Oct. 27, 3:30, ESPNU
Here's The Deal: If the season ended last Sunday, it would be Florida State and Duke playing in the ACC title game in Charlotte. How apropos that the two meet in Tallahassee this Saturday afternoon.
The Blue Devils have been one of the feel-good stories of the year in the league, stunning rival North Carolina with seconds left to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. It was a crowning achievement for a perennial doormat that constantly hears that it's the football team at a basketball school. Trying to do more than just back into the postseason, Duke actually leads the Coastal, a muddled division that remains a jump ball with four games left.
For the second time in the last three games, the Seminoles were sloppy, but this time it didn't cost them in the standings. They survived a slow start to get past Miami, 33-20, and remain firmly in the Atlantic Division hunt. Having lost at the beginning of the month to NC State, Florida State doesn't have much margin for error, especially as Clemson continues to win.
Why Duke Might Win: Now more than ever, the Blue Devils will need to lean on what got them here, Sean Renfree's arm and a bend-don't-break defense.
Renfree is a seasoned veteran, who won't become unnerved by the setting or the circumstances. He was clutch in last week's seminal win, and continues to get plenty of help from top receivers Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder. The O-line is bucking the odds in pass protection, good news with ends Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine as this week's assignment. The Seminoles defense is fantastic, but it hasn't been infallible since allowing three points over the first three games.
Why Florida State Might Win: It might be time for Duke's bend-don't-break D to snap.
Yeah, the Seminoles suffered a huge blow when RB Chris Thompson tore his ACL last week, but there is enough depth to compensate in the running game. While no one on the roster can match Thompson's breakaway speed, James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman do have feature back qualities. Both are big and physical runners, with the leg drive to move the pile against an undersized Blue Devils defense. Of course, it must also contend with the myriad skills of QB E.J. Manuel, a top passer and a dangerous runner when he leaves the pocket. Against Stanford and Virginia Tech, Duke allowed 91 points earlier in the year.
What To Watch Out For: One man's injury is another's opportunity. For Wilder and Freeman, it's an enormous one. Wilder was at his best in the Clemson game, turning nine carries into 65 yards and two touchdowns. He's a future star. Freeman has rushed for 70 yards in each of the last two games, and actually led the 2011 squad on the ground. Again, Thompson's speed will be missed, but the next-man-in mentality will be the prevailing mentality going forward in the Florida State backfield.
What Will Happen: Duke is better—just not this much better.
As if facing Florida State in Tallahassee isn't tough enough already, the Blue Devils will find it impossible to get back up again after last weekend's emotional, bowl-clinching win over Carolina. The ‘Noles will take their visitor down a notch, getting an inspired effort from the new primary backs, and another stingy performance out of the defense. They won't be threatened in the second half, providing a gift to Coastal contenders Virginia Tech and Miami.
CFN Prediction: Florida State 41 … Duke 16