Heading into the final weeks of the college football season, Duke Blue Devils fans have found themselves in a rare position: cheering for a team with a legitimate chance at winning their division and making it to the ACC Championship Game. Chances are, whichever team goes to Championship Game will be dismantled by either Florida State or Clemson, the ACC’s lone Top-25 teams, both of which have cruised to victory in all of their games against ACC Coastal opponents over the duration of this season.
I can’t concern you with the likes of Clemson and Florida State, however, as the Duke Blue Devils still have two very exciting games coming up. With an away contest at Georgia Tech in two weeks and the season finale at home against Miami, there is still reason for optimism amongst Blue Devils fans, despite the fact that Duke is coming off of two straight embarrassing blowout-losses.
With every team in the division having two or three games left on their schedule, here is a look at the standings:
As you can see, there are four teams, besides Duke, that are very much alive in the ACC Coastal race (Virginia is yet to be mathematically eliminated, but…Virginia): Miami, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech. How much of a threat do each of these teams pose to the Blue Devils? Let’s take a look!
North Carolina (3-2 ACC, 6-3 Overall)
Let’s get the Tar Heels out of the way quickly, shall we? They aren’t eligible for the postseason: the result of their violation of NCAA rules a couple years ago. UNC could blow out all three teams left on their schedule and finish atop the ACC Coastal, but all they would get is a light, awkward tap on the back from their coach, along with a locker to clean out. Since Duke already defeated the Tar Heels 33-30 earlier this season, UNC has absolutely zero significance on the outlook of the rest of Duke’s season, unless they want to go ahead and defeat Georgia Tech this weekend, which, although it wouldn’t have too significant of an impact on Duke, would help the Blue Devils out a little.
Miami (4-2 ACC, 6-3 Overall)
Duke has two games left on their schedule: an away game at Georgia Tech next Saturday and a home contest against Miami in their season finale. Not surprisingly, these two teams represent the biggest threats to the Blue Devils in their pursuit of an ACC Coastal championship. Miami is currently the only postseason-eligible team ahead of Duke in the standings and, as long as Duke is able to overcome Georgia Tech, they are the only thing standing between Duke and a date with either Florida State or Clemson.
One interesting development that has come out of Miami recently is the mention of a possible self-imposed post-season ban by the Hurricanes this season. Now, this isn’t anything for Duke fans to get too excited about, as I’m guessing they’ll impose the ban if they don’t win the division, and will neglect to impose the ban if they do win the division. Then again, they could use the ban as an opportunity to say, “Look, NCAA, we’re banning ourselves in a year where we’ve won the division. Look at how strictly we are punishing ourselves.” Really, no one has any clue what is going to happen in this situation, so I’m just rambling. I’ll shut up so we can move on.
If Duke and Miami do have a season finale showdown for the division, it would likely end up being a very entertaining game. In case you haven’t realized, these teams have played almost identically this season:
Passing Yards per Game: Miami – 277.4, Duke – 270.1
Rushing Yards per Game: Miami – 130.1, Duke – 120.0
Points per game: Miami – 27.2, Duke – 30.7
Points Against per game: Miami – 30.1, Duke – 32.6
Now, this doesn’t mean that the two are carbon copies of each other, as Miami has 4.28 SOS rating while Duke has a -0.11 SOS rating. The two teams do play a very similar style, however, and a game between them would likely end in a gun-slinging shootout.
Georgia Tech (3-3 ACC, 4-5 Overall)
Georgia Tech and their triple-option offense take on UNC this weekend in a game that is largely insignificant as far as Duke is concerned. Regardless of what happens between the Yellow Jackets and Tar Heels, the winner of next week’s Duke-Georgia Tech game will have the upper-hand in the standings between the two teams.
A loss to Georgia Tech would likely spell doom for the Blue Devils, as it would likely drop them two games behind the Miami Hurricanes, who take on the Virginia Cavaliers this weekend. So, yes, next week’s game will be Duke’s biggest and most important game of the season. Lose and (barring an upset of the Hurricanes by Virginia, which won’t happen) your title hopes are out the window, win and it is on to the Miami game.
Virginia Tech (2-3 ACC, 4-5 Overall)
The Hokies have been a mess this season, and their loss last weekend to Miami have likely ended any hopes of winning the ACC Coastal division. While that is true, it is also true that they are the only team in the division that owns a victory over Duke this season, meaning if Virginia Tech and Duke somehow end up atop of the division at the end of the season, the Hokies will be taking a trip to the Championship game.
With a date with Florida State this weekend, however, the Hokies are in danger of dropping their fourth ACC contest. In all likelihood, the Seminoles will defeat the Hokies, Miami will defeat Virginia, and the Hokies will be eliminated from the race for the Coastal division championship, making them fairly insignificant in Duke’s venture towards the same goal.
It’s a little confusing, as standings at the end of the season often are, but know this: if Duke defeats Georgia Tech and Miami, they are your ACC Coastal Division Champions. If Miami defeats Virginia and Duke loses to Georgia Tech, Duke’s chances of a championship are over.
This is both an exciting and terrifying time to be a Duke fan.
Give ‘em hell, Devils.