DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — During its recent rise to relevance, Duke has taken care of a bunch of first-in-a-long-time things.
Except one: Win a bowl game.
The Blue Devils (9-3) have come agonizingly close in postseason losses to Cincinnati and Texas A&M.
The next attempt at their first bowl win in 54 years comes Dec. 27 in the Sun Bowl against No. 15 Arizona State (9-3).
"They realize this is the swan song and this is what they'll remember," coach David Cutcliffe said Wednesday of a senior class that has been the nucleus of the program's turnaround.
"As great as this has been, they know what it feels like when the last game they've played has been a loss," Cutcliffe added.
In the past few years, the Duke program has transformed from a perennial loser to 2013 ACC Coastal Division champion. The Blue Devils were in line to repeat before two late losses at home gave the title to Georgia Tech.
They've already posted the first consecutive nine-win seasons in school history and climbed to No. 19 in the national rankings — its highest spot in the polls since 1994 — before the two-game slide that cost them the division crown.
Receiver Jamison Crowder said beating the Sun Devils "would be the icing on the cake for this group" because of its role in the turnaround.
Duke's last bowl win came in the 1961 Cotton Bowl, a 7-6 victory over Arkansas. This is only the fifth time since then that the Blue Devils have made the postseason.
The two most recent losses might have been the toughest to take.
Duke was poised to win the 2012 Belk Bowl but fumbled at the 5-yard line with less than 2 minutes left, then allowed Cincinnati to throw an 83-yard pass for the go-ahead touchdown with 44 seconds remaining and then threw a pick-six in a 48-34 loss.
A year later, the Blue Devils snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl when quarterback Anthony Boone threw two interceptions in the final 4 minutes — including one the Aggies returned for the go-ahead touchdown in their 52-48 win.
"You learn from your mistakes," Boone said. "Obviously, I can't go out there thinking, 'Don't make that mistake again.' ... I'm just going to go out there with confidence and just play my game, play smart football and not try to worry about winning the game for my teammates."
Of course, losing bowl games is better than not making them at all, as Duke learned firsthand during its prolonged run of futility between 1995-2011. Seniors Crowder and Boone were around for the end of those struggles and take pride in leaving the program in better shape than it was when they arrived five years ago.
"Third straight bowl, definitely exciting," Crowder said. "Something that Duke is hoping to make a norm around here. ... For me, it's become something that's normal and hopefully the program can continue that."
Duke looks for first bowl win since '61
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