Key stretch: Nov. 12-Nov. 19 (at Virginia, Georgia Tech)
Analysis: Duke will exponentially increase its odds of reaching the postseason if it can go 3-1 in its nonconference schedule. Given that it’s David Cutcliffe’s fourth season, it’s not an unreasonable expectation. So I’ll give Duke the benefit of the doubt there, but the team needs to find three more wins to become bowl eligible. Wake Forest and Virginia are two of the better chances for Ws, despite the Deacs’ lopsided advantage in that series.
Duke still needs to find one win against an opponent it’s not “supposed” to beat. That could be Georgia Tech. The Jackets are coming off a losing season and Duke will have the edge at quarterback in that game. The question is whether the defense can stop one of the nation’s best running games. If it can, it could be a monumental season for Duke. That’s a big ‘if.’
Prediction: Virginia is going to give Duke fits. The Hoos have lost to Duke in each of the past three seasons, and they’re likely going to do the best they can to make darn sure it doesn’t happen again. But it will. Because Duke will have the better quarterback. It’s going to be a great matchup, though, because Virginia’s defense should be the real deal this season, and particularly stronger up front. If that’s the case, and Duke takes care of business in its other “winnable” games, bowl eligibility will come down to the final two games.
Don’t discount a win at rival North Carolina, but Duke had a 13-6 halftime lead over Georgia Tech last season and looked capable of winning that game -- at least for a half. Duke has been flirting with a bigger win over one of its Coastal Division opponents, but has made too many mistakes in the past and let leads slip away. Those within the program are convinced they’re better than that now. Of course, they still have to prove it. The prediction is they will with a 2-0 record in this Coastal key stretch.