The Devils' Advocate: For the First Time in a Long Time, Duke Has No Excuses

Mike KlineAnalyst ISeptember 2, 2009

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 29:  Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis #9 of the Duke Blue Devils trotts off the field after a short offensive series against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the game at Wallace Wade Stadium on November 29, 2008 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

After years of less than mediocrity in football, the Duke Blue Devils find themselves in a fairly unfamiliar situation of being expected to win games.

For the first time in a long time, Duke has the talent and coaching to start looking down the standings instead of staring up all the time.

The but in all of this is that anything less than a .500 season or better would have to be considered a disappointment for a team whose coach and fans have bowl aspirations.

I've predicted that Duke will finish 6-6 this season falling one game shy of the required seven wins they'd need for a bowl appearance. That prediction could waver in either direction depending on the normal factors that weigh into a team's success or failure from year to year.

Can Duke avoid injuries to key players, will they catch the breaks they need to win the close games, and will the coaches make the right decisions at the right time?

Those are all things every team counts on to win, but the one thing that many don't have to face is the battle of learning how to win with regularity.

Look at the great programs currently and historically in College Football and you will see teams that had no problem knowing how to win with regularity and compare them with a Duke program that hasn't been able to figure it out for the better part of half a century.

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There has always been one excuse or the other in addition to those already mentioned, such as the coaching staff being inexperienced or inept, or the talent isn't at Division I standards due to poor recruiting.

Those aren't legitimate excuses anymore. Duke has a proven coaching staff who has won more than they've lost and they have skilled players.

Probably the biggest factor to their expected success is Coach David Cutcliff. Past coaches—even Carl Franks and Ted Roof—were able to bring in some decent players, yet they weren't able to get the talent to shine on the field very much if at all.

Cutcliff, unlike his predecessors, can do just that. Not only is his molding the talent he inherited but he is continuing to add to it with solid recruiting. So the excuse that Duke isn't bringing in talent no longer can be made.

One of the biggest knock's on this year's team is that they only have only nine seniors and thus not enough experience. That though is probably a good thing in the effort to build a winning tradition.

With fewer players who were around to experience the worst of times it will be easier for Cutcliff to build a strong mindset that winning is the norm and not the exception.

Beginning last year Cutcliff began in earnest to develop not only a winning culture in the players but the fans, which has required a lot of work. Yet he has succeeded in putting some new wheels on the old bandwagon and with some able horses this old clunker is up and running again.

Duke was teetering on the edge of the college football abyss and Cutcliff single-handedly tipped the program in the right direction.

They may not be full steam ahead but they are moving forward, and I don't think he will allow the excuses of old to weigh down this program any longer. 

Everyone in the Duke camp is chomping at the bit to hit the field this Saturday in the season to show that they are ready to take the next step forward in the rebuilding process.

If they can take care of business against Richmond, the defending Division II national champions, it will be the second season in a row where they have won their opener, a sign that this program is truly on the upswing.

While many power schools may overlook a game like Richmond, Duke isn't in the position yet to look past anyone, especially a defending champion, and if they can stay grounded despite the preseason expectations then the sky's the limit for the future of this program.

And there will be no excuses made or accepted.