Belk Bowl: Duke vs. Cincinnati 6:30 p.m. Dec. 27

Duke doesn't mind being bowl underdog

lkeeley@newsobserver.comDecember 20, 2012 

— Duke hasn’t appeared in a bowl game since the 1994 season. Finding the Blue Devils’ last bowl win, however, requires looking back further.

All the way back to the 1961 Cotton Bowl.

“We all know that stat,” defensive lineman Justin Foxx said. “We’ve been keeping that in the back of our minds when we practice.”

Duke (6-6) began its preparations in earnest this week for Cincinnati (9-3), its opponent in the Dec. 27 Belk Bowl. The Blue Devils are 7.5-point underdogs. That’s fine by them.

“Doesn’t that just fuel anybody?” coach David Cutcliffe said. “That’s kind of life. You love people telling you you can’t. And when somebody tells you you’re the underdog, they’re telling you you can’t win. I’ve always liked that role.”

While the Blue Devils’ players might not have any bowl experience, Cutcliffe and his staff have plenty. Cutcliffe won four of the five bowls he went to as head coach at Ole Miss, beating Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas Tech and losing to West Virginia. Cutcliffe’s first bowl as a head coach, the 1998 Independence Bowl against Texas Tech, came less than a month after he was hired to coach the Rebels. Ironically, he replaced Tommy Tuberville, who recently was hired at Cincinnati after Butch Jones’ departure. (Tuberville will not coach the Bearcats in the Belk Bowl).

Cutcliffe has imparted his bowl knowledge onto his players. Each player was given an itinerary of scheduled practices, and the practices have been shorter and more intense.

“We won’t get rusty with the practices we’ve had,” wide receiver Jamison Crowder said. “We’re going hard and in full pads.”

Crowder, along with Foxx and 14 other Blue Devils, will also be returning home for the game. Each Duke player received six tickets to give to friends and family, and Crowder and Foxx said they could use several more. For Foxx, playing against Cincinnati in Bank of America Stadium will fulfill a childhood dream.

Desmond Scott, a Durham Hillside High graduate, has played in the Panthers’ stadium once. It’s an experience he remembers well.

“I was 8 years old, in a halftime game during the Panthers game,” he said. “Just to be on the field again will speak volumes to myself and my family.

“It was loud and very big. The field at the time seemed huge. I can’t wait to get back there and enjoy this with my teammates.”

There will be plenty of pregame festivities to enjoy, including a Belk shopping spree and a trip to the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Before Duke embarks on that process, Cutcliffe will make sure his team understands what this moment means to the program, one that has waited 17 years for another bowl trip.

And 51 years (and counting) for another bowl win.

“Generationally, that’s kind of hard to have a sense of that history,” Cutcliffe said. “We do talk about that, and I want them to feel a sense of history because they play here. The history does indicate some tough times in recent years and a while back, but it also represents the best of the best.”

Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley

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