With a 4-1 record so far this season, is Duke a contender for the ACC title?
By ANDREW JONESFS Carolinas
Finding six wins on
Duke's football schedule before the season began wasn't such an easy task for
Blue Devils fans.
They were told by some sectors of the media this was the season Duke may finally break an 18-year bowl drought. With coach David Cutcliffe entering his fifth season and a veteran quarterback on hand, the culture had finally turned the corner and wins were about to follow.
Coming up with six victories wasn't easy. Maryland and Boston College aren't on the slate and Florida State and Clemson are. It seemed like a long shot.
Fast forward into the first week of October and Duke is on the brink of breaking down walls that seemed impenetrable before Cutcliffe was hired. Duke's program was as down and out as any in FBS, including the lesser non-BCS programs.
But after last weekend's 34-27 victory at Wake Forest, which ended a 12-game losing streak to the Demon Deacons, and with a struggling Virginia team heading to Durham this weekend, it's very possible Duke will be 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the ACC on Monday.
And with red-hot North Carolina ineligible for the ACC Coastal Division title, Georgia Tech seemingly in chaos, Virginia a puzzling mess, and Virginia Tech having major offensive issues and looking very un-VPI-like, Duke could be in position to challenge Miami for the division title.
Now, that's obviously jumping the gun quite a bit. Duke has to beat UVa first, and then figure out a way to navigate a remaining schedule that includes games at Virginia Tech, Florida State and Georgia Tech, and home dates versus UNC, Clemson and Miami to go along with the Wahoos' visit.
While contending for the Coastal title is very much a longshot, but not entirely unreasonable, it's much easier to envision the Fighting Cutcliffes simply qualifying for a bowl. And any bowl would be an upgrade. As for now, Cutcliffe's words are measured.
"We don't know what is going to happen, it is one week at a time," Cutcliffe said earlier this week. "That's what I told everybody, there are no guarantees, but you just go play as good as we possibly can play this Saturday. that is all we want to do. We will take the result one way or the other and move on to the next football game. It is fun to play that way."
For the sake of discussion, lets say Duke beats the Cavs this weekend to improve to 5-1 and 2-0. It won't surprise anyone on Tobacco Road if the Devils beat UNC, and as inconsistent as Miami has been from possession to possession, you never know. The difficulty of the trip to Georgia Tech may have a lot to do with the Yellow Jackets' psyche that day. They are coming off a blown huge lead and loss at home versus Miami and a blowout home loss to something called Middle Tennessee State.
Duke can take the Jackets.
The Blue Devils also match up well with the Hokies. They lost to them at home a year ago 14-10 and are a much better club, while Frank Beamer's team hasn't worked out its issues.
The Devils have the goods to get that sixth victory that will get them to the postseason.
They are eighth in the ACC in total offense but fourth in total defense. The Devils are one sack behind Florida State for the ACC lead and are one sack behind UNC for the fewest sacks allowed. That's an obvious indication in the program's upgrade at the line of scrimmage.
The average score of their four victories is 43-21. The loss 50-13 at Stanford, was a great lesson. The Devils were thoroughly and rightfully disappointed in that score. A difference between where the program is now as opposed to a few years ago is the reaction to that defeat as opposed to when Alabama ran roughshod over them in Durham.
That was a "cool experience" game. The Stanford defeat was downright anger and embarrassment, and Duke learned from that set back.
The Devils have fought through myriad of injuries, including to starting quarterback Sean Renfree, who missed the fourth quarter in Winston-Salem. But the players forced into duty have mostly performed well thus far, so if it's Anthony Boone most or all the way Saturday, Duke should still be in solid hands.
He gives the Devils some diversity and more quickness, and with UVa's slow front line being one of its weaknesses, that could be a nice edge for the Devils. And with a win, Duke will be one measly victory away from doing something during the holidays other than sitting at home again.