DURHAM — The journey to Duke’s first bowl game in 18 years will be an easy one.
Achieving the program’s first bowl win in 51 years will likely be more difficult.
The Blue Devils on Sunday accepted an invitation to Charlotte’s Belk Bowl, where they’ll play a talented Cincinnati team at Bank of America Stadium on Dec. 27 (6:30 p.m., ESPN).
While Duke (6-6) has lost four games in a row since reaching bowl eligibility, Cincinnati (9-3) has played solid football over the final month of the season. The Bearcats enter the postseason with wins in four their final five games.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said this is the kind of opponent he wanted in his first bowl game with the Blue Devils.
“That was one of the more attractive things with the Belk Bowl was a quality opponent like Cincinnati,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s something you have got to do. You have got to beat people like that. These are steps we are taking. It’s a big challenge.”
Playing in the postseason without crossing state lines gives Duke a chance for plenty of its fans to be one hand. It also gives the 16 Duke players from the Charlotte area a chance to play in front of friends and family members.
“That’s a big part of it,” Cutcliffe said. “They know we are playing in a big pro stadium. They all know it will be easier for their parents, their family and their friends to see them play.”
While the bowl game marks the completion of the historic 2012 season, with Duke having won more games than any season since 1994, Cutcliffe will also use it as a spring board to what he hopes are even better things in 2013.
“It’s the end of your 2012 season and certainly the beginning of 2013 year,” Cutcliffe said.
“You get more time with guys you have redshirted. You give them more attention than you would during a normal game preparation week.”
The Blue Devils will practice this weekend before taking the following week off for final exams. Bowl practices begin in earnest on Dec. 16. Duke travels to Charlotte on Dec. 22 for work in advance of the game.
The time off between the end of the regular season and the bowl game is giving many banged-up Blue Devils a chance to heal. Cutcliffe anticipates several players to be available for more play due to that fact.
But players who have been injured all season, such as Charlotte native Braxton Deaver, aren’t likely to play. Cutcliffe said Deaver, a redshirt sophomore tight end who suffered a leg injury in July, is one particular player he had hoped might be able to play.
“I’ve kept on asking our trainer,” Cutcliffe said. “It doesn’t look great at this time. We’ll take that day to day.”
Cutcliffe did say Sunday night that he’s considering some position changes for players as he looks ahead to next season. The bowl practices and the game with Cincinnati will give him a chance to make the moves this month.
Cutcliffe didn’t reveal who the affected players are because he said he hasn’t discussed the possible moves with them.
He also said there will be some practices during bowl preparation where he’ll send the current senior players off early to let the players who will return next season a chance to work together.
“It will give some of the rising seniors a chance to take charge,” Cutcliffe said.