Nov. 12, 3:00, RSN
Here's The Deal … In a season of surprises in the ACC, Virginia is on the verge of fashioning one of the biggest. Okay, so the Cavaliers haven't made quite the splash that Clemson and Georgia Tech did earlier in the year, but their 6-3 mark is beyond most expectations that were in place during the summer. More than just bowl eligible for the first time since 2007, the school controls its own destiny in the Coastal Division.
Okay, so it remains a longshot, but the season will be a success for second-year head coach no matter what happens the rest of the way. Duke, to the contrary, is still bowl eligible in mathematical terms only. Optimistic at 3-2 when the month of October began, the Blue Devils have relapsed into their familiar form with four straight conference losses. Barring a complete—and improbable—turnaround, the school will fail to reach the postseason for the 17th straight campaign.
Why Duke Might Win: In order to pull the upset, the Blue Devils will need to rely on the sloppy nature of the Virginia offense. The Cavaliers have not been an efficient bunch in 2011, ranking above just North Carolina in the ACC in turnovers lost. They're especially young and erratic at quarterback, where Michael Rocco is prone to making poor decisions, and occasionally telegraphing his throws. While it's not customary for the Duke defense to shoulder such influence, it'll be up to the unit's best playmakers, LB Kelby Brown and S Matt Daniels, to affect a change in the tempo and momentum of this game.
Why Virginia Might Win: Typically, Duke needs to have success through the air in order to win games. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, that's unlikely to happen this weekend. Without too much help up front, the Cavaliers have been stingy versus the pass all season, ranking 20th nationally in pass efficiency defense. The visitors will have a tough time improving their 2011 total of seven touchdown passes against the likes of all-star CB Chase Minnifield and safeties Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley. While Virginia has been an average passing team, the ground game will bruise the Duke front seven with backs Perry Jones and Kevin Parks, who've combined for 1,320 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns.
What To Watch Out For: If the Cavaliers want to be taken seriously as a Coastal Division contender, they better locate a more consistent pass rush … soon. The team finishes the season with crucial contests against Florida State and Virginia Tech, both of whom will be unkind to the UVa D if given too much time to operate. The squad that's produced just four sacks in the last four games needs to use the Duke offensive line as a test kitchen in order to mine different ways to get DE Cam Johnson and DT Matt Conrath into the backfield on a more regular basis.
What Will Happen: Compared to the opponent, Virginia's bigger challenge this week will be to remain focused on one game at a time, while avoiding the emotional swings of a promising season. Not only are the Cavaliers playing far better than Duke these days, but they've also got the edge in intangibles, such as being at home and busting with confidence. While UVa could be prone to a slow start this weekend, it'll regroup in time to avert disaster, riding the two-headed running game and the steady play of the defense to a victory.
CFN Prediction: Virginia 28 … Duke 13