Photo: Dave Clawson
Duke and Wake Forest are known as developmental programs. That means the Blue Devils and Demon Deacons must build recruiting classes based on 3-star prospects and lower rated athletes to compete with ACC schools that are heavy on 4-stars.
Their place in the college football food chain made Duke’s 31-23 win at Wake Forest in last year’s regular-season finale about more than about finishing with a .500 record. That sixth win in a 6-6 record translated to bowl eligibility and the extra three weeks of practice that comes with the post-season. Duke beat Northern Illinois in the Quick Lanes Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit for a 7-6 record, but even the extra game doesn’t tell the whole value. The true value comes with three extra weeks of practice.
At the Alabamas, Ohio States and the Clemsons of the college football world, three more weeks of work can translate among highly recruited athletes into grumbling inwardly or outwardly that they’re not playing enough.
But at Duke and Wake Forest, it means players that entering 2018 accepting they are benefiting from a redshirt season now have more time to development before spring drills and fall camp for the 2019 season. They have a better chance to move on to the two-deep depth chart or even earn a starting job.
With seven wins this year, Duke has already earned its sixth bowl trip in the last seven years in head coach David Cutcliffe's 11-year rebuilding run. Dave Clawson arrived in Winston-Salem five years ago and had Wake Forest in a bowl game the last two seasons.
“I think there are certainly a lot of players on our team who don’t want this thing to end,” Clawson said. “They know our goal is to get to a bowl. It’s week 12 and that goal is still alive and well. It either becomes a reality or dies in Durham on Saturday. There’s a sense of urgency and we know what’s at stake. Once you get six in the left column or seven in the right, you know what’s ahead. It’s unusual for us because, every other year, we’ve already known whether we’d go to a bowl or not.”
Wake Forest had clinched bowl eligibility in the ninth week of 2016 (7-6) and by the 10th in 2017 (8-5).
Duke clinched bowl eligibility in the ninth week with is sixth victory at Miami, but with a seventh victory over North Carolina, the Blue Devils remain within range of a nine-win season with wins over Wake Forest and in their bowl game.
“At this point, it’s certainly a two-game season,” Cutcliffe said. “Everybody is very aware of that. We’ve had a good November and could go 3-1 in November. That would be an excellent November.”
That also provides a boost to recruiting.
“It does carry energy,” he said. “Coaches are leaving, going out on the road and there’s momentum involved in recruiting. There’s momentum when we come back and approach practice, wherever we are preparing for a bowl game. I think this is as big a game as we’re going to play all year, to be honest with you, for all of those reasons we just mentioned. There’s a lot at stake for both teams.”
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