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Sports Today for Dec. 5, 2013

SoVaNow.com / December 04, 2013
No one in their right mind believes that Duke can ambush Florida State for the ACC title and earn a BCS berth in the Orange Bowl Saturday night. Your roving football correspondent checked in with two of the sharpest minds we know who cover college football, including one observer who is extremely knowledgeable about all things Blue Devil, and the verdict is in.

As in, no way, pal. Get real - Duke getting past FSU? Get serious. Well, one of the regular readers of this column (and boy, we appreciate those folks) is always making the argument that writers should sometimes think outside the box.

So let’s go there.

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible that Duke can beat number 1 Florida State Saturday night in Charlotte, NC. Now, keep in mind, we’re not pulling a Joe Namath guarantee here, ala 1969 Super Bowl, Jets vs. Colts.

Duke has an exceedingly narrow window of opportunity. The Blue Devils would likely have to take advantage of FSU mistakes and turnovers. Duke would have to be able to pressure FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, without getting burned with big plays on the other end. A lot of stuff would have to go right for the Blue Devils, and FSU would have to struggle with multiple blunders.

But it’s not an impossibility.

Duke has no expectations or pressure to worry about in the ACC title game, and that’s not a bad thing.

Florida State is 12-0, and has just sent hated archrival Florida to its worst season since 1979, according to the wire report in the Sunday paper. The Seminoles and Ohio State now rank 1-2 in the BCS Standings one week before the final pairigs are set.

Will FSU take Duke seriously?

Can Florida State bring the proper focus to this game? Or will the Seminoles be thinking about LA and all that West Coast culture and how they’re taking Pasadena by storm after dismissing this momentary nuisance known as Duke football.

In fairness to the FSU coaching staff, I’m sure Jimbo Fisher will utter warnings to the contrary, urging his players not to disrespect Duke.

This trend line works in Duke’s favor.

Moreover, Duke has David Cutcliffe, perhaps the wisest coach in college football. Cutcliffe repeated Tuesday as ACC coach of the year, and deservedly so.

The man, and his very underrated staff, has Duke at 10-2. And, truth be known, that record should have been 11-1, as Duke let the Pitt Panthers get loose when the Blue Devils had that bunch of cats caged in Durham. We’re willing to bet there are very few coaches in America who could actually figure out how to do this (actually beat FSU), but we also believe that Cutcliffe can.

This is absolutely no knock on Fisher and Co., by the way. Florida State has had a heck of a year, landing major honors across the board.

As for Fisher, I met the genial, down to earth FSU coach at the ACC football kickoff operation in Greensboro and liked him immediately. Fisher has done an absolutely tremendous job following in the footsteps of one of the great gentlemen and competitors in modern college sports, Bobby Bowden, which is hardly easy to do. Fans of the Virginia football operation understand this, as first Al Groh and now Mike London have floundered trying to live up to the standards George Welsh established in Charlottesville.

I don’t pretend to be an Xs and Os football expert, but Cutcliffe has already outsmarted the brainiacs by taking this underrated Duke football operation to the Coastal Division crown, with an outright top of the division finish. Duke was picked last in the division. Cutcliffe is a personal tutor to the Manning quarterback tree. Cutcliffe has considerable experience inside the best college football culture in the nation (the Southeastern Conference) and probably isn’t the least intimidated by FSU and its raging band of statistics.

Duke has developed into a team, in the best sense of the term. The Blue Devils have shown they can come from behind in a very difficult environment, at Virginia Tech. FSU, the more athletic team, would have to self-destruct with turnovers and other issues. Nevertheless, if this game is still close heading into the fourth quarter, FSU could be in trouble. There is another factor that plays into Duke’s hands.

Winston, FSU’s wonderkind red-shirt freshman quarterback, is ripping through the opposition faster than any post-Christmas paper-shredding machine who’ll ever see. I found it interesting that Winston only has eight interceptions in 12 games, after tossing one against the Gators. Winston torched Florida for 327 yards and three touchdowns.

Championship game stages are a different animal, and Winston has never been there. Cutcliffe has. The law of averages suggests that Winston, who is not yet the next incarnation of Peyton Manning or John Elway, might be due for a less than spectacular performance. It happens to even the best quarterbacks sooner or later, and Winston also has to be under serious pressure relating to this Tallahassee police investigation that has not gone away. If things go just a bit awry in the first half Saturday night, might Winston come unglued with the ACC title on the line? Stranger things have happened.

And that leads us to the final theme of this column.

Face it, this has been an absolutely bizarre year in college football, capped by last Saturday’s Iron Bowl, with Auburn taking down uber-powerful Alabama. Yes, we know Auburn was ranked fourth in the nation, and it’s arguably the best rivalry in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

A Duke win would fit right in, after several supposedly unbeatable operations lost. Just look at what’s happened to Oregon. Michigan probably should have taken down Ohio State and there might just be enough reckless karma floating around Charlotte this week to allow the Blue Devils to do the unthinkable, throwing at least one half of the final BCS derby into a perfect storm of a mess.

Of course, FSU may steamroll Duke. That what everyone expects, like 56-14 ‘Noles.

On paper, taking the tape of the game, lining up this ‘key’ and that ‘key’, there’s no way Duke can win. The Blue Devils already have the first 10-win season in the history of the program, and there will be no blame game if the Blue Devils fall to 10-3.

As we know, all these college football experts cannot possibly be wrong about Duke twice.

GROBE DONE: One of the best men in college sports resigned Tuesday. Jim Grobe, suffering through five straight losing seasons, announced his resignation after a distinguished run at the helm of Wake Forest football. Grobe, in my mind, represents the best of NCAA big time athletics, in every sense of the word. Wake Forest moves on, but the college sports world has seen one of the class acts in college sports depart. Wake Forest was 4-8 this season.

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