The 2012 Belk Bowl will be a new experience for the players on Duke’s football team.
Thursday night’s game against Cincinnati at Bank of America Stadium will be the first-ever postseason appearance for the current Blue Devils squad; in fact, it will be the school’s first bowl game in nearly 18 years.
Even Duke head coach David Cutcliffe doesn’t quite know what to expect.
“Is it going to be a little bit of a mystery for me, taking a team where none of (the players) have ever played in a bowl game? Certainly,” Cutcliffe, making his sixth bowl game appearance as a head coach, said Monday before the start of the Blue Devils’ practice at Providence Day.
“We’ll see what happens, if they start looking around at the crowd or not. Hopefully we’re tough enough mentally and prepared enough that we’ll get our feet on the ground pretty quick.
“It’s like any other game – once you start getting hit, you realize pretty quickly that you’re playing football.”
Duke’s experience is a marked contrast from the Bearcats (9-3), who have played in 10 bowl games since 2000, including six in the last seven years. That experience, according to Cincinnati interim head coach Steve Stripling, can make a difference.
“Personally, I think it does,” said Stripling, whose previous bowl game experience was with Central Michigan in the 2010 GMAC Bowl. “These kids are all used to going to bowl games, and they’re all used to the routine.”
However, Duke (6-6) may have the home-field advantage.
With Durham just a 2 1/2-hour drive from Charlotte, Stripling said he expects there will be more fans in the stands wearing the Blue Devils’ blue-and-while than Cincinnati’s red-and-black.
“We’ve told our players that we’re going to be outnumbered,” he said after the Bearcats’ practice.
Christmas away from home
With both teams away from home preparing for Thursday night’s game, Cutcliffe and Stripling both said they had plans in place to allow players to celebrate the Christmas holiday.
Since Christmas Day on Tuesday is an “off day” for Belk Bowl activities outside of practice, the first order of business is to let the players sleep late. “We’ll have them up at 10 a.m.,” Cutcliffe said.
With few of Cincinnati’s players having family in town yet – “Most of them are coming in the day of the game,” Stripling said – the Bearcats will hold a chapel and Christmas dinner Tuesday night for the players, coaches and support personnel.
Cutcliffe said the Blue Devils will have a church service and both a Christmas brunch and dinner Tuesday, with time worked in for players to spend time with their families if they have arrived in Charlotte.
“When they wake up Wednesday morning … it’s back to game mode,” Cutcliffe said.