No. 20 Duke relishes worst-to-first ride

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 3, 2013 at 4:01 pm •  Published: December 3, 2013
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DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Nobody's laughing at Duke's football program anymore.

The 20th-ranked Blue Devils are playing No. 1 Florida State Saturday for an ACC championship and an Orange Bowl berth.

Still, it wasn't that long ago when Duke defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento heard somebody wondering why the perpetually putrid program even bothered to field a football team.

"Not the butt of everybody's joke anymore," Sarmiento said Tuesday.

The Blue Devils have made believers out of the Seminoles, who routed Duke 48-7 last year in Tallahassee, Fla.

"Just as Florida State has bought into coach (Jimbo) Fisher's coaching, I think those guys have bought into their team," Seminoles safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "You just see a group of guys that believe in each other, and when you have a belief you can do a lot of wonders. ... I just see a team that believes in each other and has a great coach and some smart players.

"They're on a roll."

Now they have to find a way to beat a Seminoles team that's a 29-point favorite and on track to play for the BCS championship. They also must figure out how to deal with quarterback Jameis Winston — the ACC's rookie of the year, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate and the subject of an ongoing investigation into sexual assault allegations.

"Our entire season has been based on people telling us what we can't do," tight end Braxton Deaver said. "'You're last in the ACC' — oh, that's funny, now we're first in the Coastal (Division)."

But what looks from the outside like an out-of-nowhere rise actually has been the product of coach David Cutcliffe's patient reconstruction project.

"It's not an accident. It's a process," Cutcliffe said. "Those young men on the 2008 team, '09 team, '10 team all took part in the development of these seniors and upperclassmen. ... It's not just a year.

"It's not just an event that happened this year."

Picked in the preseason to finish last in the division, Duke (10-2, 6-2) has already set a school record for victories, captured its first division title and sewn up the first consecutive bowl berths in school history.

That's quite a turnaround for a program that went winless four times from 1996-2007 with two other one-win seasons while setting the standard for football futility among power-conference schools during what defensive end Kenny Anunike called "the dark years."



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