When Duke and its Durham neighbor North Carolina Central meet on the football field for the first time Saturday, the Blue Devils should be aiming for something a little more than community togetherness.
Duke Football is in a fragile state at best, and a loss to the Eagles in a season which already includes a loss to a FCS school, won't do the Blue Devils any favors.
When they put on the pads, Duke must be able to put the festivities of the day to the side and concentrate on the task at hand. Anything short of a decisive victory will most likely be viewed as a failure.
At Long Last
The concept of the game came about in order to bring unity in the Bull City. By pitting the two universities against each other, city and school officials hoped to unite the two diverse fan bases that make up Durham.
Strangely, the two schools have never met and most in the community or knowledge of the history of Durham pretty much figured it would never happen. Now, at long last, it will be a reality.
The two schools met in basketball last season with the remnants of the Duke Lacrosse scandal fresh on everyone’s minds, or at least that is what the media wanted us to believe.
Now that that distant, yet, sobering unpleasant memory is starting to fade, the goal is to continue to strengthen the ties in Durham between the schools with a day full of festivities.
Hopefully, the event provides the desired effect, but for the Blue Devils this day will be all about the football.
A Lot Still to Prove
For Duke, this game is a must win on many levels. Duke must win and win big to restore some confidence in themselves as well as energize the fan base.
Through the first three games, Duke's offense has been stagnant and fairly unimpressive. Starting quarterback Thad Lewis has not been sharp and the running game has been non existent.
Much of the early season hype surrounding what the Devils were thought to be capable of, has worn off following the tough loss in the opener against Richmond.
Duke rebounded with a nice win against Army, but the win took its toll on the Blue Devil's health. The banged up Blue Devils fought hard early, but were eventually put down by a very good Kansas team last week.
The running back corps is so banged up that Coach David Cutcliffe announced that his highly touted true-freshman running back, Desmond Scott, will fore go his red-shirt year to help out the Blue Devil's beat-up and anemic offense.
Scott's presence could give the offense a boost, but Duke should be able to handle the Eagles.
I repeat, should.
Classic in Name Only
The game, while named the Bull City Gridiron Classic, probably won't live up to its moniker.
After all, Duke is Duke, but Central is just getting its bearings as a Division I school at the FCS level. Technically, they aren't officially recognized by the NCAA as being at the FCS level yet, as they are still in the transitioning faze.
And up until a few weeks ago, they didn't even have a conference. They will be joining the MEAC conference next year.
While the Eagles did find success on the Division II level, they are as expected, struggling in their transition to FCS play. But they aren't terrible.
Case in point, at several points in the last decade, Division I or not, Central could have easily laid claim to being the best football team in Durham.
Duke had slowly started to emerge as something other than the running joke of not only the ACC, but the entire college football community last year. However, this year, by Cutcliffe's own admission, Duke hasn't been clicking.
The Central game is a must win for several reasons like bowl eligibility, but mainly pride.
If Duke looses this game, I can only imagine the laughing stock Duke Football would become.
Not to say the Blue Devils are a well respected program, but the hit the program would take would undermine a lot of the good Cutcliffe has done toward making Duke, at the very least, a respected name in college football again.
So while Saturday should prove to be a festive day for the community of Durham, the opportunity for Central to get a boost and the risk for Duke to take a tumble remains strong.
It’s a risk that the Blue Devils better heed, because even a close win is still a loss in the minds of the doubters and the few fainted hearted Duke Football fans left.