Duke still chasing history

This is not the norm at scholarly Duke -- no class, just football.

Welcome to the postseason, Blue Devils.

“It’s something none of the players have experienced,” said cornerback Ross Cockrell. “We’re all trying to get adjusted to being on campus when nobody else is here. But it’s nice. We don’t have class, we can just focus on football. It relieves a lot of stress when you don’t have anything else to do but football.”

Cockrell is a political science major who is also chasing a certificate in markets and management studies, whatever that might be. He also happens to be one of the ACC’s top cornerbacks, and he’ll be going home to Charlotte, N,C., for the program’s first bowl appearance since 1994. Not a bad way to end the season.

There are all kinds of perks that come with a bowl bid -- lucrative bowl gifts, events hosted by the bowl and extended practice time. But for the Blue Devils, playing in the Belk Bowl in nearby Charlotte has been the biggest reward.

“Right now, the most fun thing has just been being around the team and enjoying our time together,” Cockrell said. “We usually all go our separate ways by now.”

Not this year.

This year has been a special one in Durham. Say what you want about Duke’s lackluster finish -- the Blue Devils ended the season with a thud and four straight losses, but the players and coaches still have a rare opportunity in front of them against Cincinnati, the Big East co-champs. Duke hasn’t won a bowl game since 1961, and those within the program would obviously like to change that.

“It would be another chance for us to do something that hasn’t been done in a long time,” Cockrell said. “That’s the reason why we all came to Duke, was to be part of something that was truly special, to change a program and be part of that change. This would be another step towards doing that.”

Coach David Cutcliffe agreed and said a win over the Bearcats would help validate what Duke accomplished during the regular season.

“It’s something that you’ve got to do,” said Cutcliffe, who is 4-1 in bowls as a head coach. “You’ve got to beat teams like that. You need to win in postseason bowls. These are all steps we’re taking and to me [Cincinnati] presents a huge challenge, but at the same time, what a big opportunity this is for our program on national television. I think our guys are excited about the challenge.”