Nonconference opponents (with 2012 records)
North Carolina Central (6-5)
ACC home games
ACC road games
Gut-check time: Sept. 14-21 (Georgia Tech, Pitt). The Blue Devils open the season with what should be two easy games against NC Central and Memphis, and then have to face Coastal Division opponents Georgia Tech and Pitt in back-to-back weekends. We should know a lot more about what type of season Duke will have after these two games. Consider last season, Duke did not play its first ACC opponent until Week 5 and came out with a win over Wake Forest. If Duke wants to get back to a bowl game, I think it is going to have to win at least one of these games.
Trap game: Troy, Sept. 28. This one looks like a win on paper, but I believe it could be a trap game for a number of reasons. First, it comes after two ACC games. There could be a natural emotional letdown with nonconference games breaking up the league schedule. Second, Troy presents a challenge at quarterback, as the Trojans play two guys -- Corey Robinson (drop-back) and Deon Anthony (dual threat). Could be tough to prepare for both after playing the Georgia Tech run-based offense and the Pitt pro-style offense.
Snoozer: at Memphis, Sept. 7. Could have chosen NC Central here and would not be wrong, either. Not exactly fireworks to start the season.
Defining stretch: Nov. 16-30 (Miami, at Wake Forest, at North Carolina). Bowl eligibility could very well hang in the balance in the final three weeks of the season. Duke was able to make a bowl game in 2012 thanks to wins over Wake Forest and North Carolina. So it stands to reason Duke may have to win at least one of those games to make it back to a bowl this year. The last time Duke beat North Carolina AND Wake Forest in consecutive seasons was 1961-62. And I am sure Duke will want to finish this season off better than last -- Duke was 6-2 before losing its final four regular-season games and any shot at a division crown.
Final analysis: Every single nonconference game is winnable for Duke this year, even Navy -- the Blue Devils should be greatly helped by playing Georgia Tech earlier in the season. But the final stretch of the season is brutal, as Duke closes with four of its final six games on the road -- two of them against teams expected to make a run at the Coastal Division (Virginia Tech, North Carolina). Even if the Blue Devils go 4-0 in nonconference play, they have some major road challenges they will have to overcome to get back to a bowl game.
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