DURHAM, N.C. (AP) – They’re used to winning streaks, national rankings and ACC championship buzz at Duke.
Just not in football.
But now that the 25th-ranked Blue Devils have the upper hand in the Coastal Division race, they’re out to prove there’s more to sports at Duke than basketball.
“You work so hard all year long, and you see all those numbers next to teams’ names, and you say, ‘I want that,'” tight end Braxton Deaver said Tuesday. “Duke, Top 25 – how about that? We couldn’t be any more excited about it.”
Everyone’s getting caught up in Duke’s rapid rise – even the members of Mike Krzyzewski’s powerhouse basketball program who are happy to share the spotlight around campus with the football players.
Freshman phenom Jabari Parker joked that when he signed his letter of intent last year, he didn’t know he was headed to a football school.
“I’m so excited our football team’s doing well,” Parker said. “I don’t like being the center of attention, so I try to stay low-key and focus on them as much as possible. … We’re so used to the program being a basketball school. When they look at football – they’re doing good.”
The Blue Devils (8-2, 4-2), the only two-loss team in the division, have won six straight – their longest winning streak since 1994. Now they have their first national ranking since they spent seven weeks of that year in the polls.
If they close with wins over Wake Forest (4-6, 2-5) and North Carolina, they’ll play No. 2 Florida State in the ACC championship game.
“We wanted to make sure that we finish,” cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “Obviously, guys are excited and happy. This is the first time we’ve been in a situation like this. But we know the job is not done.”
Maybe not, but it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the exponential progress Duke’s program has made from the hapless bunch that went winless four times with two one-win seasons from 1996-2007.
Since the league split into divisions in 2005, the Blue Devils have been picked to finish last in the Coastal every year but once – including this year, the first with 14 ACC teams.
Quipped coach David Cutcliffe: “The only difference is we went from sixth to seventh.”
The situation is quite familiar for this week’s opponent.
Jim Grobe’s Wake Forest team was picked last in the Atlantic Division in 2006 but enjoyed a charmed run to a No. 14 national ranking, a surprise victory in the ACC title game and a berth in the Orange Bowl.
“Winning. That’s the parallel,” Grobe said. “Finding ways to win. That’s what it’s all about. Once you get it going, your confidence builds and you start expecting it and for some reason, good things happen to you.”
Naturally, the Blue Devils want to keep it going.
The game against Wake Forest marks their first as a ranked team since the 1995 Hall of Fame Bowl loss to Wisconsin.
The winning streak included wins over then-No. 16 Virginia Tech and then-No. 24 Miami – the first time since 1971 that they’ve beaten two ranked teams in the same season.
What’s more, they realistically could be 9-1, had they come up with one more play somewhere in a 58-55 loss to Pitt on Sept. 21.
And they know they can’t afford to let down now that the other teams in the division are chasing them for a change.
“Really, it’s in our hands,” Deaver said. “We win two games, we’re in the ACC championship.”