Duke seeking its own team identity as it prepares to play Cincinnati in Belk Bowl,
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon sees Thursday night’s Belk Bowl against Cincinnati (9-3) as a perfect opportunity to help the Blue Devils’ football team emerge from basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski’s shadow.
This is Duke’s first bowl game in 18 seasons, and the Blue Devils have their 5:30 p.m. time slot to themselves on a day with two other bowl games.
“Anybody who follows college football will be watching, so this is our chance in the national spotlight to take a big step forward with this program and let people know about us,” said Vernon, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s career leader in receptions and yards receiving.
Duke (6-6) hasn’t won a bowl game since 1961.
“Is there a lot of pressure on us? Absolutely,” said quarterback Sean Renfree. “But good players like added pressure, and they thrive on it.”
Coach David Cutcliffe called this game the next step in trying to build a winning tradition and raise the level of expectations of the players, similar to what his friend Krzyzewski has done on the hardwood.
“This is national exposure for us,” Cutcliffe said. “The NFL is not playing. We’re it. We’re the game. So people across the country who maybe heard a little bit about Duke football, if they see us play as well as we can play, I think they will be a little shocked. We have a lot of speed and a lot of skill. So this can have a huge impact for us.”
And Cutcliffe said the Blue Devils are on the verge of something special.
“I don’t plan on not making a bowl again. When I talked to coach Krzyzewski, there is no question what the expectations of a Duke basketball player are,” Cutcliffe said. “And that’s the opportunity we have — to create big expectations.”