The Blue Devils' three victories this season have come against teams that have a combined record of 7-15. Duke (3-4, 1-2 ACC) hasn't beaten a Top 25 opponent in nearly two decades.
Now they could be down to their last chance this season to knock off a nationally ranked power.
That has added at least a little urgency to this week's preparations for No. 15 Virginia Tech (7-1, 3-1), which certainly has been playing like the Coastal Division favorite during a three-game winning streak in which it hasn't scored fewer than 30 points.
But Duke believes it's better than both its record and its history. The Blue Devils' last win against a Top 25 team came in 1994, and they're coming off a one-point loss to Wake Forest in which a blown tackle led to a big play for the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"We had the opportunities. Every single loss has been because of minor errors," running back Juwan Thompson said Tuesday. We're not desperate for a win. We're just trying to go out there and show everybody that we can play this game and compete with everybody else on the same level."
That's been tough to do lately for Duke, which has beaten only Boston College, Tulane and Florida International this season. FIU, at 4-3 before Tuesday night's game at Troy, is the only team they've defeated without a losing record.
Still, Virginia Tech receiver Danny Coale says the Blue Devils are "a very capable team." And coach Frank Beamer says he's "concerned" about them, adding that they're three points shy of being 5-2.
"I think you've got to be careful about this Duke team," Beamer said. "I think they've got a good football team. I think they play hard. I think they're extremely well coached. And right now, every game has tremendous importance. We need to have a great week of practice and be ready to go."
The Blue Devils probably will need everything to go their way if they are going to snap one of the streaks that nags at them.
They've lost 43 straight games against nationally ranked teams, and were embarrassed in a 44-14 loss to unbeaten Stanford in Week 2. Their last victory over a Top 25 opponent came when they upset then-No. 13 Virginia in 1994 — also the last year they claimed a bowl berth.
"We know that the season's not over," cornerback Ross Cockrell said. "We have five games left, and we have to win at least three of them to be bowl eligible. So there's time left to make a move in the ACC."