by Mike Potter
WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM Duke won't have a possible bowl bid on the line when the Blue Devils host Wake Forest in the season finale for both football teams on Saturday.
So this time, it's going to be all about Senior Day.
Duke (5-6, 3-4 ACC) can finish its first non-losing season in 15 years with a win over the Deacons (4-7, 2-5), but a couple of losing streaks will have to disappear.
Wake has won nine straight in the series, while the Blue Devils have lost three straight games.
"I didn't want this to be the damn last press conference in football this year, but it is," Cutcliffe said, deadpan, at his weekly press luncheon at the Brooks Football Building, at which he gave all the attending media small boxes of baked goods as parting gifts. "Well, Happy Thanksgiving. ...
"Our seniors are pretty special people and this is about those nine guys (running back Re'quan Boyette, safety Catron Gainey, offensive tackle Jarrod Holt, quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase, defensive end Ayanga Okpokowuruk, linebacker Vincent Ray, defensive tackle Kinney Rucker and cornerback Leon Wright.
"I am also going to add to that list that we will celebrate five young men that are going to graduate and are forgoing their fifth years. Jeremy Ringfield, Sheldon Bell, Jeff Cowart, Rob Drum and Andrew Holoman are going to graduate.
"This group has endured some difficult times. Thank God they've been able to celebrate some good times. Their contribution to Duke football will be more significant over a period of time. It's not just what you do on Saturday and on the practice field, but they have high marks on their conditioning work and on their summer passing work they set up and organized themselves and their commitment to excellence academically and socially. This group has been amazing, and they are champions in many ways."
Lewis, who set the school's career passing record on Saturday during the game against Miami, said this game will be all about the legacy.
"The last game lasts for a lifetime," said Lewis, who has passed for 9,678 yards. "If you don't remember anything, you're going to remember that last game. It's going to mean a lot to us. We're definitely taking this game as seriously as if we could go to a bowl game.
"We're not letting anybody slack and lay down. This is our legacy we're going to leave behind when this game is over."
Rey said he didn't win his final game in high school since that was a playoff defeat. So he wants his final college game to be a mark in the left column instead.
"This is something we'll remember forever, but for this program it's huge going into the off-season," Rey said. "It's going to be big. It's going to be important for everyone in Duke football.
"You always want to improve and get better. ... Six wins would be something that's big for the program. And the most important reason is it would be winning the last game of the season. We haven't done that since we've been here. Winning it would be huge for everyone. I'm going to go out and give it everything I have."
The traditional season-ending opponent has been UNC, but the ACC decided to emphasize some different rivalries on the last week of this season, with the Tar Heels playing N.C. State this time. Duke has not won a season finale since 2003, and hasn't won one in Durham since 1988.
Sophomore nose guard Charlie Hatcher said there will be some sentiment in saying goodbye to the veterans.
"I'm trying to put everything I have into this game," Hatcher said. "It the end of the season, and we've got a long rest afterwards unfortunately. We want to send these seniors out on a good note and go into the off-season strong."
Cutcliffe quipped that it would be a good idea for the underclassmen to play a great game.
"They're smart," the coach said. "They want the coaches and the strength coaches to be in a good mood in the off-season. You're a fool if you don't play your best game prior to an open date, not knowing what you're going to get. I'm glad they're thinking that way, and they need to keep thinking that way. I'll be in a whole lot better mood personally if we manage to win this ball game."