For most Duke fans, the opening weekend for college football is a big one — it means only 10 more weeks until basketball season starts! UNC fans are slightly more interested. As in, is Harrison Barnes limping? No? Thank God. Oh yeah – when’s the football game again?
So how will the local teams fare this year? Duke actually has the more interesting home schedule — three preseason Top 15 teams come to Durham, including the Heisman Trophy favorite and future No. 1 pick, Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
The schedule-makers didn’t do the Blue Devils any favors, though. Besides bringing in Stanford, they scheduled the annual pushover game against a Division I-AA (now called FCS) team, but they booked Richmond, a really good I-AA team which has actually beaten Duke in the past two meetings. And they scheduled a game against the Sun Belt Conference, which is a good thought, except it’s a road game against the preseason pick to win the Sun Belt, Florida International.
They did look far and wide for a suitable Homecoming opponent after last year’s embarrassing loss to Army (you would think the fact that its players are required to enter the service during a time when the U.S. was fighting two wars would hamper Army’s recruiting, but it didn’t stop them from going up 35-7 after three quarters). Somehow they found Tulane, which still hasn’t recovered from when its facilities were destroyed during Hurricane Katrina.
So can Duke get to six wins and make its first Bowl game since 1994? Despite home-field “advantage” at Wally Wade, I expect losses to Virginia Tech and Florida State, both Top 15 teams. Miami and UNC (which has won 20 of 21 in the rivalry) will also be heavy favorites against the Blue Devils. Richmond and Tulane are must-wins, but forget about beating Stanford.
That leaves these five games, where Duke would have to go at least 4-1: at Boston College (picked 2nd in its division in the ACC), at FIU (picked to win the Sun Belt), at Virginia (the only ACC team Duke beat last year), and home against Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.
The Blue Devils will only be favored against Wake Forest. Even if you optimistically think Duke will win the toss-ups against FIU and Virginia, that means the Blue Devils must pull an upset against BC or Georgia Tech. There’s just enough hope, just that slightest possibility that it’s possible, to make things interesting. I guess that’s all you can ask for if you’re a Duke fan.
Prediction: 4-8, 2-6 ACC (wins against Richmond, Tulane, Virginia, Wake Forest)
North Carolina has actually gone 8-5 in each of the past three years. Its non-conference schedule has the usual opener against a I-AA opponent (James Madison), games against the bottom two teams in the Big East (Louisville and Rutgers), and a game at East Carolina, who UNC has handled in the past. The Tar Heels should go 4-0 against those opponents, which means they just have to finish 4-4 in the ACC to match their usual win total again.
Three of those wins should be easy — Virginia, Wake Forest and Duke are the three worst teams in the conference, and UNC gets them all in Chapel Hill. The leaves a home game against Miami and road games against Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Clemson and N.C. State.
UNC hasn’t won at GT since ’97 and has been horrible defending the option. N.C. State has won four in a row in the series. Virginia Tech is the national Thursday night ESPN broadcast, as if Blacksburg isn’t tough enough to play in (though UNC did win there in ’09). Counting those three as losses, that puts UNC at 7-3, and assuming a split against Miami and Clemson, that brings UNC to… 8-4. Throw in a bowl loss to an SEC opponent and we’re back to 8-5.
Prediction: 8-5, 4-4 ACC