No. 24 Duke keeping focus on Pitt, ACC race
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) After quarterback Anthony Boone found out No. 24 Duke was back in the national rankings, he called a players-only meeting.
The message was simple: Don't let it be a distraction.
It sure wasn't last year when the Blue Devils cracked the polls and climbed into first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division.
Now they've done it again.
And the way they see it, they're older and even better equipped to handle their success heading into this week's visit to Pittsburgh, where a win over the Panthers (4-4, 2-2) would push Duke (6-1, 2-1) closer to a repeat ACC title game berth.
Boone described the meeting Tuesday as ''a pretty easy talk'' because ''we have a lot of experienced guys who know what it takes to win in November.''
To those outside the program, earning national rankings might still seem like a new phenomenon for these Blue Devils.
Last year they showed up in the Top 25 for the first time since the 1994 season, rising to No. 20 during an eight-game winning streak that started after a wild loss to these Panthers.
This week's reappearance in the polls marks the first time that's happened for Duke in consecutive seasons since the mid-1950s.
''The two-year body of work has been exceptional,'' coach David Cutcliffe said. ''We all know it can go away as fast as it comes sometimes, but it should make you hungry. ... Moving forward, it's meaningless unless we continue to play well.''
Boone said he didn't even find out about the ranking until Monday when his sister told him about it. Cornerback DeVon Edwards says doing it last year was ''OK for the first time.
''But now everybody's mindset is a lot different,'' he added. ''We're not really proud of just being ranked. We want to keep on climbing the ladder.''
As the only team in the Coastal with just one ACC loss, they've already climbed to the top of a muddy division.
Now the challenge is to stay there.
Maybe this game will help sort things out in a division in which five teams are behind Duke with two league losses.
The Blue Devils hold head-to-head tiebreakers with two of them - Virginia and Georgia Tech - and still must play Pitt and North Carolina. Duke's only league loss came against Miami.
''We kind of believe,'' center Matt Skura said, ''if we just keep on winning, then we'll kind of create our own spot at the top.''
That will require a victory over Pitt - the only Coastal team Duke has yet to beat under seventh-year coach David Cutcliffe.
This matchup shapes up as the opposite of last year, when the Panthers won a 58-55 shootout in the second-highest-scoring game in ACC history. The teams combined for 1,130 total yards in that one - and Boone missed it with a broken collarbone.
This Duke team ranks second in the league, allowing 15 points per game. Until Georgia Tech hung 56 on the turnover-prone Panthers last week, Pitt hadn't given up more than 30 to anyone.
''That's the bottom line, not giving up points,'' Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. ''You never quite know how the game is going to play out. You've just got to be prepared to be able to play whatever type of game it is.''
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