Brock's Bytes: ACC Countdown-- #9 Duke

<P>With less than three weeks separating us from the kick-off of the college football season, I guess it is time to take to start looking at the 2003 version of the Atlantic Coast Conference.&nbsp; Of course, this is… the perspective of this discussion will obviously be Wolfpack-centric.</P>

In 2001, my preseason prediction was to watch-out for a Maryland team under their new coach Ralph Friedgen – the Terps responded by sharing the ACC Title with Florida State and represented the conference in the Orange Bowl.  In 2002, I highlighted the under-appreciated Demon Deacons of Wake Forest as a squad that deserved more respect than they were being given – the Deacs responded with a bowl-season highlighted by a winning record that included a win over the Big Ten's Purdue Boilermakers and a mauling of Pac-10 Oregon (in the Pacific Northwest).  The Deacs also lost their opener by a point in overtime, and let Virginia and Clemson escape with wins that the Wake deserved.

This year, the old crystal ball is much more cloudy as it relates to finding the under-appreciated as I can't really tab any one team that deserves more credit than they are receiving prior to the season.  This serves as a testament to the strength and the improvement of the ACC.  The conference legitimately has four Top 15 caliber programs in Florida State, NC State, Maryland, and Virginia.   That said, the conference will also learn that landing 4 teams in the top 15 of the final poll at the end of the season won't be very easy when there are only 9 teams in your conference and everyone still plays each other every year.   (Wouldn't it be nice to be the Big Ten who sent an Ohio State squad to steal the national championship in a season that nobody will ever know if they were the second best team in their own conference?   Oh….that's right.   Not too much longer and the ACC will know exactly what it is like to not have a real conference champion.)

So, since I am not picking a sleeper this year, I'll go on record with a predicted order of finish and some smaller predictions for the coming year: 
- Clemson will knock-off either Florida State, NC State, Virginia, or Maryland
- Wake Forest won't be as good as they have been the last two seasons, but will improve as the season progresses
Duke will win a conference game this year……maybe as many as three.
- Greg Jones will emerge to give Philip Rivers & Matt Schaub a run for ACC offensive player of the year.
Bruce Perry won't be as good as he was two years ago
- UNC-CH will beat ECU and contrary to previously reported rumors, I will not be in attendance while wearing an NC State sweatshirt and holding a big target while pleading with God for a natural disaster.
- The ACC will earn more out of conference respect highlighted by NC State's win in Columbus, Ohio and Virginia's win over Virginia Tech. 

First up in our ACC Preview-- #9 Duke:

Ryan Fowler, Chris Douglas, and Alex Wade….those are about the only names on the Blue Devils' roster that I can name.  Perhaps the Blue Devils youth movement has matured to the point where they will win a conference game this year….but who really knows?  Regardless, I certainly don't feel comfortable enough wasting a prediction on the notion after the program has lost an ACC-record 25 straight games.

Wake Forest (Oct 18) and Georgia Tech (Nov 8) visit Durham this year, but what does that really mean?  The only home field advantage that Duke has in Wallace Wade Stadium comes from getting to spend the night in Krzyzewskiville and therefore not risking emotional trauma that the football players might miss out on basketball tickets for the next geek-gathering that is known as a Duke basketball game.

Seriously, Duke returns 20 of 22 starters from last year's team that was dangerously close to breaking through - did you realize that Duke lost a total of five games by five points or less?  This year's squad has adequate starting talent at most positions to win some games, but the ultimate questions will be answered by the play of quarterback, Adam Smith and the development of his offensive line.   Smith would be helped by the emergence of stud-wide receiver to alleviate some burden and create some big plays, but currently this need remains void.

BOWL?:    None.   But, don't laugh when I tell you that if Duke avoids injury and Adam Smith develops into just an average quarterback,  the Blue Devils could legitimately be 6-6 at the end of the season.  Duke has Western Carolina, Rice, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Northwestern all in Durham.  Don't forget, Duke led the ACC in rushing defense last season; the Blue Devils can stop teams from scoring…..they just can't out score their opponents no matter how few points have been allowed.

WHEN THE PACK ATTACKS:  NC State almost provided the Blue Devils with a win last season in Carter-Finley.  The performance foreshadowed what was to become the Pack's problem in the second half of last season – offensive play calling.   State had no problem throwing against the Blue Devils' ACC-worst secondary, but for some reason the Pack was so infatuated with its ability to run the football (against the ACC's best run defense) that we forgot that the purpose of playing was to score as many points as possible and the fact that the shorter the game is, the less chance you have to score more points. 

Despite our struggles with Duke last season, I see an easy "W" in our October 25th game against a Blue Devil squad that could actually have a winning record before our arrival.  With 25,000+ Wolfpackers at Wallace-Wade, our "homefield advantage" will be too much for the Blue Devils to overcome.

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