DURHAM, N.C. (AP) -David Cutcliffe was just a boy back in Alabama when he washed the family car - and rewashed it, eight times - until his dissatisfied father was convinced that the job finally was done right.
The lesson: Nothing is more important than a strong finish.
``This team being able to finish better, whether it's the fourth quarter or the end of the season, is going to define this team,'' Cutcliffe said. ``Yeah, we'd like to get out of the chute and play well, and winning hopefully comes with playing well.
``But I have to look at this with the hard work we've done conditioning, with the hard work we've done trying to teach our team how to finish, I think the critical parts of all of this are, how well we finish in November will tell me a whole lot about this 2008 Duke team.''
Then again, Duke also wouldn't mind a quick start. After three straight 10-loss seasons and no bowl games since 1994, fans of the perennially putrid program will take whatever Cutcliffe can deliver.
He is, after all, the coach who taught a pair of Mannings before they were Super Bowl MVPs and took Mississippi to four bowls in six full seasons before his questionable firing in 2004. He learned his coaching from Bear Bryant and brings a Southeastern Conference pedigree to a school that hasn't seemed to care much about football since Steve Spurrier left for Florida.
That is, until now. Season ticket sales are up by more than 2,500 over last season, and some summertime speaking engagements featuring Cutcliffe and his coaching staff were so packed with boosters that jokers wondered if those appearances outdrew any of Duke's home games in 2007.
``It's been a huge buzz since coach Cutcliffe came in, a man of his caliber,'' said quarterback Thaddeus Lewis. ``All they hear is good things about this man, and a lot of people are excited because he's doing everything to put Duke football on the map. It's up to us players to go out on the football field and do our end of the bargain.''
Cutcliffe's promise of change has trickled down from how the players conditioned this preseason - ``Everybody bought in fully (that) this is going to work,'' linebacker Michael Tauililli said - to the uniforms they'll wear on gamedays.
With the black trim removed from the helmets and blue and white stripes added to the shoulders on the jerseys, Duke's new duds look remarkably similar to those worn by the NFL's Indianapolis Colts - the team led by Cutcliffe's most famous protege, Peyton Manning.
It's not fair to expect Cutcliffe's team to play like those Colts. But time is running out for Duke's seniors, who have gone 2-33 since 2005 and don't want their memories of college football to be nothing but punchlines.
``I'm looking down the barrel of my last season,'' Tauililli said. ``I'm a big believer in everything happening for a reason, and Coach Cut, the new staff, they came in my last season. I look at it as an opportunity as a leader and as a senior leader to really leave a mark before I leave.
``That's all I've been thinking about all summer - every time I'm in the weight room, every time I come in early, every time I run at home on the weekends. I'm thinking about setting myself up and this team to shock a lot of people.''
Sports Insights' Advanced Betting Tools - NFL Free 14-Day Trial

NCAAF Team Pages

Sports Insights' Advanced Betting Tools - NFL Free 14-Day Trial