It's that time of year again folks! Duke Football is less than twelve days from kicking off their 2013 season against North Carolina Central in Wallace Wade Stadium. It'll be a 4:00 start. Inside the locker room, the Blue Devils are where most teams are this time of year mentally: they're anxious to compete against someone other than a teammate.
Coach David Cutcliffe has ushered in many changes since his arrival in Durham, with the main boost being facilities upgrades. Those upgrades were on display this past Saturday during Meet the Devils Day, where fans could meet and interact with players, and pick up some autographs and pictures along the way.
The event was held in the Paschal Field House, which is the new practice facility, so it allowed fans to see the new digs first hand. Having observed the changes surrounding the program in an up close and personal way through our coverage, I can tell you that the differences are like night and day from when Cut and company arrived on the Methodist Flats. Players quickly pop to their assigned areas in practice, and there is a definite sense of togetherness and focus. Trust me when I say this: there will be some more bumps in the road along the way, but a foundation is finally in place and as a result, Duke recruiting continues to get better each season. Better recruiting of course leads to better results on the field.
In the coming seasons we'll be seeing the removal of the track and a new press box, not to mention an upgraded concourse which will connect to Cameron Indoor Stadium. Some of us used to say we wanted to see these kinds of things happen before we die. Well, I'm not dead yet, and it is just great to see the administration finally dedicating the necessary support for these important steps to be taken.
Duke players, coaches, and fans had a ton of fun going to the Belk Bowl last season, despite losing it in heartbreaking fashion. But let's face it: to make another bowl game this season, Duke will need to take another step forward -- this one being winning games that are regarded as toss-ups on paper. Many fans are falling into the trap of thinking Duke will be a favorite over teams they defeated a season ago, like Wake Forest and Virginia. Even without Florida State and Clemson on the schedule this year -- which is nice -- you could make a case that ten games could fall into that toss-up category. Duke has to start winning some more of those.
But if the Blue Devils struggle in those games, and the record suffers, it is important for the fan base to focus on the big picture. That big picture consists of a program that undoubtedly is moving in the right direction.
Duke can and will win some games this season, but keep in mind that it wasn't that long ago when the Devils struggled simply to compete at this level. It takes time -- a lot of time -- for a foundation to solidify.
For me, I will enjoy attending the opener like any other person who follows the program. It will be a new team, breaking in a new starting quarterback and replacing some really good players who graduated off of last year's squad. It will be interesting to see which players step up and how they handle the inevitable adversity which comes to all teams. I can tell you that these players are hungry for a win after losing every game since their rollicking and most satisfying victory over arch rival North Carolina a season ago, a win which landed the Victory Bell back in Durham.
One of the things Coach Cutcliffe has mentioned on several occasions this off-season is how much the fans helped Duke defeat North Carolina at home. We live in an age in which every move a team makes is televised in some way, but attending the games with some good old-fashioned live support makes things happen. Fan support is one of the most important elixirs when it comes to winning, so in a sense the fan base and team are in this thing together.
And should the Blue Devils make it to another bowl, it will not likely be right down the road as it was in Charlotte last year, so fan turnout and continued support will be even more important. A season ago in their close loss to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, Duke drew some very solid ratings on ESPN. The team got a taste of something special and fans' thirst for a bowl game was quenched. But everyone left wanting more. And that's a good thing.
The truth of the matter is that the program is not at a place where you can count on a bowl game just yet, but these Blue Devils are in a position to compete in every game on their schedule this season and with some luck and good play, they could take their fan base bowling again.
But one game at a time is the way to get it done. Game One: Duke will take on NCCU at Wallace Wade on August 31st at 4:00. Tickets are still available through GoDuke.com.