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Games football can win

Freshman running back Justin Boyle’s 83-yard touchdown burst in the waning moments of Duke’s 28-10 win over The Citadel can be, metaphorically speaking, interpreted in two different ways. For optimists, the true freshman’s run could be sign that the Blue Devils are finally running away from their recent struggles. For others, Boyle’s head-first scamper could symbolize Duke’s dive into the buzzsaw that is its remaining schedule.

With only ACC opponents remaining, Duke’s toughest tests are still ahead. Here are my picks for the games that give the Blue Devils best chance to put a second mark in the win column.

• Georgia Tech—Duke ended its record-breaking 30-game ACC losing streak with a 41-17 victory over the Yellow Jackets last season, and as they did last year in Durham, they may get their first ACC win of the season against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are more talented, but the game will come down to which Georgia Tech teams shows up. The Yellow Jackets started the season 2-0 with solid wins over Stanford and Clemson but have since sputtered on offense, losing badly to North Carolina and Miami.

There will be a revenge factor when Duke heads down I-85 to Atlanta, making another Duke upset all the more unlikely. The Blue Devils do, however, have almost two full weeks to prepare for the Yellow Jackets with a bye this week. The time off will give a number of injured players a chance to heal and the team an opportunity to study the nuances of the Georgia Tech attack.

Duke head coach Ted Roof was stuck in college football limbo after his defensive coordinator job at Notre Dame fell through because head coach George O’Leary resigned before coaching a game. O’Leary’s replacement in Atlanta, Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey, would not give Roof his position back at Georgia Tech, offering him a lower coaching position instead. Roof turned the job down, choosing to be the offensive coordinator at Duke. Ironically, another loss to Roof’s Blue Devils could be the reason why Gailey leaves Atlanta, as well.

• Wake Forest—This may be the toughest win of the four teams listed here. The Demon Deacons have surprised many this season, defeating Boston College and taking N.C. State into overtime. Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe is the early favorite for ACC Coach of the Year and should be a model for Roof as he tries to build a program at Duke. Wake Forest football has been as depressing as Duke at times, and Grobe’s results are proof that the Blue Devils can become competitive in a short amount of time, even in the ACC. The only reason Duke has a chance to win against the Demon Deacons is that Wake Forest is the only team that is not obviously more athletically gifted than the Blue Devils.

• Clemson—After getting off the head coaching hot seat with huge upsets over Florida State and Tennessee and winning ACC Coach of the Year honors in 2003, Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden finds himself on the verge of being fired again. The Tigers started the season with an overtime win against Wake Forest in Death Valley, a game Clemson was supposed to win easily. Bowden’s team has since lost three straight to Georgia Tech, Texas A&M and Florida State. The Tigers have looked worse and worse each week, and Duke should hope this trend continues until after Nov. 13 when Clemson plays in Wallace Wade.

• North Carolina—Unlike Bowden, Tar Heels head coach John Bunting may be saving his job this year. North Carolina’s offense has at times appeared as if it is one of the most potent in the nation. Still, Bunting may lose his job after the season. Virginia embarrassed UNC with a 56-24 victory, and the Tar Heels did not put up much of a fight against Louisville, a 34-0 loss, or Florida State, a 38-16 defeat.

If the Blue Devils can slow down North Carolina’s offense and expose its weak defense, Duke may hold the Victory Bell for another year. The Senior Day atmosphere in Wallace Wade will also only increase the Blue Devils’ chances at a season-ending victory.

With all of its injuries, Duke has not played as well as it expected. The good news is that if the Blue Devils can put its best players on the field while they are healthy, the team can win several more games this season. The bad news is that Duke is not expected to win against any of the four schools listed above, and that the Blue Devils must play better than they have at any point this season to knock off one of their ACC opponents.

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