More Overtime (cont.)
Duke made its fans wait 18 years for another bowl trip, but they didn't even have to wait until November to lock this one in.
The Blue Devils (6-2) are going bowling. Quarterback Sean Renfree led Duke 87 yards and threw the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds remaining Saturday to beat rival North Carolina (5-3), 33-30.
"To watch it unfold before my eyes like that, after three years, a game like this against North Carolina -- you couldn't write a better script," senior receiver Conner Vernon told reporters afterward. "Someone needs to make this a movie."
To fully grasp the storybook nature of Duke's milestone, just look at the program's recent history before coach David Cutcliffe's 2008 arrival. Since going 8-4 and reaching the Hall of Fame Bowl in 1994, the Blue Devils have endured four winless seasons, two one-win seasons and three two-win seasons. Cutcliffe's predecessor, Ted Roof, went 6-45 from 2003-07. Roof's predecessor, Carl Franks, went 7-45. Despite upgrading the program's depth and talent over the past few years, Cutcliffe still endured consecutive 3-9 seasons prior to the 2012 campaign.
Not that Saturday was completely un-Duke like. Just like a week earlier, when the Blue Devils raced to a 20-0 lead over Virginia Tech only to lose 41-20, Duke saw a 23-9 third-quarter lead evaporate after three fourth-quarter Tar Heels' touchdowns. With 3:12 left and the Blue Devils clinging to a 30-26 lead, star cornerback Ross Cockrell appeared to recover a North Carolina fumble, thus staving off danger -- but the ball squirted out of his hands and into those of Tar Heels running back Gio Bernard, who took it in four yards for a touchdown.
And if that wasn't enough drama, Renfree's game-winning throw came on a do-or-die fourth down. "It's much sweeter to do it this way," he said later.
Duke has already doubled its win total from each of the past two seasons, and it still has five games to go. In fact, at 3-1 in conference play, the Blue Devils sit alone in first place in the ACC's Coastal Division. Staying there seems unlikely, especially with remaining games against the ACC's lone ranked teams in the AP Poll, No. 11 Florida State (7-1) and No. 14 Clemson (6-1). But with this charmed team, don't completely rule the possibility out.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. Here's my current edition:
Title game: Alabama vs. Oregon
Rose: Wisconsin vs. USC
Fiesta: Kansas State vs. Notre Dame
Sugar: Florida vs. Oklahoma
Orange: Florida State vs. Rutgers
While most of the Big Ten continues to bumble around, Wisconsin (6-2), after its early-season struggles, is starting to look more and more like the Wisconsin we've come to expect. James White (15 carries, 175 yards), Monteé Ball (24 carries, 166 yards) and the Badgers pummeled Minnesota, 38-13. And with its spot in Indianapolis nearly wrapped up, it's starting to feel like Wisconsin will head to Pasadena for a third straight year.
Meanwhile, for the first time this season I have a new Big East representative in the Orange Bowl. While Louisville (7-0) continues to eek out conference victories -- Saturday it needed a Teddy Bridgewater touchdown with 1:35 left to survive USF (2-5) -- Rutgers (7-0) has yet to allow more than 15 points in its four league wins. Khaseem Greene and the Scarlet Knights rank 14th in the nation in total defense. First-year coach Kyle Flood could deliver Rutgers' first BCS berth.
To refresh, this is a real-time top three Heisman ballot in which the only consideration is the players' performances to date. Neither preseason buzz nor the likelihood of a player actually winning will come into play, but the quality of competition so far will.
1. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State. Coming off his best passing performance, the dual-threat star and the nation's second-rated passer accounts for 64 percent of the Wildcats' offense.
2. Kevin Minter, LB, LSU. The middle linebacker had 20 tackles Oct. 6 against Florida and spent all of Saturday's matchup with Texas A&M harassing Johnny Manziel. Minter racked up 12 tackles, a sack and an interception in the Tigers' 24-19 win.
3. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame. With another 10 tackles and an interception against BYU, the senior leads the Irish's stout defense in both categories.
A note on AJ McCarron: As the nation's new top-rated passer, McCarron will undoubtedly start garnering Heisman buzz. But he only averages 22 pass attempts and, unlike Klein, doesn't run. McCarron is doing an outstanding job for an outstanding team, but is he the nation's most outstanding player? I can't say that.