NORMAN — In April 2010, I interviewed Jay Wilkinson for a “Collected Wisdom” piece, and he made a statement that, at the time, seemed like a reach.
The former Duke All-America halfback and son of legendary OU coach Bud Wilkinson was talking about Blue Devils coach Dave Cutcliffe, and said of the program, “They’ll be a contender in a few years.”
Duke had just come off a 5-7 campaign, and would go 3-9 the next year.
But as Duke prepares to meet No. 1-ranked Florida State in the ACC Championship game Saturday, Wilkinson’s words now seem prophetic.
If Duke can shock the world and upset FSU, it would be the Blue Devils’ first outright conference championship since Wilkinson’s junior season in 1962.
Wilkinson and I chatted Thursday afternoon about Duke’s success this season.
Q: What has this season been like for you?
A: It’s been exciting. I’ve been thrilled for the players and for the coaches and for the administration, because it’s taken so many years. They’ve got better players. They’re very well coached. They had a good schedule, where they lost a couple early games to Georgia Tech and Pitt, and then little by little, they just continued to improve. That’s what you hope will happen, is that a team will improve rather than go backward. I’m just very proud of them.
At the beginning of this season, could you have imagined this level of success?
I really did think so. I wasn’t quite sure how or if it was going to happen, but coach Cut, since he’s been there, has made slow but very consistent progress. Every year they’ve gotten a little bit better. … They’re a heavy, heavy underdog to Florida State. Duke has played them several times, and more often than not, Florida State has won pretty convincingly. I’m just happy they have a chance to play them at the end of the year. I just hope the Duke kids will show up. I personally think it’ll be a closer game than most people think, but I don’t know. It’s gonna be a fun opportunity for them, and I sure hope they play well.
Are you surprised Duke is a 29.5-point underdog?
It seems high to me. I think that maybe what they’re expecting is that with Florida State’s explosive offense, if they can hit a couple bombs and get ahead early, that’s probably what some of the people in Las Vegas are thinking. In the Carolina game, Duke was very fortunate. They had a couple of times where some of the Carolina receivers were behind the secondary. On one occasion they dropped a ball. I doubt that’ll happen against Florida State.