Belk Bowl Preview

Charlotte trip perfect for Blue Devils

Cutcliffe excited to play in fertile recruiting grounds

rgreenjr@charlotteobserver.comDecember 7, 2012 

It has been 18 football seasons since Duke last played in a bowl game, and it’s been 70 years since the Blue Devils played a postseason game in North Carolina.

When Duke coach David Cutcliffe considers what it means for his program to face Cincinnati Dec. 27 in the Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium, it’s a nearly ideal scenario.

“If we could have written it back, we couldn’t have written it any better than to be here in Charlotte,” Cutcliffe said Thursday during a pre-bowl visit to Bank of America Stadium.

With 16 players from the Charlotte area on the roster, Cutcliffe and the Duke program will have the added benefit of playing near the center of an important recruiting area for the program as it attempts to turn bowl games into regular occurrences rather than once-in-a-generation celebrations.

Cutcliffe, who has been recruiting the Charlotte area for more than 30 years, said he regularly attends high school games in and around Mecklenburg County, citing the area as the forefront of the development of high school football in North Carolina.

First-team all-ACC cornerback Ross Cockrell is from Waxhaw, while second-team all-ACC receiver Jamison Crowder is from Monroe.

“It is critical for us to have the chance to play in Charlotte,” Cutcliffe said.

For a program long left out of college football’s postseason, the Blue Devils’ presence in the Belk Bowl is a big moment for the seniors, Cutcliffe said. It may be even bigger for the underclassmen, he said.

“Only 27 of our players are juniors or seniors, and that makes you turn back flips if you’re an old coach,” Cutcliffe said. “You’ve got to get to this step to get to the next one, particularly when you’ve been where we’ve been for so long.

“One of our goals was to reach bowl eligibility. But it was just a beginning. It’s just one of the goals.”

Cutcliffe said he and his staff have been busy recruiting since the Belk Bowl bid became official on Sunday. They’ll gather in the coming days, and the Blue Devils get down to serious preparation for Cincinnati once exams end next week.

Though he hasn’t studied much tape on the Bearcats yet, Cutcliffe said he already knows the key aspects of Duke’s opponent.

“They have a lot of the right pieces of the puzzle,” Cutcliffe said. “Their quarterback got them back on track late in the season and they have always been an aggressive, get-after-you defensive team. And they’re always going to have speed.”

Ticket update: Bowl executive director Will Webb said he is optimistic the Dec. 27 game can meet or exceed the game’s 10-year average attendance of 60,000 fans.

“We’re very pleased (with ticket sales),” Webb said. “We’re at 46 to 48,000 now, and we have seen continued buying by Duke fans. It hasn’t dropped off. The Cincinnati people are telling us they’re confident they will sell their 12,500 tickets.”

The Belk Bowl will also feature a free pre-game concert by Lady Antebellum at 4:30 p.m. across the street from Bank of America Stadium.

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