Tuesday night's Chick-fil-A Bowl is projected to be a sellout for the 17th consecutive year, which is the second-longest active streak behind only the Rose Bowl. The game will take place in front of a packed Georgia Dome—which boasts a football capacity of more than 74,000 fans—and will be the only New Years Eve contest played in primetime on New Years Eve on national television.
Preparing to take on an SEC power in No. 20 Texas A&M, Duke has spent most of its bowl preparation getting used to the size and feel of the dome.
“[Thursday] was really important to get the feel for everything," redshirt senior offensive guard Dave Harding said. "This is the first time a lot of us have ever played indoors."
Playing indoors means playing on a fast surface, which Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital indicated could allow his team to quicken its tempo. The Blue Devils used their pressure to get to Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston early in the ACC championship game before its own tempo was its downfall in the second quarter. Five straight three-and-outs on offense left Duke's defense on the field for nearly 11 minutes in the second period, and weary legs allowed the Seminoles' playmakers to take over.
On the other side of the football, the Blue Devils will not allow themselves to be shell-shocked by a quicker surface, as they already boast one of the quickest offensive tempos in the nation.
"I think the only benefits you see after playing 13 straight games is our guys have a comfort of what we are asking them to do," Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said.
The Blue Devils have yet to play a game indoors this season, but defensive coordinator Jim Knowles pointed to the use of Duke's indoor practice facility, which opened just before the 2012 season, as excellent preparation for playing in the Georgia Dome.
"If you've seen our practices, they all feel very much like they are in a controlled dome, almost laboratory kind of environment because it's extremely fast-paced and it's nonstop and there's music playing and blaring at all times," Knowles said. "We go indoors a lot. So I think we are really prepared for this opportunity."
Although the Chick-fil-A Bowl will be Duke's second consecutive game in an NFL stadium after falling to top-ranked Florida State in the ACC championship game at Bank of America Stadium, home of the Charlotte Panthers, the Blue Devils still don't have much experience in the type of atmosphere they will likely experience Tuesday night.
Competing in the SEC, the smallest crowd the Aggies played in front of during the 2013 season was a sold-out crowd of 60,950 fans for a road game against Ole Miss. Duke exceeded that minimum just twice during the entire season when it played road games against Virginia Tech and North Carolina, both of which were Blue Devil victories. Neither of those two crowds exceeded 63,500 fans—Texas A&M competed in front of an average of more than 82,500 fans per game this year.
Quarterback Johnny Manziel said he expected to see the Georgia Dome rocking with Aggie faithful Tuesday night.
"I think one of the best things about A&M, whatever Bowl game we would be playing, I think we travel extremely well," the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner said. "Our fans are really passionate, and I think they are really excited about this game."
Duke has sold the majority of its 18,500-ticket allotment as well, and students are expected to be out in force. Thanks to donations from six members of the Iron Dukes, both undergrads and graduate students were able to pick up their Chick-fil-A Bowl tickets—priced at $90 face value—for free.
After more than 300 student tickets were sold at $70 apiece for the ACC championship game, Duke's Athletics Department projected about 500 bowl tickets would be picked up—they ended up distributing more than 900 tickets for Tuesday's game.
"All of us are really happy for the student-athletes and the coaches. They've worked hard for a long time and built toward this," said Tom Coffman, senior associate director of athletics and executive director of the Iron Dukes. "Hopefully there are a lot of students that find Atlanta easy to get to."