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Blue Devils need a hot start

This is the year for Duke basketball fans to spend their fall with Blue Devil football.

There’s no downside—by the time Countdown to Craziness arrives Oct. 19, you’ll probably know if Duke is headed to its first bowl game since 1994.

Never have Duke football’s first five games been more pivotal under head coach David Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils’ 2012-2013 slate features six games against teams ranked or receiving votes in the AP preseason top 25, and five of those matchups come in the final half of the season. With such a backloaded schedule, Duke likely needs a 4-2—potentially 5-1—record in its first six contests to have the momentum it needs to play through December.

In fact, if the Blue Devils play their cards right, they’ll have a bowl wrapped up before Duke basketball freshmen Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson are officially introduced.

A 6-1 start is admittedly a long shot for a program that hasn’t won that many games in a full season since before many of the freshmen were born. Still, even five wins through that stretch would give Duke a realistic shot at sneaking a .500 record. Saying the Blue Devils are finally primed to go bowling has become a tired refrain over the last four seasons—as it does at every school with a long postseason drought—but after four one-score losses last season, Duke doesn’t need a major overhaul to find six wins this year.

The day after men’s basketball kicks off its season, the Blue Devils host North Carolina (which is closer to a national ranking than Julius Peppers ever was to a classroom), followed by No. 7 Florida State, No. 14 Clemson and Georgia Tech. Since Duke’s last meeting with the Tigers in 2008—a 31-7 Clemson smackdown—it has lost to the Tar Heels, Seminoles and Yellow Jackets eight times by a combined 123 points.

Florida International presents the toughest opener Duke has faced under Cutcliffe, at least on paper. No one is more excited to get away from FCS competition—really just Richmond—than the Blue Devils, who won’t dare look past the Golden Panthers after last year’s debacle.

A long road trip to Palo Alto will likely be the only game where Duke finds itself a significant underdog until traveling to Blacksburg Oct. 13 to face Virginia Tech. But the Cardinal have the biggest roster question mark of any ranked team­—can Josh Nunes, who has thrown just two career passes, replace Andrew Luck, the No. 1 pick in this year’s NFL Draft?

N.C. Central may eventually pose a threat to the Blue Devils under Henry Frazier III, but it won’t be this year. Frazier coached Prairie View A&M, owner of an NCAA record 80-game losing streak, to a SWAC title before taking over the Eagles.

Memphis’ defense gave up more than 40 points in six different games last season, and has won just three matchups in the last two years. They put this one on Homecoming Weekend, the fourth game of the season, for a reason.

The Duke-Wake Forest football game has quietly been one of the most spectacular rivalries in the ACC in recent years. While the Blue Devils have managed to lose the last four matchups in increasingly excruciating fashion, there’s no game on the schedule worth noting more than this one. The last time the two met in Winston-Salem there were 70 points scored before halftime. Last year, the Demon Deacons eked out a 24-23 victory at Wallace Wade.

Duke has handled Virginia better than any other ACC team under Cutcliffe, winning three of four meetings. The Blue Devils have also nearly upset Virginia Tech in two of the last three seasons, including a 14-10 loss last year that featured four Duke turnovers.

And if this all blows up in my face, at least basketball season will only be a few days away.


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