|For the first time since 1994, Duke has six wins and is bowl-eligible. (US Presswire)|
With their 33-30 win over North Carolina on Saturday night, the Duke Blue Devils are now bowl eligible for the first time since 1994.
After leading nearly the entire game, that elusive victory seemed to slip away when Gio Bernard gave North Carolina a 30-26 lead on a fumble-recovery touchdown. But Sean Renfree wrapped up the game-winning drive with a touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder on fourth-and-goal.
Win No. 6 for David Cutcliffe's squad was going to be memorable, whenever it happened, but the circumstances of this particular breakthrough made the celebration even sweeter for Duke fans. The Blue Devils had lost 21 of the prior 22 meetings with North Carolina, so to win back the Victory Bell against their hated rival, earn bowl-eligibility for the first time since 1994 AND do so in front of a sellout home crowd in primetime on national television? That's a triple play right there.
"It's been a long time coming for us - it's our fifth year," Cutcliffe told ESPN after the game. "We have closed the gap. We have worked hard for this. Now, hopefully, this helps us move forward.
"That's the way a coach thinks. We want to take this and move forward."
Becoming bowl-eligible is worth celebrating, but it's not the end of the road for Duke. Depending on what happens later Saturday in the Miami - Florida State game, the Blue Devils could be all alone atop the ACC Coastal Division standings heading into Week 9.
Before we dash to the record books to see the last time Duke won the ACC - 1989, under ACC Coach of the Year Steve Spurrier - it is important to note that the final four opponents on the schedule are Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami. The chances of going undefeated down that stretch are not very high for any ACC team.
But this 2012 Duke team should not be isolated as a once-in-a-lifetime bowl-eligible team. If the trends continue, Duke will likely be competing for postseason bids as long as David Cutcliffe and his staff are calling the shots in Durham.
In his first four seasons (2008-11), Cutcliffe topped the program's win total from 1999-2007. The school recently announced $100 million in athletic facilities renovations, which include 10,000 more seats in Wallace Wade Stadium, a new press box, luxury suites and a grand entrance connecting the stadium and Cameron Indoor Stadium. Without the increased success of the last five years, Wallace Wade might not get those kinds of upgrades.
Duke travels to Tallahassee next week to face Florida State. The game is set for a 3:30 p.m. EST kickoff on ESPNU.
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