Is Virginia the New Duke?

2013 was a season of change in college football. A team from the ACC instead of the SEC won the national championship, college football bid farewell to the BCS, and Maryland decided it was a good idea to risk a $ 52M exit penalty to join the Big 10. Closer to home, Duke won 10 games while Virginia lost 10 games inspiring even the not-so-cynical among us to ask “Is Virginia the new Duke?” Maybe, but then again, maybe not.
 
If we are looking across the sports spectrum to include basketball, in his 6th year as head coach of the Duke basketball program, Mike Krzyzewski won both the ACC regular season and tournament championships and made it to the finals of the NCAA tournament. In only his 5th year, Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett won both the ACC regular season and tournament championships and made it to the sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. So is UVa becoming the new Duke? Looking at the basketball programs, in the instructional words of the Magic 8-Ball “signs point to yes”.
 
Football is a different story. For 40 years, starting in 1975, Duke set the standard for futility in college football. During that span, Duke had 6 winning seasons which ironically also equals the number of seasons in which Duke won 1 game or less. That’s 1.5 winning seasons per decade, perfectly balanced by 1.5 seasons with no more than 1 win. Last year’s 10-win season was the first winning season for Duke football since 1994. For the few brave souls who went to the Duke football games, that’s a lot of games where the entire second half is spent at the tailgate (not that there is anything wrong with that.)
 
Over the same 40 year time span, Virginia had 23 winning seasons and 3 seasons with 1 win, the last of which came in George Welsh’ first season in 1982. During the past 10 years, which have admittedly been tough sledding for Virginia football, UVa had 4 winning seasons. By contrast, Duke had one winning season. Based on won/loss records over the past 4 decades and even the past 10 years, the assertion that Virginia is the new Duke is a stretch.
 
While the direction of the Virginia program over the past 5 years is alarming, as noted in prior posts, Virginia football is not struggling on the recruiting trail, which represents another point of departure from Duke football. Over the past 10 years, which includes 2 lean years at the merciful conclusion of the Al Groh debacle, on average Virginia’s recruiting classes ranked 37th nationally. By contrast Duke’s recruiting classes ranked 62nd. More importantly, over the past 5 years, the recruiting class differential has widened slightly with Virginia maintaining an average national class rank of 37th while Duke slipped to 67Th.
 
Chatting up a comparison of Duke and UVa football draws mixed reviews from the Virginia faithful. However, those stressed that we are devolving into the new Duke of ACC football are jumping the gun, worrying needlessly…which is something Virginia fans do well.
 
While Virginia has a long road to travel before we become the new “Duke” of college football, there are some things we can take away from the newfound success of Duke football. 1) Coaching Matters. David Cutcliffe’s work at Duke is just short of miraculous…close to but not eclipsing the miracle Mets of 1969. Cutcliffe won 16 games the past two years with talent that was not highly ranked, but that played within themselves and fit into Cutcliffe’s systems. Kudos to Coach Cutcliffe, he won in a job that had been a coaching graveyard since Steve Spurrier stopped in Durham for a cup of coffee. 2) Patience Pays Off. Duke didn’t turn the ship around in a year or even 5 years. It took 6 years of recruiting the right players, building the right culture, and avoiding the temptation of head coaching quick-fixes to quell anxious fans and donors. Virginia has a re-tooled coaching staff entering its second year in the program. We all want to win and win now, but we need let the players learn the systems and the coaches build a culture of winning. 3) Winning Cures Many Ills. We all know this. We saw it with our own miracle worker when George Welsh took a perpetually floundering Virginia program and put it football on the map. Is Virginia football turning into the new Duke? It hasn’t yet and won’t if we stay the course. The Magic 8-Ball tells us to “ask again later”.