Who would have thought at the beginning of the year that when Duke and Florida State met this Saturday they would be doing so as the respective leaders of their divisions within the ACC?
Nobody, that's who. Not even the most hardcore Dukies would have been so brazen as to suggest the possibility.
But here we are nonetheless. The 6-2 Blue Devils sit atop the Coastal Division and are already bowl eligible this year. The good times may not roll on much longer, though, with a tough test against a Florida State team that boasts one of the nation's stingiest defenses and an offense rife with weapons.
Oh, and they get Clemson next week, too.
Duke will cross that bridge when they get to it. For now, the Blue Devils travel to Tallahassee for the program's most important game in a long time. Let's take a closer look at the ACC game of the week.
Where: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.
When: Saturday, October 27 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Watch: ESPNU; WatchESPN
Betting Line: Florida State (-27.5), according to Bet Online
Duke Injuries (via USA Today)
QB Brandon Connette, Shoulder, Questionable
DE Dezmond Johnson, Lower Body, Questionable
DT Jamal Wallace, Lower Body, Questionable
LB Kelby Brown, Knee, Questionable
Florida State Injuries (via USA Today)
RB Chris Thompson, ACL, Out for Season
WR Josh Gehres, Hamstring, Questionable
OL Trey Pettis, Head, Questionable
DB Justin Bright, Head, Questionable
T Garrett Faircloth, Hip, Questionable
LB Ukeme Eligwe, Hand, Questionable
DT Moses McCray, Concussion, Questionable
OL Daniel Foose, Back, Questionable
DT Derrick Mitchell, Back, Questionable
The Blue Devils don't just come into this game bowl eligible for the first time since 1994, they're also currently sitting alone atop the Coastal Division rankings and control their destiny. With a win, they would be on the fast track to the ACC Championship game.
Meanwhile, Florida State has Clemson nipping on its heels in the Atlantic Division and can't afford to slip up.
If Duke wins, it will almost assuredly—gasp—be ranked in the top 25. Seriously, who could have predicted that? Meanwhile, Florida State can't afford to slip up and lose a chance to win the ACC with the potential of a major bowl still in its grasp.
What They're Saying
Coming into the 2012 season, the Blue Devils had six wins in the past two seasons combined. They've already matched that feat eight games into this season, a massive step forward for the program.
The Fayetteville Observer has more:
Duke's 33-30 victory on Saturday, plus losses by Miami and Virginia Tech, made the Blue Devils (6-2, 3-1) the division's only team with one conference loss.
It also marked the latest step forward in coach David Cutcliffe's massive reconstruction project at what for years had been one of the biggest laughingstocks in the Bowl Subdivision. Since Duke made its last bowl trip and had its last winning season in 1994, the Blue Devils went winless four times.
"I'm concerned about our injuries, but I'm not concerned about our emotions," Cutcliffe said. "I don't think we're going to come out of here satisfied. I think this team realizes that it can win if it plays well every time we get on the field."
Duke Player to Watch: Sean Renfree, Quarterback
Here's your telling stat in regard to Duke's starting quarterback: In two losses this year, he's thrown three interceptions and one touchdown. In the team's five wins with Renfree starting, he's thrown 10 interceptions and three picks.
If Renfree holds on to the ball and has a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio, the Blue Devils stand a chance. It's still a slim one, but if Renfree is efficient and the passing attack is effective, they could give Florida State something to think about.
Because lord knows they won't be able to run the ball on Florida State.
Renfree could have the game of his life and Duke might still lose. That's the reality of this game. However, if Renfree plays poorly then I assure you the Blue Devils will lose, and probably by a wide margin.
Florida State Players to Watch: James Wilder Jr. & Devonta Freeman, Running Backs
The two sophomore backs will have big shoes to fill now that starter Chris Thompson has been lost for the season to an ACL tear.
Thompson led the Seminoles in rushing this season with 687 yards and five touchdowns, and he also contributed 21 receptions for 248 yards. His impact on this offense will be seriously missed.
But Freeman and Wilder bring some game to the table as well. Freeman is averaging seven yards per carry (along with 287 yards and three touchdowns), while the bruising Wilder leads the team with seven touchdowns (and has rushed for 369 yards on the season).
Florida State has one of the best rushing games in the nation, and it must continue to pound the rock even without Thompson. I expect Wilder and Freeman will pick up where he left off this year.
Key Matchup: Duke's Wide Receivers vs. Florida State's Secondary
Don't look now, but Duke has the 22nd-ranked passing offense in college football. A huge part of that has been the solid play of the team's wide receivers.
Conner Vernon (51 receptions for 749 yards and five touchdowns), Jamison Crowder (51 receptions for 629 yards and five touchdowns) and Desmond Scott (43 receptions for 437 yards and a touchdown) have been excellent this year, and all three will be a huge part of the game plan against Florida State.
If Duke is going to win, it will probably need to do so in a shootout. That will be easier said than done—the Seminoles are allowing just 157.4 passing yards per game, seventh in the nation. Of course, seeing as Florida State is allowing just 69.1 rushing yards per game (second in nation), Duke's best best is to take its chances through the air.
Duke is quietly one of the best stories of in college football this season, but isn't one of the best teams. I think Duke will have some success through the air, but ultimately it lacks the well-rounded offense and stout defense needed to beat Florida State. The Seminoles roll, 45-21.
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