The ACC and Pac-12 will square off on Saturday night in California when the Duke Blue Devils travel west to take on the Stanford Cardinal in an intriguing non-conference matchup.
Both teams won their season-openers against inferior competition. But neither team has answered any of the major questions facing them in 2012.
The Cardinal are clearly still struggling to deal with the departure of Andrew Luck, while Duke looks to be an ACC Coastal division basement-dweller yet again this fall.
Here is everything you need to know heading into Saturday night's showdown in Stanford.
Where: Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA
When: Saturday, September 8 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Watch: Pac-12 Network
Listen: WKIX 102.9 FM (Durham), KNBR 1050 AM (Stanford)
Live Streaming: GoStanford.com
Betting Line: Stanford (-14), according to Covers.com.
The biggest talking point heading into Saturday's Duke-Stanford game will be the Cardinal's massive struggles against San Jose State this past weekend. Stanford took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but was outscored 17-6 the rest of the way to just barely hold on, winning 20-17.
Obviously the loss of quarterback Andrew Luck to the NFL hurts the passing attack, but Stanford punted six times and turned the ball over on downs after scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions. They must improve offensively against Duke if they are to challenge for a BCS bowl this season.
Who May Not Play for Duke
*According to USA Today
LB Britton Grier (Hand), questionable for Saturday
TE Jake Farrell (Leg), questionable for Saturday
G Lucas Patrick (Ankle), questionable for Saturday
LB Kelby Brown (Knee), out indefinitely
CB Jared Boyd (Knee), out indefinitely
S Jeremy Cash (Eligibility), out for season
S Taylor Sowell (Achilles), out for season
WR Blair Holliday (Head), out for season
TE Braxton Deaver (Knee), out indefinitely
S Jordan Byas (Knee), out indefinitely
G Jamal Bruce (Foot), out indefinitely
Who May Not Play for Stanford
*According to USA Today
DE Josh Mauro (Hamstring), questionable for Saturday
FB Ryan Hewitt (Ankle), questionable for Saturday
FB Geoff Meinken (Knee), out for Saturday
T Cole Underwood (Knee), out for season
Top 25 Implications
Stanford entered the new season as a Top 25 team according to the experts. But after their struggles against San Jose State in their season opener, it's hard to believe the Cardinal are a legitimate threat to challenge the big BCS contenders this fall.
Anything less than a blowout win over Duke on Saturday night will cause the doubts about Stanford to continue into their September 15 matchup with the top-ranked USC Trojans. We won't know what caliber team Stanford is until that highly-anticipated Pac-12 opener.
What They're Saying
After Duke's successful start to the 2012 season against Florida International last Saturday, The Charlotte Observer's Luke DeCock was quick to point out how important a strong start is for the Blue Devils this fall:
With a brutally difficult closing run to finish the season, the Blue Devils have little margin for error at the start.
Stanford head coach David Shaw has his mind made up when it comes to the Cardinal's offensive game plan (via The San Francisco Examiner's Paul Gackle):
Nobody in the country is going to talk us out of running the ball. That’s just what we do.
Stanford ran the ball 41 times in their season-opening win, compared to just 26 pass attempts. With an inexperienced junior under center in Josh Nunes, look for Shaw and the Cardinal to continue to lean on the running game against Duke.
Duke Player to Watch
Senior wide receiver Conner Vernon was spectacular in Duke's season-opening win over FIU last Saturday. Vernon caught 10 balls for 180 yards and a touchdown, averaging a stellar 18 yards per reception.
Vernon has caught at least 55 passes in every season since his freshman year in 2009, and has surpassed 950 yards receiving in each of the past two seasons as a sophomore and junior. Stanford will have to keep a close watch on No. 2 on Saturday if they are to slow Duke's passing attack.
Stanford Player to Watch
Senior running back Stepfan Taylor will again be the Stanford player to watch this weekend against Duke. Taylor is the best offensive player on the Cardinal roster now that Andrew Luck is gone to the NFL.
Taylor helped Stanford escape San Jose State in their season-opener last weekend, rushing for 116 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. Taylor has rushed for over 1,100 yards in each of the past two seasons, though his production had previously gone unnoticed because of the hype surrounding Luck.
The most important matchup in Saturday night's game will be Stepfan Taylor versus Duke's defense. The Blue Devils were out-gained by nearly 100 yards against Florida International this past weekend, and allowed 130 rushing yards to running back Kedrick Rhodes.
Taylor averaged 4.5 yards per carry against San Jose State in Week 1, and that bodes well for the Cardinal as they prepare to take on a porous defense in Duke. I expect a big game from Taylor, and because of that I like Stanford to win Saturday's key matchup.
On the Hot Seat
Duke's David Cutcliffe is in his fifth year as Blue Devils head coach, but he has yet to turn out a winning season in four tries. Cutcliffe is 16-33 in four seasons at Duke, and boasts a dreadful 6-26 record against ACC conference opponents over that time.
Cutcliffe led Ole Miss to five bowl games in six seasons from 1998 to 2003, but has yet to get Duke into the postseason. If the Blue Devils wind up with less than six wins again in 2012, Cutcliffe could be out the job sooner than later.
Stanford beat Duke by 30 points in Durham last September, so expect the Cardinal to win easily again this fall. I know Andrew Luck won't be suiting up under center, but it won't matter against the Blue Devils' undermanned, lackluster defense.
Stanford 38, Duke 20
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