be assured of nothing worse than a break-even finishing record and possibly a bowl bid. But even the loser won't be doomed to a long, cold winter of hopelessness.

In Carolina's case, a 5-3 record isn't much of a surprise, of course. It's more or less where UNC was ticketed to be entering what a couple of months ago was imagined as the surest lock on the team's ACC schedule.

The big difference, of course, is Duke. At 3-1 in the league, the Blue Devils easily qualify as the surprise of the league, the Coastal Division and much of the nation. That's the impact Cutcliffe has made.

Duke fans, do not read this: (It's also why Coach Cut might be getting a telephone call from Virginia athletics director Craig Littlepage in a few weeks.)

But for now, who cares? Duke and North Carolina have a real football game again.

In recent years, you've probably heard the story about the person who left two Duke-Carolina football tickets on the dashboard only to have someone open the car and leave two more. That won't happen this week.

caulton.tudor@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8946

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