Oct. 1, 6:00, ESPNU
Here's The Deal … Now that Duke is the owner of a rare winning streak, two games, can it stay hot long enough to make November interesting in Durham for more than just hoops? After a somewhat sloppy defeat of Boston College two weeks ago, the Blue Devils played one of their better games of the four-year David Cutcliffe era, coasting to a 48-27 rout of Tulane. With little postseason margin for error remaining, the program has to move over .500 before ACC play continues on Oct. 15.
Good luck trying to figure out Florida International. Just when the Golden Panthers were about to create a stir following upsets of Louisville and UCF, they go ahead and fall at home to Louisiana-Lafayette, 36-31. They'll be looking to rally the troops at home on Saturday evening, while beating a team from an Automatic Qualifier conference for the second time in 2011.
Why Duke Might Win: For the first time all year, the Blue Devils offense took flight a week ago. Cutcliffe is holding out hope that it's the start of a trend that'll continue against a Florida International D that wilted in the face of UL-Lafayette QB Blaine Gautier. Duke actually approached balance by its one-dimensional standard, getting 333 yards through the air and 155 on the ground. QB Sean Renfree does a nice job of keeping all of his receivers happy, getting the ball in the hands of Conner Vernon, Donovan Varner and Brandon Braxton. If young RB Juwan Thompson can continue to grind out yards between the tackles, the passing game will be doubly tough to stop.
Why Florida International Might Win: If the game evolves into a high-scoring affair, the Golden Panthers should have no problem keeping pace. The suspect Duke defense will make sure of it. Even as star WR T.Y. Hilton was hobbled by a hamstring injury, Florida International still managed to score four touchdowns, three on the ground by up-and-coming RB Kedrick Rhodes. The sophomore registered a career day with 157 yards on 20 carries. He'll be a handful for an overachieving Blue Devils defense due for a letdown, especially now that top lineman Kenny Anunike has suffered a season-ending knee injury. Prior to last Saturday, FIU was excelling on defense, using its speed and tenacity to rank among the top 10 nationally in sacks and tackles for loss.
What To Watch Out For: The Golden Panthers defense might be the fastest one the Duke blockers have faced all year. And that includes Stanford. The unit closes quickly, and is not bashful about coming hard on the blitz. Best of all, it's extremely deep, getting contributions from up and down the two-deep. While DE Greg Hickman has set the pace with 5.5 stops for minus yards, he's one of eight Golden Panthers who has made two tackles for loss this fall. Florida International is not only talented, it's deep as well, which is liable to wear the Blue Devils out Saturday evening.
What Will Happen: Week 4 was a bit of an anomaly. Florida International isn't as bad as it looked. And Duke isn't quite as good. The Golden Panthers will regain the mojo they enjoyed earlier in September, using their speed to gain an edge on the Blue Devils. Since it remains uncertain whether Hilton will be back to 100%, FIU will rely on a defense that'll play with something to prove. It'll disrupt Renfree's rhythm with pressure and a mix of looks that keep him from setting his feet. Out to prove that its fast start was no fluke, Florida International will survive a stiff challenge from visiting Duke.
CFN Prediction: Florida International 28 … Duke 20