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Bigger goals remain for Duke

Duke coach David Cutcliffe said this is the strongest, fastest team he has had in Durham -- good enough to beat every team remaining on the schedule, including No. 12-ranked Florida State on Saturday.

“Everybody left on our schedule can certainly beat us, I’m no fool,” he said. “I know that. But we also think we can beat everybody left on our schedule, too.”

Duke is bowl eligible for the first time since 1994 -- a major accomplishment for the program in Cutcliffe’s fifth season, and a huge hurdle for the Blue Devils. More importantly, though, Duke is leading the Coastal Division standings heading into Tallahassee this weekend. Despite Duke’s success, Cutcliffe is well-aware of the fact that many outside the program expect it to be fleeting. With Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami still on the schedule, Duke’s toughest road is still ahead.

So is its biggest goal.

“I want our guys to believe in themselves and believe they’re competing for a Coastal Division championship,” Cutcliffe said. “I keep hearing the promo saying, ‘You’ve got Atlantic Division-leading Florida State and Coastal Division-leading Duke -- yes, Duke (you know, that’s how they say it) -- for the time-being in everybody’s eyes. My big goal is to answer that challenge. Whether we do or don’t, who knows? But if we don’t try, then I know we won’t.”

Duke (6-2, 3-1 ACC) is facing a one-loss giant this weekend in Florida State. Cutcliffe said the Seminoles “literally may be the best team in the country.” FSU has the No. 7 scoring offense in the nation and the No. 5 scoring defense. Duke has lost each of the past 17 games to FSU.

Even if Duke were to lose this weekend, though, it could still win the Coastal Division. The Blue Devils are the only team remaining in the division with one ACC loss -- and that’s what’s different about the program this year.

It’s going to be relevant in November for the first time in almost two decades.

“I love it,” Cutcliffe said. “I like meaningful games in November. The weather turns colder, the grass gets a little brown. I’m a traditionalist. This is football now. We’re headed towards Thanksgiving week. How great is that, when you’re playing meaningful football? I’ve always been a part of teams since I was a kid that that was the case. I’ve been fortunate to be on a lot of championship football teams as a player and a coach. I love these guys tasting that. I hope they like it a lot. Now we have to do something with it.”