Duke's Cutcliffe Shouldn't Be Done Winning Yet
By Eric Russell
David Cutcliffe, Gus Malzahn and Gary Pinkel were named the finalists for coach of the year. Cutcliffe already has claimed the ACC award, and the accolades shouldn't stop there this year.
Certainly not the three names many expected at the beginning of the year, but each has a valid argument for the award. Pinkel has the Missouri Tigers playing for an SEC championship and a 12-win season for the first time since 2007. They missed out on a BCS bowl that season after a loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. If the Tigers can avoid that fate again, with a little help, they could find themselves in the championship game.
Pinkel's counterpart Malzahn is in a similar situation. In his first year as the head coach at Auburn, he has the team where not many expected them to be. Auburn has undergone quite the turnaround. After a dismal 3-9 finish in 2012, Malzahn has the team in the conversation as a potential national title game participant. The pair of SEC coaches are well deserving, but neither of them is more deserving than Cutcliffe.
The argument can be made that the Blue Devils' 10-win season is a result of playing an inferior schedule. However, Cutcliffe has the program associated with winning regularly. Back-to-back ACC Coach of the Year awards are not a fluke.
Coming into the season the talk was about the departure of quarterback Sean Renfree and talented receiver Conner Vernon. Offensive struggles were supposed to be the norm for the Blue Devils. Instead they averaged 33.7 points per game. The defense was a question mark after falling apart in the home stretch last season — the unit gave up more than 40 points in each of the last five games — to end a promising 2012 campaign on a five-game losing streak. This year the Blue Devils' defense has come up big during the eight-game win streak.
Perhaps the ACC championship game really will highlight the merits of the Duke run. The 2012 Blue Devils also played three ranked opponents. They weren't able to come within 36 points of any of them. Two-thirds of the way through a trifecta of Top-25 opponents this season, Duke is 2-0, with both coming with an ACC title game appearance on the line.
Of course the Blue Devils are headed into Saturday's game with the goal of winning, but a close game is enough to show why Cutcliffe should finish ahead of Pinkel and Malzahn. Unlike their last matchup, I don't think 41 points will separate the Seminoles and Blue Devils this Saturday.