(AP) – Here’s the latest sign of just how much the ACC’s Coastal Division has flipped: It might take a series of upsets to keep Duke from winning it again.
The 19th-ranked Blue Devils (8-1, 4-1) couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the season.
The division leaders and defending Coastal champs close things out with three home games against teams that are a combined 10-17, starting with Saturday’s visit from Virginia Tech (4-5, 1-4).
It might seem strange to think that Duke, which had zero winning seasons from 1995-2012, could overlook a Hokies team that claimed four league titles in its first decade in the ACC.
But that’s just what the Blue Devils – 5 1/2-point favorites – are guarding against.
”It’s ACC football – no team in the division is a team you can just overlook,” defensive end Dezmond Johnson said Tuesday. ”Every team in our conference has the ability to beat you if you let them, and if you find yourself thinking, settling, `Oh, we’ll win here, we’re fine,’ overlooking opponents, that’s when it hurts you the most.”
Maybe, but from the outside, it seems awfully easy to pencil in the Blue Devils for a second straight trip to Charlotte for the ACC title game.
Duke, which has its highest national ranking in 20 years, is the only Coastal team with one ACC loss.
The other teams with two league defeats – Miami and No. 24 Georgia Tech – take on their nationally ranked Atlantic Division rivals, No. 2 Florida State and No. 18 Clemson this weekend. Duke holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with Georgia Tech while Miami gave the Blue Devils their only loss Sept. 27.
”They’re for real,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. ”Certainly for real.”
Duke made the Hokies believers last year by coming into Lane Stadium and claiming a program-validating 13-10 victory, the Blue Devils’ first road win against a Top 25 team since 1971.
”After that game, I definitely looked at them differently, looked at them like a serious contender in the Coastal Division,” Virginia Tech defensive end Ken Ekanem said.
Yet don’t expect the Blue Devils to spend Saturday scoreboard-watching. Quarterback Anthony Boone says he remains unaware of any of the Coastal scenarios because ”it’s just a week-by-week mentality.”
Virginia Tech, he added, ”is not going to be an easy game that’s just going to come in here and lay down for us.”
Nor is Duke peeking ahead to its visit from rival North Carolina – which comes next Thursday night. That marks the end of a run of three games in a 13-day span that started with last week’s 27-10 win at Syracuse.
”You can only play one game on Saturday anyway, so there’s no point in trying to look forward to another team you’re not going to play for a few days afterward,” Johnson said.
The Blue Devils pulled out the win last week by outscoring the Orange 17-0 in the fourth quarter. Virginia Tech outscored visiting Boston College 21-10 in the final quarter in its last game Nov. 1, but it wasn’t enough as it lost 33-31.
The Hokies are on the verge of dropping four straight in ACC play for the first time since joining the conference in 2004, and they’ve never lost five ACC games in a season.
With three games left, Virginia Tech needs to win at least twice to extend its streak of seasons ending in a bowl game to 22.
“I hate losing,” senior wide receiver Willie Byrn said. “The way it will be salvaged is if we learn something from it. I hate hearing people saying we’re going to be great next year. The seniors put so much work into it.”