On To A&M!

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

As Duke moves to a bigger stage

So New Year's Eve is here and with it another award for Duke coach David Cutcliffe as the Devils get ready to play Texas A&M and Johnny Football.

On Monday, Cutcliffe was awarded the Bobby Dodd Coach of The Year trophy by the Bobby Dodd Foundation. Chairman Jim Terry said that "[e]veryone associated with the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Foundation is thrilled at the selection of Coach Cutcliffe for this very prestigious coaching award. Coach Cutcliffe has an outstanding reputation, and we respect his leadership on the field, as well as the many accomplishments of the team in the classroom and in life. He definitely fulfills the stringent requirements set for the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award."

It's a nice tailwind for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, where Duke will have a major challenge with Texas A&M.

The general sense around the country is that the Aggies have an overwhelming advantage, and maybe they do.

But a lot of people are selling Duke short, too. Tommy Bowden made some crack about Duke not getting but one four or five star player in the last several years and then playing for the ACC Championship.

You can argue about the overall strength of the conference, but people who haven't seen Duke play a lot are missing some things.

First, Cutcliffe and staff have done a tremendous job at identifying promising, underappreciated talent.

If we remember correctly, DeVon Edwards was barely recruited.

Among other things, Duke has done a tremendous job in conditioning the team and, in the Bowden tradition, taking speed and mobility over mere size.

Just as importantly, perhaps more so, this team has an unusual sense of unity.

Teams always talk about this, a band of brothers and all of that, but it doesn't happen all that often that a whole group bonds.

In football, there tend to be factions - offense, defense, starters, guys down the depth chart.

When you get into a large group of people, the dynamics are just different and hard to control, much less direct. So when unity happens naturally, it's just beautiful to see.

The Aggies might have better talent, they probably do, but there aren't many teams that have the sort of unity Duke has. And it's there partly because Duke crawled from literally nothing to 10-3.

Texas A&M is used to success and Johnny Manziel in particular has had a charmed life. He's from a wealthy family, he's ridiculously gifted athletically, and while he's no doubt worked hard as hell to become great, he's also made it pretty clear that he doesn't feel bound by the same rules as everyone else. The NCAA was irritated about this past summer's autograph issue and Manziel, unlike most college athletes, could match the NCAA attorney for attorney. Result: suspended for one half.

He's swaggered through his two years in college with the knowledge that if the NFL doesn't work out, the family business is a nice backup.

It's kind of a funny reversal, because for a long time, Duke, largely because of basketball, has been portrayed in much the same way Manziel has.

In football, though, Duke is seen as noveau riche at best, and as illegitimate at worst. That explains a lot of the snickers in the press and the sense that Duke is going to get a good beating or that, not belonging at this level, they deserve one.

They did get a good beating at the hands of Florida State, but it's worth pointing out that Duke held FSU scoreless for the first quarter and continued to compete and to hit long after the Blue Devils had any  chance to win. Florida State won, but the Seminoles knew they'd been in a physical game.

Win or lose, and we think Duke has a solid chance at winning, the Aggies are going to know they've been in a game too.

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