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Duke not overwhelmed by Alabama tradition

Of all the unlikely places to find a history lesson on Alabama football, peek into Duke coach David Cutcliffe’s wallet.

There you’ll find a newspaper clipping and a ticket stub from Alabama’s 28-17 win over Auburn at Legion Field in Birmingham on Nov. 28, 1981 when Bear Bryant became college football’s all-time winningest coach.

Cutcliffe is a native of Birmingham, Ala. He graduated from Alabama in 1976. And he worked as an undergraduate assistant coach for the Crimson Tide under Bryant.

He understands what his team will be up against on Saturday when No. 1-ranked Alabama travels to Wallace Wade Stadium to face a program that is 0-10 against Associated Press No. 1s. It’s the first time an ACC school has hosted a reigning BCS national champ from another conference, and overall, the ACC is 0-6 in nonleague games against reigning BCS champs.

“How better to measure yourself,” Cutcliffe said, “than to measure yourself against the best?”

On paper, the odds are stacked against Duke, as Alabama boasts the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, while the Blue Devils are allowing 40 points per game. Few people outside of the football program are giving the Blue Devils a chance. So where is the confidence going to come from?

“That’s something you have to earn,” Cutcliffe said. “If we don’t practice with great execution and intensity and focus, nothing is different about football than anything else -- it’s preparation. Your preparation has to be really phenomenal to be able to compete with a team as talented as Alabama. The work is out there on the grass. That’s the fun part of it. When you get out there on the grass, anything can happen. Any confidence level we build will certainly have to be earned as the week goes on in preparation.”

Duke quarterback Sean Renfree said he immediately thinks of three things at the mention of Alabama: History, tradition and a pressure to win. Yet he said the team plans to approach the game as it would any other.

“We have a good game plan for them,” he said. “I don’t feel it’s a whole lot different preparing.”

“We have a lot of great playmakers. I would take any guy on our offense or defense, I’d go into any game with them. It makes me a lot more confident knowing I have great players surrounding me.”

Alabama’s defense hasn’t given up a touchdown yet, but Renfree has directed the Blue Devils to over 40 points in each of the first two games. Duke hasn’t done that in back-to-back games since 1991, and Renfree is in his first season as a starter.

“I think their secondary is great, it might be one of the best secondaries we’ll see all season,” he said. “There’s definitely things in the secondary our coaches think we can take advantage of but we’re going to have to go out there and earn everything we take Saturday.”