by Mike Potter
I never heard anybody predict Duke was going to finish this regular season 10-2 and as ACC Coastal Division football champions.
Now, I knew the Blue Devils were going to be decent this year. Picked them fifth in the division with a 7-5 record after going 6-7 last season that ended in a close, painful loss in the Belk Bowl.
But an eight-game winning streak and the best season in school history since 1941?
But that’s the case as the No. 20 Blue Devils take on consensus No. 1 Florida State (12-0) for the ACC championship tonight at 8 (ABC. Yes, National) in Charlotte.
Duke would go to the Orange Bowl with a victory. And if David Cutcliffe’s club wins it will have a major effect on who wins the national championship.
Heck, if Duke pulls one of the biggest upsets in recent football history and Michigan State gets a lesser upset over Ohio State, the fans of Cutcliffe’s alma mater can put down their crying towels because Alabama is going to play the SEC champion for all the marbles.
Florida State got some really good news on Thursday, when the possible rape charges against Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Jameis Winston failed to materialize.
So if the Blue Devils, who don’t have any glaring weaknesses, can beat a team of superior athletes in front of what should be a friendly crowd at Bank of America Stadium the Seminoles just won’t have any excuses.
That FSU is 18-0 all-time against Duke and is a 29-point favorite (the line didn’t move all week) would make it all that much sweeter.
Duke quarterback Anthony Boone has completed 157 of 239 passes for 1695 yards and 10 TDs with nine interceptions for the Blue Devils, and his reliever Brandon Connette has has completed 89 of 144 passes for 1210 yards and 13 TDs with six interceptions and run 98 times for 373 yards and three TDs.
All-ACC wideout Jamison Crowder has caught 88 passes for 1131 yards and seven TDs and has two punt-return TDs, while freshman DeVon Edwards has four return touchdowns and had the key interceptions to seal wins over N.C. State and UNC. Jela Duncan has rushed 108 times for 557 yards and three TDs to lead Duke’s four alternating tailbacks.
Winston has completed 218 of 317 passes for 3490 yards and 35 TDs with eight interceptions. Devonta Freeman has rushed 144 times for 852 yards and 12 TDs, while Rashad Greene has caught 61 passes for 914 times and nine TDs.
Yes, FSU appears to have one of the greatest teams in the history of college football, an unbeatable juggernaut that will have no trouble winning the national championship.
The Seminoles replaced Alabama in that role less than a week ago, right?
They said it:
Cutcliffe: “I don't think any of our guys are putting us down as 29-point underdogs. We have smart guys, as you might imagine, and they're very aware of the challenge. What they see is the quality of the team on tape. It's not unrealistic to say that we've got to play extremely well. The week started off on Sunday with me telling them the truth. I had seen a lot of Florida State by then. I told them the obvious, but I also told them now the only thing we can do is the quality of our preparation has to match what the quality of our play needs to be to compete with a team of this magnitude. They've done all year what we've asked them to do. I thought our preparation each day this week was special. Hopefully we can follow that up with playing at a high level.”
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher: “We’re very excited to be representing the Atlantic (Division) up here this week, very proud of our side of the division and very fortunate to be here and happy to be here. Our kids are really looking forward to the opportunity and looking forward to the challenge of playing against a really great Duke team. Duke has done one heck of a job this year. They’re extremely well coached and play extremely hard and make plays, and David has done a tremendous job there and we know we're going to have to play an ‘A’ game to be able to compete with them and play with them, but our kids are looking forward to it.”
Duke CB Ross Cockrell: “Obviously it's been a storybook ride for us, especially for me. This is my fifth year, and to have a final year like this at Duke that's unprecedented is very amazing, very special, a credit to everybody on this team who's worked extremely hard. And then on Florida State, they're a very talented team. There's no doubt about that. But I think we have a very talented team as well. And we're going to do what we've been doing all year, which is playing hard, being a disciplined football team, and going for all four quarters.”
Boone: “We've just got to go out there and execute. We don't need to go out there and try to do too much, not try to be somebody that we're not. They're the best team in the country for a reason, but at the end of the day, they put their pants on just like anybody else does. All we have to do is go out there and try to execute the game plan you have for that Saturday, and if it's the best you have and you come up short, then you come up short. But if not, then you get the win.”
Duke guard Dave Harding: “This season for Duke football has been extremely special, record-breaking, and has just been a lot of fun for everybody involved. We know we have a big challenge playing Florida State, but we're looking forward to it. This team hasn't turned down a challenge all season, and we've been expected to lose a lot of our games, and so we're coming to work like we have been the rest of this year.”