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The Ultimate Validation

By Matt Osborne
SouthernPigskin.com
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Duke's upset victory over Notre Dame is the ultimate validation for the job that David Cutcliffe has done with the program.

The Duke Blue Devils have made a habit of finding ways to tangibly show the improvement the program has made under head coach David Cutcliffe in recent seasons.

The first major milestone to come under Cutcliffe’s watch was an appearance in the Belk Bowl at the end of the 2012 season. That bowl game appearance, which would have seemed relatively insignificant for most Power Five programs, was a significant ordeal for the Blue Devils given the fact that they had not played in a bowl game in nearly two decades.

Just one season later, Duke shocked the college football world by winning the ACC Coastal Division after being picked to finish last in the preseason media poll. The Blue Devils would ultimately play in the program’s first ACC Championship Game.

Last fall, the team checked off another item on the list of improvement as the Blue Devils defeated Indiana in overtime of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl to pick up the program’s first bowl victory since 1961.

But as important as those milestones were in the progression of the program, neither displays the total progress that Duke has made quite like its most recent accomplishment.

Traveling to South Bend, Indiana, to take on traditional powerhouse Notre Dame as a 20-point underdog, the Blue Devils pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the 2016 season by defeating the Fighting Irish by a score of 38-35.

Though Notre Dame had fallen all the way out of the top 25 after starting the year ranked inside the top 10 nationally, there is no denying the fact that the Fighting Irish are still one of the most talented programs in all of college football. Over the past four recruiting cycles, they have not finished worse than No. 15 in the 247 Sports national recruiting rankings.

When Cutcliffe took over a Duke program which was in abject shambles in 2008, there was no absolutely no chance that the Blue Devils would have been able to compete with a team of Notre Dame’s caliber, simply due to the massive talent discrepancy.

Cutcliffe, though, has almost miraculously found a way to drastically increase the talent and athleticism on Duke’s roster over the better part of the last decade.

And unlike the Duke teams of the past, these recent Blue Devil squads have, at the very least, have been able to hold their own against even the most talented teams in the country. No longer do the Blue Devils show up to the stadium with almost no opportunity to win because the opposition is so overwhelmingly superior athletically.

In fact, perhaps the most surprising part of Duke’s victory this past Saturday over the Fighting Irish is the fact that the Blue Devils in no way fluked their way to the victory. Duke controlled the play at the line of scrimmage for the vast majority of the contest, while the Blue Devils’ skill players were consistently able to win one-on-one matchups against Notre Dame’s athletes. In scoring 38 points, the Blue Devils were able to rack up 500 yards of total offense against the Notre Dame defense, ultimately leading to the firing of Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.

Though it may seem insignificant to many college football programs, the fact that Duke is now able to line up across a team like Note Dame and legitimately play as the better team for 60 minutes is a true testament to the job that Cutcliffe has done in rebuilding one of the worst programs in college football historically.

At the end of the day, the Blue Devils are still very likely in for a bit of a down season in 2016. Duke has already lost its best players on both sides of the football for the rest of the season (quarterback Thomas Sirk and defensive back DeVon Edwards), and has been forced to turn to a redshirt freshman former walk-on under center.

Ultimately, however, a potential brief blip in the radar does not detract from the borderline impossible resurrection job that Cutcliffe has done with the Duke program.

This past weekend was simply validation for a man who has cemented his status as one of the best coaches in the game today.

Matt Osborne - Matt Osborne currently serves as the director of recruiting and lead editor for Southern Pigskin. His work has been published in a number of national publications, including USA Today. Although he loves all levels of football, Matt's number one joy in his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborne200. For media requests, please email Matt at matt@southernpigskin.com.