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Column: In need of some morale

"The best morale exists when you never hear the word mentioned," Dwight Eisenhower once said. "When you hear a lot of talk about it, it's usually lousy."

Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the success of the football team in the next two weeks depends largely on that immeasurable, but all important word, "morale".

If Duke can put its 27-game ACC losing streak and consecutive under-achieving losses against Northwestern, Florida State and Maryland behind itself, it has a legitimate shot at taking down slumping Wake Forest and N.C. State.

But if it can't, then the futility record will only get worse.

After the second week of the season, one would be crazy to say Duke had a shot against the Demon Deacons this coming Saturday. The Blue Devils, despite returning more starters than any other team in the nation from a semi-competitive squad, looked as bad as ever; losing horrendously to Virginia in the opening game of the season.

Wake Forest, on the other hand, was considered the surprise of the college football world after upsetting both Boston College and then-No. 11 N.C. State. The Deacons were predicted as one of the bottom three teams in the ACC by nearly every preseason poll, as they returned the least amount of starters in the ACC from an over-achieving, Seattle Bowl winning 2002 season.

But since the surprising victories that catapulted Wake Forest into the top 25, the Demon Deacons have lost three of four, including a 24-7 loss to the not-so-intimidating Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Although still considered a threat, the more one analyzes Wake's season, the less impressive it is. The Deacon's first "upset" win came against the Eagles of Boston College, but the wins of the newest member of the ACC this season have come against a 2-5 Penn State team, Ball State, Temple and Connecticut.

Wake Forest's second win came against N.C. State, but the Wolfpack have been one of the biggest disappointments of the season with Chuck Amato's team struggling to remain over .500.

But even if the two opening games were against quality opponents, it is easy to see why the Deacons have stumbled since. Under coach Jim Grobe, Wake Forest runs a convoluted, almost indefinable offense.

After the Demon Deacons defeated Purdue a season ago, the Boilermaker post-game radio show spent its entire time allotment discussing the brilliant Wake Forest option-offense. The Deacons don't run an option.

But as the season has progressed, the tricky offense has become less and less deceptive with teams finally cracking its code. Nothing could prove this point better than when Georgia Tech's mediocre defense held the Deacons to only seven points.

Wake has no more talent than the Blue Devils, and Duke does not have an excuse to be out-smarted by an opposing football team.

And if the streak does not end this week, the Blue Devils should be nothing but optimistic for their parent's weekend matchup against N.C. State.

Even against last season's 11-3, Gator Bowl winning N.C. State club, the Blue Devils nearly defeated their triangle rivals in a 24-22 October 19th loss. Duke head coach Carl Franks has said repeatedly that he has no idea why the Blue Devils play well against the Wolfpack, but if N.C. State's performance so far this season has any prediction power, Duke will have its best showing against the technical school in the Franks' era.

N.C. State was seen as perhaps the top team in the ACC this preseason because of the marquee names that returned at the skill positions, most notably Heisman-hopeful quarterback Phillip Rivers. But the gritty players that make up truly great teams--the fundamentally sound offensive and defensive line players--are mostly gone from last years bowl winning season, leaving the Wolfpack very vulnerable.

For the first time in recent memory, the Blue Devils' next two ACC games will not be decided on talent alone. It will be the Blue Devils' ability to get over their mental hurdles that will decide their fate.

Under Franks, it is undeniable that a culture of losing has crippled the Blue Devils. But Duke has continually said that this is a different team then in years past.

The Blue Devils have the next two games to prove it.


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