On November 18, 2007, Baylor and Duke stood with a combined 4-19 record. Baylor had just completed a 3-9 season with a 45-14 loss to Oklahoma State, its eighth straight defeat by 20 points or more. Duke still had to endure a 20-14 loss to North Carolina the following Saturday before it closed the book on a 1-11 season. Neither team won a conference game.
The sad thing is, it wasn’t that different than a normal season in Durham and Waco. But that was about to change.
As he notes in his always-excellent College Football Overtime column, SI.com’s Stewart Mandel reflects back on the hiring of Art Briles and David Cutcliffe, which came two weeks apart at the conclusion of the 2007. Briles was hired away from Houston on Nov. 28, and Cutcliffe left his position as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator on Dec. 14.
It’s been a steady climb at both schools. Cutcliffe was 15-33 in his first four seasons before a 6-7 campaign and Belk Bowl appearance in 2013. Briles started a little faster, thanks to the help of a transcendent talent in Robert Griffin III, hitting seven wins in 2010 and 10 wins a year later. Today, Duke and Baylor are an unthinkable 17-2. The Bears are in first place in the Big 12 and ranked fourth in the latest BCS standings. Duke leads the ACC Coastal Division and is back in the AP/Coaches polls for the first time since 1994.
In Cutcliffe and Briles, each school got a coach with a winning track record and a set plan to bring his program out of college football’s great wilderness.
“I was raised on, Always have a plan and work your plan,” said Cutcliffe. “When you believe it strongly enough, good things are going to happen.”
In short, after years and years of being on the wrong end of a 41-14 final score, the Bears and Blue Devils found someone that can outscore the other guy. After ranking last in the ACC in scoring offense the year before his hiring, Cutcliffe has Duke ranks third this season. Baylor, of course, leads the world in both total and scoring offense.
“We understand the magnitude of where we’re at in the season, but at the same time we’re still trying to reach our peak performance,” said Briles. “We can all be a lot better offensively and defensively. We understand there’s better football out in front of us.”