PITTSBURGH (AP) Taking control of the ACC Coastal Division is becoming a habit for Duke.
No, for real.
The 24th-ranked Blue Devils (6-1, 2-1 ACC) travel to inconsistent Pittsburgh (4-4, 2-2) on Saturday with a chance to strengthen their grip on the wide-open Coastal, where the other six teams have either two or three losses.
Last fall Duke was the surprising upstart who held off Virginia Tech and Miami to win a division title on its way to a stunning 10-win season. Now the Blue Devils are prohibitive favorites if they can find a way to solve the Panthers, who are good one week and mystifying the next.
Duke’s on such a roll the Blue Devils are gaining respect even when they aren’t playing. They entered the AP poll following a bye week and found themselves also at No. 24 in the initial college football playoff ranking system.
Maybe it speaks to how far the school has climbed – and how accustomed the football program is becoming to success – that the news was met with a polite but firm yawn.
”It’s one of those things where obviously we’re getting a little more recognition but at the end of the day, we all know that rankings don’t play for us on Saturdays,” quarterback Anthony Boone said. ”Rankings don’t play for any team on Saturdays.”
The Blue Devils hope to produce a little better results with a number next to their name than they did a year ago, when Duke went 2-2 while in the Top 25. Coach David Cutcliffe likened it to a learning experience, one he hopes will pay off as his disciplined group vies for another spot in the league championship game.
”Maturity on a football team, guys that have been there, always helps,” coach David Cutcliffe said. ”But we’ve just got to continue to try to find a way to win the game. That’s kind of who we are.”
At least the Blue Devils have an identity. The constantly evolving Panthers remain a mixed bag. One week they’re beating Virginia Tech in primetime, the next they’re fumbling it away an FBS-record tying five times in the first quarter of a loss to Georgia Tech.
Coach Paul Chryst refuses to panic and given his team’s potluck play, maybe he shouldn’t. The way the Panthers are going, responding to an embarrassing defeat with a victory over a ranked team would be about par for the course.
”When you play a game, you don’t look up at the scoreboard after every drive,” Chryst said. ”You just have to keep playing because it doesn’t matter; there are too many ebbs and flows. It’s the same thing in a season. You’ve just got to keep going and enjoy that part of it.”
How much longer the Panthers can enjoy it likely depends on if they can find a way to stop the Blue Devils. Some things to look for as Duke looks for its first 7-1 start since 1994.
SHOOTOUT PART 2? The first meeting between the schools in 37 years last fall produced a shootout for the ages. Pitt held on for a 58-55 victory behind a school-record six touchdown passes from quarterback Tom Savage. It’s unlikely another shootout is in order. The Blue Devils haven’t allowed just an opponent to score over 25 points in a game this season.
STOPPING CONNER: Pitt sophomore running back James Conner leads the ACC with 1,079 yards rushing, including 119 yards and three scores against the Yellow Jackets despite leaving briefly in the first quarter with a right knee injury. The Blue Devils are allowing opponents a healthy 193.4 yards per game on the ground.
”They’re a nightmare to try to prepare for,” Cutcliffe said. ”So a very, very good offensive football team, and a guy that’s running the football as well as anybody in the country.”
SPREADING IT AROUND: Duke freshman running back Shaun Wilson has cooled since going for a school-record 245 yards against Kansas last month. It’s hardly slowed down the Blue Devils, who have six players with at least 26 rushing attempts and five averaging at least 5.0 yards per carry.
ROAD WARRIORS: The Blue Devils haven’t relied on home cooking to fuel their rise. Duke is 7-1 in its last eight road games. If it can survive on Saturday, three of its final four games of the season will be at Wallace Wade Stadium.
PLAYING KEEPAWAY: Duke’s plus-8 turnover ratio is tops in the ACC. The Blue Devils are careful with the ball, their five giveaways are tied for second-fewest in the country. Pitt, meanwhile, turned it over six times last week alone
AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Durham, N.C., contributed to this report.