No. 16 Duke suits up in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday evening to take on No. 4 Florida State in its biggest ACC clash of the season, with both teams looking to stay undefeated in the conference. The Chronicle's beat writers are here to offer their predictions before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff:
Andrew Long: 24-17 Florida State
With the benefit of hindsight, Duke’s dominant win against Clemson and to-the-wire brawl against Notre Dame feel somewhat inevitable. We have altered our expectations to believe the Blue Devils are capable of battling toe-to-toe with the country’s best teams because they’ve done so. Twice. I think Florida State is where the rubber really hits the road, though, and is a major step up from both of Duke’s tough home contests for a couple reasons.
The first is the fact that the Seminoles are at home, during homecoming weekend, in front of almost 80,000 fans, on prime-time. The second is three players named Jordan Travis, Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson, who will provide the Blue Devil secondary with its toughest, most physical and most athletic test of the season. However, a 14-point spread feels hefty for a Duke defense that tops the ACC in most categories and is among the nation’s best, too. While I doubt they cover, I think the Seminoles are just too talented for the Blue Devils at the moment, have too many weapons and will be buoyed by too overwhelming a home crowd to lose this one.
Rachael Kaplan: 28-23 Florida State
This is, of course, dependent on junior quarterback Riley Leonard’s status. The junior did warm up before the N.C. State game last weekend, and if he makes his return in Tallahassee, Fla., we may just have a game on our hands. However, Florida State is the No. 4 team in the country for a reason. While the 4-0 in the ACC Seminoles have had their share of close calls, they are still averaging nearly a 24-point margin of victory, highlighted by their 21-point blowout of then-No. 5 LSU in Week 1. Travis will go toe-to-toe with Duke’s second-ranked red-zone defense, and while the Blue Devils may be able to limit Florida State’s scoring, I don’t think it will be enough against either Belin or a less-than-100% Leonard.
Ranjan Jindal: 27-21 Florida State
I have been going back and forth on this pick for a while, because although Florida State is the most talented team Duke has played and will play in the regular season, I think this is a serious upset opportunity. Head coach Mike Elko and defensive coordinator Tyler Santucci have done a tremendous job making the defense a nationally terrifying unit and the Blue Devils have been lights-out defensively in recent games. However, one player who was able to produce at a high level against the Duke secondary was Notre Dame tight end Mitchell Evans, and Florida State has a talented tight end of its own in Jaheim Bell. While graduate corner Myles Jones and the secondary have the size to keep up with the Seminole receivers, they are still a matchup nightmare. On the other side of the ball, I think Duke has a serious chance if Leonard plays, but with home-field advantage, I have Florida State sneaking out a win.
Dom Fenoglio: 20-13 Florida State
Since the arrival of Elko, Duke has amassed an impressive 14-5 record. However, only four of those wins have come from true road games, and just half of those were conference wins. In other words, the Blue Devils do not have an abundance of big-game experience in hostile territory. They certainly have not played in an environment like the one they will see at Doak Campbell Stadium. Add in the question of Leonard’s health, and Saturday is the team’s steepest challenge yet. A key matchup will be Florida State’s uber-athletic outside receivers against Duke’s secondary, but I worry about the Blue Devils’ susceptibility to middle-of-the-field plays to tight ends. Especially against Notre Dame, Duke got burned on these routes, and it cannot afford to surrender too many big drives Saturday. All of that said, I believe in this team’s defense, and I think the Blue Devils will hold the Seminoles to their lowest total of the season.
This prediction assumes that Leonard will not play, but if he does, I think Duke could turn a field goal into a touchdown and make this game come down to the wire.
Caleb Dudley: 28-24 Florida State
I believe Leonard makes his return in Tallahassee, Fla., and gives the Seminoles all they can handle. We have not seen an Elko-coached team play in as hostile an environment as Doak Campbell Stadium will be Saturday, but Duke has shown so far this season that it will not back down to any opponent, no matter how daunting. For all the talk about the elite nature of Florida State’s offense, Duke’s defense is just as formidable, making this a matchup that should be down to the final drive. In the end, I think the Seminoles have just a little too much star power on both sides of the football and will find a way to narrowly escape at home against the Blue Devils, winning 28-24 and giving Duke its first ACC loss of the season.
Micah Hurewitz: 24-14 Florida State
While I believe Duke’s offense will retake a step forward with a Leonard return, this is going to be a clear battle between the Blue Devil defense and the Seminole offense. The Duke defense has the tools to slow the dominant Travis-led Florida State attack, but the home-field advantage and uncertainty around Leonard’s status could prove the difference early on and allow the home side to build a sustainable lead. I’ll be interested to see what the Blue Devil offense can assemble and how aggressive the passing attack can be, and whether Jordan Waters can produce the big plays Duke will need to take a win in Tallahassee, but Florida State has looked steady in tough games this season. I will be more than impressed if the Blue Devils take a victory, boosting Duke to 3-0 in the ACC.
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Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.
Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.