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Looking at Duke's odds in '07

Two weeks ago, I received the 2007 edition of Sports Illustrated's annual college football preview in the mail. Besides being the only time of year that anything associated with West Virginia can be featured on a magazine cover-and reminding me it's time to start thinking of a good tailgate costume-the college football issue is my favorite because of its ratings chart.

My anticipation of this year's list was high, as I firmly believed Duke had a realistic shot at being named the worst team in college football. Despite the high expectations of those around Yoh Football Center, Duke is still entering the season with the longest losing streak in the country.

Much to my surprise, the Blue Devils were actually ranked as the 100th overall team in the nation-still the lowest school from any of the six major conferences, but ahead of 18 other programs that managed to have at least one victory in 2006.

With Duke's prospects suddenly bolstered-they were also rated as a B- overall in NCAA Football 08-I decided to turn to the ACC preview page to see how SI saw Duke finishing. And that's where I came across its lovely forecast of the Blue Devils' 2007 record:

0-8 ACC, 0-12 Overall.

C'mon, I said to myself-that can't be right. Sure, recent history is against the Blue Devils, but Duke has got to be able to win at least one measly game this season, right? At the very least, there is not a Division 1AA team on the schedule to shut out the Blue Devils at home this year.

So, I've decided to arbitrarily break down Duke's schedule to see if they have a chance of preventing their losing streak from reaching 32 by season's end (games are grouped from least winnable to most):

Not even if Sonny Jurgensen came walking through that door-No Chance of Winning: @Florida State, @Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, @Miami.

Duke has the dubious distinction of being homecoming cannon fodder for Florida State this year, and alumni there don't make the rather questionable decision to waste more precious seconds of their lives in Tallahassee just to see the 'Noles lose. The trip to South Bend to play the Fighting Irish is nothing more than a way to get Duke football on national TV for the first time since the introduction of color television sets and maybe give some of the walk-ons a chance to recreate the Fortune-Rudy "Never saw a game from the stands" speech. ACC-favorite Virginia Tech has beat Duke by a combined score of 81-0 in the teams' last two meetings. And barring another brawl at the OB, Miami should have its full squad available the next time it takes on the Blue Devils, and the Hurricanes' speed has been too much for Duke to handle in the past-just look up "Devin Hester Duke" on YouTube.

If everything goes right, and then some-Slim Chance of Winning: @Virginia, @Navy, Georgia Tech.

All three of these teams have handled Duke well in the past three seasons, and there is no indication this won't continue into 2007. Navy, in particular, has always appeared to be a "beatable" team on the schedule, but they've won three straight against Duke. Case-in-point: In a 38-17 loss last November, the Blue Devils gave up a whopping 435 yards on the ground to Navy's triple-option offense-or about one yard for every midshipman that was passed out at that tailgate.

Depends on how badly these teams suck-Slight to Plausible Chance of Winning: Wake Forest, Clemson, @North Carolina.

Last year's loss at Wake Forest was perhaps the quintessential "wrenching-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory" game (a.k.a. the New York Jets Special), which has defined Duke Football and tortured its supporters over the last three years. The UNC game in 2006 was a close second. Being the eternal optimist, however, I believe the fact that the Blue Devils showed they can play with those two teams for 59 minutes last year, coupled with Clemson's late season swoon last year, gives hope that Duke might be able to steal a win or two from these schools.

Now or never-Medium Chance of Winning: UConn, @Northwestern

Simply put, these are the two worst teams on Duke's schedule, but that doesn't mean they are bad (relatively). Duke will be missing its best defensive player, the suspended Mike Tauiliili, when it takes on a steadily improving UConn team Saturday, and Northwestern rebounded from an early season loss to New Hampshire last year to knock off Iowa on the road.

The Blue Devils need to win both of these games to build some early momentum and confidence that might enable them to upset some teams as the schedule gets harder. But this is still Duke football, so I can't really give them more than a 50-50 chance to win either game-I'll go out on a limb though, and say they will beat Northwestern.

So there you have it: the Blue Devils will win at least one game, probably can pull together two and, if they catch a break here or there, possibly get their record as a high as 4-8. But if all else fails, take solace in the fact that Duke has at least one winning record-they are 12-9 against the spread over the last two seasons.


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