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A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

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It Ain’t Easy Being Duke (Updated)

It’s tough being Duke, or Iowa State, or Vanderbilt, or your conference’s resident also-ran. To reach bowl eligibility in a given season, one of these teams must not only beat the lesser teams on the schedule but also at least one heavily favored opponent, as the Commodores showed in 2008. That fall, Vanderbilt didn’t just beat one favored foe; it beat three, perhaps four, en route to the program’s first bowl bid in 26 years. But just as a note on how difficult is always is for a Vanderbilt to win seven games, look at the teams it beat as an underdog: No. 24 South Carolina, nine-win Mississippi, No. 13 Auburn and No. 24 Boston College. That’s how hard it is for the Commodores.

It’s only slightly easier for Duke. That’s year-to-year, big picture, but the issue has been magnified now that the Blue Devils have gained new life under David Cutcliffe. In other words, the tough road to bowl play wasn’t a big deal when Duke was going 1-10; now that the expectations have been raised, it’s far easier to pay attention to what lies ahead come September.

Let’s take a look at this year’s schedule. Play America’s favorite game: Guess the finish.

Sept. 3 Richmond
Sept. 10 Stanford
Sept. 17 at Boston College
Sept. 24 Tulane
Oct. 1 at Florida International
Oct. 15 Florida State
Oct. 22 Wake Forest
Oct. 29 Virginia Tech
Nov. 5 at Miami (Fla.)
Nov. 19 Georgia Tech
Nov. 26 at North Carolina

Alright: I see two wins off the bat — or one, at least. Duke should not have a problem with Tulane, which has an equally suspect defense but lacks the offense to go punch-for-punch with the Blue Devils. Richmond is not quite the team it was two or three years ago, but the Spiders have won each of their last two games in Durham.

Wake Forest should be a win if we go on the following logic: if each team improves the same amount from last season, Duke will be the better team. Not that the advantage is all that much, but that Duke gets the Demon Deacons at home will help. So I see three wins off the bat.

Maybe a fourth from Florida International, the defending Sun Belt champs. Not that you would, but don’t sleep on the Golden Panthers: the combination of rising talent and confidence makes them a dangerous foe for Louisville and Duke, two early-season B.C.S. conference foes who could be caught napping.

Update (see comment from Wildcat6 below) Virginia is also a potential win. Duke has won three straight over the Cavaliers, one in Charlottesville in 2009, and will be a confident team on the road. But I think Virginia will be far improved, and see Wake as a clearer win. Not to say that the Cavaliers aren’t beatable — oh, they area — just that Wake seems like a slightly easier foe.

Let’s give Duke a 4-1 mark, with wins over Tulane and Richmond and two of three against F.I.U., Wake Forest and Virginia. Two more wins are needed: Where are they coming from? I could see Duke scoring enough on offensively-challenged Boston College to win; I could more clearly see defensively-potent B.C. putting the clamps down on the Blue Devils and winning 28-10. The Blue Devils have played Miami (Fla.) tight lately, but I don’t see a victory coming over the Hurricanes.

Georgia Tech at home? Not with this front seven. Virginia Tech or Florida State? Nope. Stanford? Can’t see that happening. I don’t mean to rag on the Blue Devils — I’m a big fan of Cutcliffe and the job he’s done — but you begin to see why it’s so difficult for the B.C.S. conference also-rans to reach bowl eligibility, let alone put together a borderline bowl team on a yearly basis.

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Comments

  1. BCHysteria says:

    Duke would definitely match up well against Boston College, but I just don’t see them beating BC. I think the “offensive challenged” tag went out the window with Gary Tranquill. Kevin Rogers will get a lot more out of his underrated weapons. I think your 28-10 BC victory is much more likely to happen.

  2. wildcat6 says:

    @Paul

    At Virginia on November 12th was left off the schedule – that’s a potential win for the Duke as well.

    http://www.fbschedules.com/ncaa-11/acc/2011-duke-blue-devils-football-schedule.php

    Paul: Crap. Was reading off the preview, missed it. That throws a wrench into this thing. Thanks for pointing it out. Updating above.

  3. Adam Nettina says:

    What seperates Duke from Wake and Virginia then? Heck, while we’re at it, we could almost include Maryland…The way I see it, the balance of power has really swung in the ACC, to the point where anyone in that conference can drop a game to a CAA or Southern Conference team, and obviously to each other. I guess my question is, is being the longtime also-ran (say Duke, Vandy) still a step below a Wake or a Kentucky or Maryland (teams that struggle to stay above .500, but have had short-lived, if unspectacular, success in the past)?

  4. Garrett_TD23 says:

    I would think Duke would have a better than 50/50 chance of beating FIU. They were only 6-2 in the Sun Belt and 7-6 overall last season. There is not a whole lot of difference in talent between the Sun Belt and a high end FCS conference (like the Colonial). Both FIU and Duke keep a lot of their offensive weapons, though Duke returns their starting QB and FIU breaks in a new one. It’s hard to predict the out come, but Duke has to win this game to keep their bowl aspirations alive.

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