The fact that Duke coach David Cutcliffe is already preparing for next year is nothing new.
The fact that he actually has 15 practices remaining to help him do that is what made him the ACC’s coach of the year.
Duke is going bowling for the first time since after the 1994 season, and with that comes the often-overlooked advantage of having additional practice time following the end of the regular season. In recent offseasons, Duke was one of the first teams in the ACC to start spring practices, getting a jump on things in mid-February simply to avoid having such a long layoff between the last game of the season and the first practice.
This year, the Blue Devils (6-6) don't have to wait until February.
Not that Cutcliffe is overlooking Cincinnati, his opponent in the Dec. 27 Belk Bowl, but he is going to take a good look at his 2013 team, starting this weekend. Cutcliffe said there will be times he will let his seniors finish practice a few periods early so he can literally see what he’ll have to work with next year. Cutcliffe said he has even tinkered with the idea of some position changes, but declined to elaborate.
One of the biggest advantages of the extra practices will be the opportunity to work more closely with the redshirt players. Cutcliffe said the team will have some scrimmages to prepare for Cincinnati, but the younger players will also have a chance to scrimmage without the seniors.
“It’s kind of interesting to watch some leaders emerge when they’re not out there in the shadows of those seniors,” Cutcliffe said. “Some of those rising seniors take charge. I always sit back and look forward to that.”
Cutcliffe said his team will begin practicing this weekend, but will be off during finals. The Blue Devils have been doing work on their own this week -- basics like throwing, catching, playing coverages without any pads -- but “serious preparation” for the bowl game will start Dec. 16.
Duke will be giving itself and Cincinnati (9-3) a good long look.
“You get a little extra time with those guys that have redshirted,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve got a significant number of redshirt freshmen who are going to be important to us, so we can give them a little attention and work with them a little bit more than we’ve been able to on just a game-preparation week. It gives us a look at what our team can look like. It’s great for our program.”