Walter Camp Coach of the Year David Cutcliffe celebrates after beating North Carolina last week.
On paper, the 2013 ACC Championship featuring the Duke Blue Devils and the Florida State Seminoles is about as lopsided as a championship game could be. The 'Noles come into the game favored by a whopping 29 points, according to Bovada, and they boast the widest average margin of victory in the country at 42.7.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, whom we learned on Thursday will not be charged with sexual assault, per CNN's Eliott C. McLaughlin, has run away with the Heisman Trophy and has a passing efficiency rating of 192.6. To put his efficiency in perspective, the NCAA record is 191.8 set by Russell Wilson in 2011.
The Seminoles defense hasn't been too bad either. They're first in the nation in points allowed per game at just 11 per contest.
So why are we even having this conversation?
While the Blue Devils are major underdogs, they've won 10 games, have four running backs who average more than five yards per carry and are well-coached. They have one of the top playmakers in the country, and they're playing just two hours from home.
Let's take a look at four things that Duke will need to do in order to upset the undefeated Seminoles.
Duke will have to run the ball effectively on Saturday.
In order for Duke to have any chance on Saturday, it will have to slow down the potent, quick-strike offense of Florida State. That's easier said than done.
What's the most effective way to do this?
One idea would be to take a page out of Stanford coach David Shaw's book and keep the opposing offense off the field. Shaw orchestrated this strategy perfectly against the Oregon Ducks in the Cardinal's win in Palo Alto, where Stanford held the ball for 42:34 versus Oregon's 17:26. With Duke's strong six-man rushing attack, the Blue Devils are capable of moving the ball and draining the clock.
Duke can't allow the Seminoles' second-ranked offense (based on total points, per ESPN.com) to get rolling.
Jamison Crowder has done it all for the Blue Devils in 2013.
Without question, the Blue Devils' top playmaker is junior wideout Jamison Crowder. In addition to leading the ACC in receptions with 88, he ranks in the top three in receiving yards, all-purpose yards, punt return average and punt return touchdowns, as GoDuke.com reports. The First Team All-ACC standout has a ton of big-play potential, and the Blue Devils will have to lean on him on Saturday.
Jimbo Fisher is well-aware of Crowder's abilities.
“Their receiver (Jamison Crowder) is a tremendous player. He can catch, run, he can change direction. (He’s) a great punt return guy," he said, as reported by FSUNews.com.
If Crowder gives Duke a big play early—be it a punt return or a long touchdown reception—it would go a long way in establishing much-needed momentum for the Blue Devils.
The Duke secondary has a difficult task on Saturday; it will have to contain one of the most prolific downfield passing attacks in the history of the NCAA. Led by 6'5", 234-pound Kelvin Benjamin, the Seminoles receiving corps is a force to be reckoned with.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe went so far as to admit that his team doesn’t have “anybody that can line up and match up physically” with Benjamin, as Scout.com reported.
This is an ominous statement from the head coach, but safety Jeremy Cash isn't overly concerned.
“You have to be confident,. Not arrogant or cocky, but just have confidence in your ability and your teammates and your coach. I have that...I just hope they [Florida State] don't sleep on us,” he said, per Joe Giglio of NewsObserver.com.
The defense has caused turnovers in 11 of 12 games, per ESPN.com, and enters the ACC Championship with 16 interceptions, nine forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries. Coming out ahead in the turnover category is a must for the Blue Devils.
Even with the cloud of a potential criminal charge for Winston hanging over their heads, the Seminoles haven't slept on any teams over the last few months and continue to play with the urgency of a team that's on a mission.
With a potential berth in the 2013 BCS National Championship game on the line, don't expect them to overlook the Blue Devils. Duke's 37th ranked defense (in points allowed, per ESPN.com) will have to play its best game of the season to keep the team's upset hopes alive.
Winning the special teams battle against the 'Noles is imperative for the Blue Devils. Up to this point, they've excelled in this category, returning two punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns. They also have an exceptional young talent in freshman DeVon Edwards, who leads the nation in kickoff return average with 32.7 yards per return, per ESPN.com.
They'll need big returns from both Edwards and Crowder on Saturday.
Punter Will Monday, who drew attention in Duke's bowl game last year for his 79-yard punt, will also be integral to the Blue Devils' ability to maintain solid field position and avoid giving Winston short fields.
With a win on Saturday, the Seminoles are a lock for a BCS National Championship berth.
In 2012, the Seminoles thrashed the Blue Devils by a score of 48-7. Duke will keep it a lot closer than that this time around and will likely surprise people, but Florida State is too much for Duke to handle. Head coach Jimbo Fisher has loaded his team with top-to-bottom talent through elite recruiting classes, and his Seminoles don't have any obvious weaknesses for the Blue Devils to exploit.
Jameis Winston has been the best player in the country all year, and the Seminoles defense has played remarkably well as a unit.
Final Score: Florida State 35, Duke 24