DURHAM — There's only one thing to say about Duke's loss to Richmond on Saturday.
Richmond. Richmond, Richmond. Richmond? Richmond! Richmond...
Once again, another Duke football season is all but over before it ever really began.
Two years ago, the Blue Devils went into the season with legitimate bowl aspirations, only to drop their opener, at home, to Richmond. They finished 5-7, ahead of N.C. State, Virginia and Maryland in the ACC standings, but only four of those wins counted toward bowl eligibility. When it became clear they weren't going to get to six, they collapsed late and lost their final four.
This year, the Blue Devils went into the season with legitimate bowl aspirations only to drop their opener, at home, to Richmond - without a swine-flu epidemic tearing through the team the way it was in 2009. The way the rest of the schedule shakes out, it's hard to see Duke finding five more wins, let alone the six the Blue Devils need to end a 16-year bowl drought.
If anything, the manner of defeat was more painful this time around, with all-everything candidate Nick Snyderwine missing a 28-yard chip shot that would have given Duke the lead with 90 seconds to go. Either way, it's just another installment of Duke's recurring Nightmare on Highway 751, with the otherwise mild-mannered Richmond Spiders playing the role of Freddy Krueger.
It's one thing to get blown out by an Alabama team coming off a national title and still loaded with talent. It's another to lose to an Football Championship Subdivision team 11 days after its coach resigned because of a drunk-driving arrest. It's another to lose to the same team three straight times: 2006, 2009, 2011.
The Blue Devils aren't going to become competitive in the ACC until they become competitive in the Colonial Athletic Association. While Duke was losing to Richmond, a few miles down Highway 15-501, North Carolina was puttin' a whuppin' on another CAA team, James Madison.
If Southern Cal transfer Aaron Corp can beat the Blue Devils, what is Stanford's Andrew Luck - not only a legit Pac-12 quarterback, but a Heisman Trophy contender - going to do to them this Saturday?
There might have been six wins on Duke's schedule, but by any accounting, Richmond had to be one. Realistically, the Blue Devils could beat Tulane and Wake Forest at home and win at Florida International and Virginia. Beyond that, they're going to have to win at Miami or Boston College and upset someone at home, probably a ranked team. That's a lot of ifs for a team that can't beat an FCS team.
Virginia Tech lost to James Madison last season and won the ACC championship anyway, but the Hokies were playing five days after a hard-fought, season-opening loss to Boise State. These circumstances are different. To the limited extent that Virginia Tech had an excuse for its loss, Duke has none.
In his fourth season, David Cutcliffe has made admirable progress at Duke. Losses like Saturday's only underline how much work there was to do - and how much is still left to be done.
First Richmond. Then the ACC. Baby steps.
Duke ... Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke.