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Winnable games remain for Duke

Head coach David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils need to win four of six contests to qualify for a bowl game.
Head coach David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils need to win four of six contests to qualify for a bowl game.

After the Blue Devils’ lackluster season-opening home loss against Richmond, the squad’s bowl hopes seemed all but gone.

Duke’s 49-28 road win over N.C. State however, has reinvigorated that ambition. At 3-3, the Blue Devils would have to win four of their next six games in order to become bowl eligible, a feat head coach David Cutcliffe knows will not be easy.

“They’ve tasted it, and they know how hard they’ve had to work to get to this point,” Cutcliffe said of his players. “They are getting ready to find out how hard you have to work to continue to win.” A close examination of Duke’s schedule reveals that punching a ticket  to the EagleBank or GMAC bowl is not out of the question this year.

Oct. 24 vs. Maryland

The Terrapins (2-4) have had an abysmal season so far, including a home loss to Middle Tennessee State. The defense has been blistered, most recently giving up 360 yards and four touchdowns to Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner. Additionally, the offensive line has already allowed 22 sacks. Coming out of a bye week, Duke’s offense should be able to shred the Terrapins’ secondary and the defense should capitalize on Maryland’s own offensive issues, which include the loss of reciever Darius Heyward-Bey.

Oct. 31 at Virginia

The Cavaliers have rallied in the past two weeks after an 0-3 start to the season, beating North Carolina 16-3 and demolishing Indiana 47-7 behind senior running back Mikell Simpson. Though Duke beat Virginia 30-3 last year, this season’s contest is on the road and figures to be tougher. Nevertheless, the Virginia offense lacks consistency from its passing game and its defense, which gave up 26, 30 and 37 points in its first three weeks. If the Blue Devils can contain Simpson, they should definitely have a chance to win.

Nov. 7 at North Carolina

After being heralded as a possible contender in the ACC championship race, losses to Georgia Tech on the road and Virginia at home have shattered those dreams for the Tar Heels. In both losses, quarterback T.J. Yates struggled mightily, throwing four interceptions compared to just one touchdown. Their schedule does not get any easier, with a matchup against Florida State followed by a road game at fourth-ranked Virginia Tech coming up. The Blue Devils could easily capitalize on a potential 0-4 ACC start for North Carolina.

Nov. 14 vs. Georgia Tech

This is where the schedule becomes considerably tougher. The Yellow Jackets have started the season 5-1, with their lone loss on the road to No. 11 Miami. They return star running back Jonathan Dwyer and continue to successfully run their triple-option attack. While Duke will probably be competitive in the contest, their fourth-quarter run defense has been suspect and will probably be the difference.

Nov. 21 at Miami

Unless Jacory Harris breaks his leg, Duke will probably get gobbled up at Land Shark Stadium.

Nov. 28 vs. Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons have handed Duke some of its most heartbreaking losses in recent years, winning the last three in the series by a combined total of nine points. Quarterback Skinner returns, but is surrounded by inexperience at the other positions. The Blue Devils have always played Wake Forest tough and could break through this year at home.

Indeed, to become bowl-eligible, Duke will have to show consistency it has not displayed in the past. With at least four winnable games remaining on the schedule, Cutcliffe is not letting his team get ahead of itself.

“We’ll just keep it one game at a time,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ll see what happens when the dust settles.”

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