Here's The Deal … Through five games, Duke has a better record than Florida State. Yup, it's been an extremely unpredictable start to the season in the ACC. The heavy preseason favorites to win the league title, the Seminoles have instead devolved into one of the nation's biggest disappointments. When the ‘Noles fell to Oklahoma and Clemson in consecutive weeks, it was explained as the product of injuries and a rugged September draw.
When they lost to Wake Forest last Saturday, 35-30, the entire tenor of the season changed to one of desperation. Looking to capitalize on Florida State's recent misfortunate is Duke, which exits its bye week confident and hungry. The Blue Devils built a three-game winning streak before the break, but none of their victims will be appearing in the Top 25—or Top 50 for that matter—anytime soon. If, however, they can topple the Seminoles for the first time in 17 tries, a long-awaited postseason return will begin to come into focus.
Why Florida State Might Win: It's often tough for the Seminoles to get up for trips to Durham, but not this year. They'll perform with a sense of surgery and a sense that jobs on the two-deep could be at stake. The Blue Devils are not a very good defensive team, especially when the ball is in the air. Florida State QB E.J. Manuel is expected to be closer to full strength from the shoulder injury that prevented him from starting last week's game. The nation's 13th-ranked passing attack will continue to go Green (or Greene). The receiving tandem of true freshman Rashad Greene and redshirt freshman Christian Green will cause all kinds of problems for a suspect Duke secondary. Greene is on the fast track to the Freshman All-American Team, becoming the first ‘Noles player in nine years to catch a touchdown pass in five straight games.
Why Duke Might Win: The Florida State D has been a microcosm for the program's problems in the first half. It gets called for too many penalties, is tied with Duke for the fewest takeaways in the ACC and has been brutal against the pass the last two games. The latter is where the Blue Devils hope to exploit their visitors. Duke, like the Seminoles, has been monotone offensively, ranking 16th in the country through the air and 107th on the ground. Head coach David Cutcliffe will lean on his veteran quarterback, Sean Renfree, to keep the ‘Noles reeling. He's been at his best during the winning streak, leveraging the talent of top receivers Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner.
What To Watch Out For: The Seminoles can't continue to rank last in the ACC in rushing, and expect to rally back to respectability in 2011. It's just not possible. Complicating matters are the season-ending injuries to their top back, Chris Thompson, and top blocker, Andrew Datko. Florida State has options in the absence of Thompson, but must decide on a pecking order beginning this weekend. Veterans Jermaine Thomas and Ty Jones, and rookies James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman are all in the mix, with the latter pair needing to prove they can pick up the blitz as well as they carry the ball.
What Will Happen: This is where the madness stops, right? Florida State is in trouble, and isn't the team many felt it was before the opener, but it can't possibly lose for the first time in school history to Duke. The Seminoles will operate with a chip on their shoulders for all 60 minutes, bullying the Blue Devils around the field. The stars will show up on this day, getting a couple of sacks from DE Brandon Jenkins, and a 300-yard, two-touchdown effort through the air from Manuel.
CFN Prediction: Florida State 37 … Duke 16