While talk of this being one of the best Duke-UNC football games was all the rage this week, it became clear early on in Kenan Stadium that Duke was more focused on the big picture than one game. The end result was a 66-31 victory for the Tar Heels, and one of the more sacrificial gestures we’ve ever witnessed by one of the ACC’s oldest members on behalf of the league, surpassing even the time South Carolina left so as not to drag down the conference any longer.
Angry at the Blue Devils by not upholding their end of the bargain in #DukeUNC4Gameday last week, UNC went on to set a school record for school records set.
No one can accuse Duke coach David Cutcliffe of not seeing the forest for the trees, though some fans may need a refresher.
Winning a football title is, in large part, about perception of your program and, by extension, your conference. Clemson may be sitting atop the College Football Playoff rankings now, but dropping them out of the top 4 in favor of a 4-loss Alabama squad after the Tigers beat an unranked Coastal Division opponent in the ACC Championship Game is EXACTLY the type of thing that could have happened had Cutcliffe not foreseen it.
After being dealt a bad hand last week (you hear about Miami-Duke? #headphonebling), Cutcliffe and Duke decided it was better for the ACC if Clemson or FSU could snag another late season W over a respected, ranked opponent. And sometimes getting a respected, ranked opponent from the Coastal division takes some effort.
The act wasn’t 100% selfless by Duke. It would take more than just a little conference camaraderie for the Devils to take a dive. But who knows better about being slighted by perception than Duke football? The Devils fully expext THEY will be the ones competing for a spot in the national semifinals in the near future. They also know they could be undefeated with an average scoring margin of 50+ for the season and still be left out. But conference reputations can change. Look at the Big Ten in basketball (wait, don’t do that. Bad example.) If Cutcliffe and Duke can do their part this season to help UNC–and, by extension, the ACC and Clemson–look good, it only pays dividends for them in the future.
And boy did it work, because Marquise Williams and his merry band of wide receivers looked really, really, really, really good on Saturday. Now they just have to do their part and look good lying down against Clemson in the ACC title game.
Oh, and somebody clue NC State into this “help the league” campaign. Because I get a feeling they’re getting excited at the prospect of ruining UNC’s season in a few weeks.