Duke winning the Coastal Division was the best possible scenario for the ACC championship game on Saturday.
Go ahead, make your cliché David versus Goliath comparisons as the Blue Devils prepare to face what should be the No. 1 team in the nation in Florida State, if you must. A 10-win team, though, one ranked in the BCS standings -- an opponent that earned its way into the title game, as opposed to sneaking in through the backdoor or needing to win a tiebreaker scenario -- was the best matchup the conference could possibly hope for at this point. Virginia Tech is a four-loss team, Georgia Tech now a five-loss team. Miami? Well, we saw what happened the last time they played Florida State.
Not only is Duke the best story in the ACC right now, it’s the best team in the Coastal Division, and it left no doubt on Saturday. An emotional coach David Cutcliffe was hoisted onto the shoulders of two of his players and carried off the field in winning fashion following Duke’s 27-25 win over North Carolina. It capped an eight-game winning streak, and an undefeated regular season on the road. Duke broke the record for school wins in a season, and it will now try to win its first ACC title since 1989.
“When you get right down to what you want to train young folks to do, it’s that: be where you’re supposed to be, doing what you’re supposed to be doing as well as you can possibly do it,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s our one team rule, and that means on the practice field, in the classroom and socially. I have never been around a group of young men that have done that better.”
In the eight seasons of ACC divisional play prior to this year, Duke won a total of nine league games. This fall, the program won six ACC games -- the most in a season since 1989.
With the ACC finishing 1-3 against its SEC opponents in Week 14, the lone win coming from FSU over Florida, Duke was again highlight of the weekend. Clemson lost to South Carolina for the fifth straight time and committed six turnovers in the process, Georgia Tech blew a 20-point lead and lost in double overtime to Georgia, and Wake lost a heartbreaker to Vandy in the fourth quarter. It was a flop as far as the national spotlight was concerned, but Duke’s story has captured the attention of many fans across the country this fall.
The Blue Devils should be a heavy underdog to Florida State in the ACC championship game, and they know it. They also know they were picked to finish last in their division.
And Duke isn't done playing yet.