Johnny Manziel, with a little help from his defense, took home the win in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, beating the Duke Blue Devils 52-48. However, David Cutcliffe's Duke team certainly walks away from the 2013 season deserving of praise.
After a slow start, including Duke jumping out to a 38-17 halftime lead, Texas A&M got things on track and ultimately would keep the Blue Devils from getting the win. After a game where points and yardage were surrendered at will, two late Aggies interceptions would seal Duke's fate.
Yet, despite suffering the heartbreaking loss, when the dust settles on the 2013 campaign, Cutcliffe and his players turned in an outstanding season. A year that saw the Blue Devils not only win the Coastal for a trip to the ACC Championship Game but also cross the 10-win plateau.
Even with the loss, finishing 10-4 (6-2 in ACC play) gives Duke plenty to celebrate. More importantly, these young Duke football players got a taste of success and will enter next season with an appetite for more. This is not a team set to simply fade out of the ACC Coastal's picture; Duke is hoping to build on 2013.
Cutcliffe's team will enter spring with all of its passing and the bulk of its rushing and receiving production intact. These same players who carved up Texas A&M on New Year's Eve will be back to do it again in 2014. That includes Jamison Crowder, who jumped off the page for B/R's Alabama lead writer, Sanjay Kirpalani.
Certainly the loss hurts. Anthony Boone was out-dueling Manziel with under four minutes to go in the ballgame before the interception bug bit him in unfortunate fashion. Crowder's tremendous effort, 12 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown, was nice but not enough to get the Blue Devils over the hump.
Duke outgained A&M 661 to 541 and seemed poised to run away from the Aggies for the first 30 minutes. When the dogfight ensued in the second half, Manziel became the Johnny Football the nation was hoping to see, and Duke's defense simply had no answers, as evidenced by the latest unreal highlight added to Manziel's tape.
The Blue Devils played their collective behinds off, not just against Texas A&M but in the 2013 season. The loss in Atlanta should not change that fact. Cutcliffe's work to change the culture, create an environment that produces wins and upgrade the talent was on display for the nation in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Cutcliffe's team will be fighting to get better in 2014, and the squad returns enough pieces to be a problem for ACC foes. Although this team fell just short of the 11th win it wanted, the season was certainly worthy of big praise on the collegiate landscape.