Getting there probably won’t be as simple as it sounds.
The Blue Devils are a combined 1-39 against their remaining six opponents since the Atlantic Coast Conference expanded in 2004 — including a 0-8 mark against this week’s opponent, Virginia Tech.
Still, only once in the past 17 years has Duke even been this close to bowl eligibility. There’s no shielding the players from those bowl possibilities — so coach David Cutcliffe doesn’t mind if they savor the situation a little.
“I told my wife, ‘I don’t want to spoil a good party,’” Cutcliffe said Tuesday. “That’s not the only reason you’re playing the game, but that’s just human nature. How are you going to fool them?
“They’re starving. Why wouldn’t they feel that way? To ruin their party? I’m not going to do that. But I don’t want to hear a bunch about it in the locker room before the ball game. Better start thinking about what you’ve got to do to win a game, period.”
These Blue Devils (5-1, 2-0) are off to their best start since the 1994 team opened with seven straight wins on its way to the school’s most recent bowl game. Only once since then — a 5-7 finish in 2009 — have they won this many games.
Along with that success has come a little respect from the poll voters — Duke received three poll points in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 — but not from the oddsmakers. The Hokies (3-3, 1-1) are 10-point favorites.
“People still see us as an underdog and trying to see if we really are who we are, depending on who we play,” running back Juwan Thompson said.
Part of the reason for Duke’s success has been a manageable schedule. Four of the wins have come against Bowl Subdivision teams that are a combined 7-16. None has a winning record and Wake Forest
(3-3) is the only one at .500.
Now things are about to get tougher: Three of the next four opponents — Florida State, Clemson and the Hokies — have appeared in the Top 25 this season.
Nobody on this team knows what it feels like to beat any of the final six opponents. Duke’s only post-expansion win against any of them came in 2004 against Clemson.
One reason for optimism: under Cutcliffe, the Blue Devils have kept it close against Virginia Tech. Three of his four meetings were decided by eight or fewer points, including last year’s 14-10 loss.
These Blue Devils already ended one lengthy losing streak this year, beating Wake Forest for the first time since 1999. The Hokies want this streak to continue.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve had close games with them, so we’ve known they’re a talented group,” Hokies cornerback Antone Exum said. “It was just, when were they going to put it all together? And it seems like maybe this is that year for them. They had a pretty successful start. Hopefully, we can tame that a little bit.”
The Duke-Virginia Tech game usually matches one Coastal Division-leading team against another riding a long losing streak, and so does this one. But this time, the roles have flipped.
The Blue Devils are the ones atop the division while the Hokies have dropped three of four during their worst start since the 1992 group opened 2-3-1 and became the most recent Tech team to miss the postseason.
“I guess we’d be in crisis if we couldn’t move the ball and if we couldn’t stop anybody,” quarterback Logan Thomas said. “That’s not the case. We’ve been able to move the ball and we’ve been able to stop people. We just haven’t done it all in the same game yet.”
In last week’s loss at North Carolina, they surrendered the most yards rushing they’ve ever allowed to one player — 262 by Gio Bernard.
“I wanted to see what, exactly, happened — like, what runs did he have that were just that open,” Thompson said. “Because 262 is a big amount. ... They did some things defensively that I’ve never seen, like when you put everybody in the box and after you pass the secondary, it’s over.
“We’re just going to go out there with the Duke schemes that we have and play our type of football,” he added.