Recapping Duke Football's Dream Season

"Dream seasons" usually don't end with a blowout loss in the conference championship game and a heartbreaking bowl defeat, yet that phrase perfectly describes Duke football's 2013 season.

The Blue Devils finished the season with a 10-4 overall record, including a 6-2 mark in ACC play. They were ranked for the first time in two decades, and beat two ranked teams in the same season for the first time since 1991. They played in their first conference championship game ever and made back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history.

Despite all that, let's remember that this season of firsts didn't start out as planned.

Duke was originally picked to finish dead last in the ACC Coastal division at ACC media day, which didn't come as a surprise with the graduations of star quarterback Sean Renfree (now with the Atlanta Falcons) and record-setting wideout Connor Vernon (now with the Oakland Raiders).

After a blowout victory over NC Central to open the season, the Devils got past Memphis 28-14 but lost quarterback Anthony Boone to a broken collarbone that some thought might end his season.

Insert jack-of-all-trades Brandon Connette (who played running back, wide receiver, and now starting quarterback) into the mix, and Duke lost their next two games - both in conference play - 38-14 to Georgia Tech and 58-55 to Pitt.

Sitting at 2-2 (0-2 in ACC), it looked like the pundits were right about head coach David Cutcliffe's squad.

The Blue Devils responded by beating Troy by a touchdown, and were then boosted by the early return of Boone in a 35-7 blowout over Navy, which closed out non-conference play.

Perhaps the turning point of the season came in Duke's next game on the road against Virginia. The Blue Devils found themselves down 22-0 - to a Cavaliers team that finished 2-10, no less - and could've easily thrown in the towel.

But Duke somehow answered the bell, starting a trend that lasted throughout much of the rest of the season, and came back to win 35-22.

Yet no one batted an eyelash - I mean, it was a Duke-Virginia football game after all.

That all changed next week, when the Devils went into Blacksburg and beat then-no. 14 Virginia Tech despite not completing a pass in the second half (What an ugly game. Boone threw four interceptions in the win, while Hokie quarterback Logan Thomas threw three. But hey, a win's a win, right?).

The victory was Duke's first over a ranked team since 1994, and catapulted them onto four more victories, giving them an eight-game winning streak to close out the regular season. The Devils were riding high, winning 10 games for the first time ever, and winning the Coastal Division for the first time ever.

Then came the ACC Championship Game against top-ranked Florida State.

After a slow start, the Seminoles and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston essentially ran Duke off the field on their way to a 45-7 win. Duke had had a great season and experienced great success, but that game showed that the Blue Devils didn't have the athletes to compete with some of the nation's best programs.

Or so we thought.

The Blue Devils got a birth in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Texas A&M, in what everyone assumes will be Johnny Manziel's last college football game with the Aggies. Which, of course, meant A&M was going to play inspired and blow out Duke, whom they were so much better than anyways.

But in the blink of an eye, Duke was ahead 28-10. Then they were up 38-17 at the half, scoring on every possession they had.

It didn't seem to matter what would happen the rest of the game. The Devils were legit. Duke (DUKE!!!) had made a statement against one of college football's signature teams, and was whipping them up and down the field.

Good thing, too, because Cutcliffe's squad saw their lead - and the game - slip away late in the fourth quarter, losing in the most gut-wrenching of fashions.

It was a great game, yet Duke were the ones who found themselves looking for answers. 2013 was special for Duke on the field, and we learned some things to expect in the coming years. For one, Duke has moved themselves into the second-tier of the ACC behind Florida State and Clemson. Other than those two teams, you wouldn't pick anyone in the ACC (excluding Notre Dame because they aren't really in the conference) to consistently beat the Blue Devils - but you wouldn't pick Duke to consistently beat those teams either (that's just how the ACC wheel-of-destiny works).

ACC Wheel of Destiny spinning off its axis again--Virginia upsets Ga Tech, Miami win at NC, Va Tech trailing at Wake... — ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) October 15, 2011

But it's also very clear that Duke doesn't yet have the athletes to move out of that second-tier and compete against truly good teams, yet they have the discipline, coaching, and execution rate to take advantage of opponent's weaknesses - like Texas A&M's awful, terrible, horrendous defense.

With a large majority of their starters returning next season, Duke should be in the ACC Coastal Division mix again.

Just don't expect them to sneak up on anybody.

Back to the Duke Blue Devils Newsfeed