Duke (3-1) at Wake Forest (3-1)
Sept. 29, 12:30, ACC Network
Here’s The Deal: It’s not Clemson-Florida State in the ACC. But this week’s game in Winston-Salem is going to be a pretty big deal for the two participants. More than just being a rivalry game between in-state foes, this is one of those meetings that will go a long way toward deciding who bowls in December and who gets a jump start on their holiday shopping. Duke will be fighting more than just Wake Forest on Saturday, having lost 12 straight in the series. The Blue Devils are consuming rarified air through four games as they enjoy the view two games above .500. However, wins over Florida International, North Carolina Central and Memphis this past weekend hardly qualify as an uprising in Durham. The Demon Deacons, like Duke, got whacked in their lone game versus a ranked opponent, Florida State, but do own a quality win over North Carolina in Week 2. Jim Grobe’s kids rebounded from their joyless trip to Tallahassee by surviving a shootout with Army last Saturday.
Why Duke Might Win: The Blue Devils are built around the passing game, namely QB Sean Renfree, receivers Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder and an O-line that’s given up just three sacks. However, this week head coach David Cutcliffe might consider mixing in more runs. Wake Forest has gotten shredded for more than five yards a carry this month, arm tackling and allowing too many long gallops. Plus, Duke is beginning to get excited about true freshman RB Jela Duncan, who has rushed for 148 yards on only 15 carries over the last two games.
Why Wake Forest Might Win: Ends Kenny Anunike and Dezmond Johnson have provided a lift to the Duke D, but the unit has been living off inferior competition. The Demon Deacons will provide the toughest test since Stanford slapped 50 points on the Blue Devils. The Florida State demolition aside, Demon Deacons QB Tanner Price has been sharp through the air, hurting defenses with plenty of help from ultra-productive WR Michael Campanaro. Wake also has momentum on the ground, producing a pair of 100-yard rushers last week. Josh Harris is the veteran staple, but rookie Deandre Martin will continue to push his elder for more touches.
What To Watch Out For: Does Wake Forest get back NG Nikita Whitlock, who missed the last two games with an ankle injury? His team needs him and misses him. The Demon Deacons are going to be average against the run no matter what, but without trusted No. 50, they’re a sieve. Whitlock has got to be back in the middle of the line, knifing through the line in order to blow up opposing plays before they have a chance to fully develop.
What Will Happen: Games between Wake Forest and Duke always seem to be close and up for grabs in the second half. This year’s edition will follow the script as well. Price and Renfree will lock horns for four quarters, trading blows in a game that’ll be dictated by the offenses. However, the Deacons have history and home field on their side. Plus, the combination of Harris and Martin will provide just the right amount of balance to keep the Blue Devils from locking in on Price and Campanaro. Bank on an entertaining track meet that could hinge on the final drive or two.
CFN Prediction: Wake Forest 41 … Duke 36