On the wall facing the north end zone in Duke's Wallace Wade Stadium is a large blue-and-white sign proclaiming, "Highest Graduation Rate in Division I Football" and the 10 years the school has earned that distinction.

For the last several years, that has been the extent of the Blue Devils' achievements in the sport.

Duke beat East Carolina in its season opener Aug. 31, ending a 23-game losing streak that was filled with blowouts. And while the Blue Devils' 21-game ACC losing streak ties their own mark for futility, this season has been different.

The long losing streak is a thing of the past. So are the halftime meetings under a tent behind one end zone, thanks to the opening of a $22 million football complex. Although there remains a good chance the Blue Devils will finish last in the ACC for the third consecutive season, the program clearly has upgraded. Around campus, in the media and in opponents' locker rooms, Duke believes it is getting newfound respect.

"I feel like the reception around campus and in general has been a lot more accepting," linebacker Jamyon Small said. "People realize we're playing better. I hear it in the voices of my friends, when I'm in the community. That means a lot."

And there is hope the improvement will continue. Duke is perhaps the youngest team in the nation, with only one senior -- Small -- on the entire roster. Athletic Director Joe Alleva recently submitted a report, "Rebuilding Duke Football," to university president Nannerl O. Keohane, hoping to build support that will help create an annually competitive team. The report asks for more flexibility in admissions, pay raises for coaches, better facilities and more support staff.

The rebuilding, though, seems to have begun already. The Yoh Football Center opened this summer. Ted Roof, who worked with Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen at Georgia Tech, was hired as defensive coordinator and appears to have made a significant impact. Sophomore quarterback Adam Smith is growing into the starting job after returning starter D. Bryant was declared academically ineligible over the summer. Fullback Alex Wade has joined tailback Chris Douglass to form a solid tandem in the backfield.

"I see this as a team very much like our own," Friedgen said. "They're getting better and better each week. They're a pretty good football team right now. And I don't have to just say that. Look at their film; look at their scores."

During the losing streak, Duke lost by less than two touchdowns only five times. Lopsided scores were commonplace, never rating a second look from observers. This season, though, three of the Blue Devils' six losses were by less than a touchdown, including this past Saturday's 24-22 loss at No. 12 North Carolina State.

"Our record might not show it, but we know we're getting better," Douglass said.

Still, attendance at Wallace Wade remains lackluster. In three home games combined, including the opener against nearby East Carolina, Duke has drawn fewer people than fellow ACC members Clemson or Florida State get for one home game.

However, perhaps it is best to remember that everything is relative. Duke's average home crowd of 19,391 is an increase of 14.1 percent from last season. The players say they have a much better attitude. And Coach Carl Franks, with a 5-36 record in the fourth season of his original five-year contract, likely will get an extension.

"I think they have a much greater belief in themselves," said Virginia Coach Al Groh, whose team beat Duke, 27-22, on Oct. 5. "You see how their players conduct themselves and their belief that if they can keep doing the things they are doing, there is a good chance it's going to turn out positive for them."

Sophomore Adam Smith helped Duke put a scare into No. 12 N.C. State before falling short, 24-22.