North Carolina-Duke Preview

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) – No. 25 Duke has a second chance to control the Coastal Division. North Carolina needs one more victory for bowl eligibility.

Bragging rights are always important in this backyard rivalry, but there’s plenty on the line for both teams besides pride Thursday night.

”Coach (Larry) Fedora said it tonight – it’s not just another game,” Tar Heels receiver Ryan Switzer said Monday night. ”We’re preparing like that.”

The once-chaotic Coastal race is boiled down to this: Duke (8-2, 4-2) will return to the title game with wins over North Carolina and Wake Forest, while a loss by the Blue Devils will send Georgia Tech to Charlotte.

The Tar Heels (5-5, 3-3) have long since been eliminated from the race, but they can qualify for their second straight bowl berth by beating either Duke or North Carolina State.

”The mentality of our team right now is, `Oh, yes, we lost a couple of days ago, but we’re still in the driver’s seat to go to the ACC championship,”’ Duke offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson said Monday. ”We still control our fate.”

Duke is coming off perhaps its worst game of the year, a 17-16 home loss to Virginia Tech that temporarily put the Blue Devils’ Charlotte push in peril.

Things got more tense that night when Miami – which held the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Blue Devils – raced out to an early lead on Florida State.

When the Seminoles rallied to win and eliminate the Hurricanes from the Coastal race – and put Duke back in control of it – some Blue Devils players tweeted messages of gratitude to Florida State.

”The craziness of the ACC,” defensive end Dezmond Johnson said with a smile.

It helped them get past an uncharacteristically sloppy performance that included three turnovers, two missed field goals by a kicker who hadn’t missed all year and four sacks allowed by an offensive line that had given up a total of four in the previous nine games.

The Blue Devils have nine turnovers all season – still the fewest in the ACC – but six have come in their two losses.

”The talk is just, `Hey, let’s go out there and be who we are and do what we do,”’ said quarterback Anthony Boone, who threw two interceptions. ”There’s not much more that you can really say. There not magic words that will automatically make it happen. … We all understand what it takes first to win games, but you’ve got to go back to doing that. That’s all it is.”

North Carolina’s defense has absorbed its share of criticism. The Tar Heels have the worst total defense – by far – in the ACC, allowing 512 yards per game, 122 more than the next-worst team (Duke).

But one thing they do well is force turnovers – North Carolina has 20 takeaways, including at least one in every game. The Tar Heels got a big one in the waning moments against Pittsburgh last Saturday, recovering a game-clinching fumble near midfield two plays after taking a 40-35 lead with 55 seconds left.

”It’s going to be a challenge for the offensive line this week,” Tomlinson said. ”We’re ready for the challenge.”

Duke has turned it over just twice and allowed only one sack in its past two meetings with North Carolina, a pair of down-to-the-wire victories after it had lost the previous eight in the series.

Jamison Crowder caught a touchdown pass with 13 seconds left in Durham in 2012 to give the Blue Devils a 33-30 win, and Duke’s star receiver had two more TDs last season in Chapel Hill.

The Blue Devils kicked a go-ahead field goal with 2:22 left in that one, then picked off a Marquise Williams pass with 20 seconds left to seal a 27-25 victory and clinch a berth in the ACC title game.