Duke, Wake Forest meet with strong postseason implications
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Wake Forest wants to keep climbing up the Atlantic Coast Conference’s postseason pecking order. For Duke, any bowl will do.
The Demon Deacons (7-4, 4-3) play host to the Blue Devils (5-6, 2-5) on Saturday in what amounts to a mythical state championship matchup with significant postseason implications for both teams.
“We just know that at this point,” Duke safety Alonzo Saxton said, “it’s win or go home.”
Wake Forest isn’t facing quite that level of postseason pressure. It’s headed to a bowl for the second straight season under coach Dave Clawson, but having eight wins undoubtedly will put the Demon Deacons in a stronger position when the postseason lineup is set a week from Sunday.
“I don’t think anyone is satisfied with seven, by any means,” quarterback John Wolford said.
For Duke, it’s a little more complicated. If there are more bowl vacancies than eligible teams, the NCAA allows them to fill those empty slots with five-win teams with the highest Academic Progress Report scores — and the Blue Devils are tied for the fourth-best score among FBS teams.
But they don’t want to gamble and simply hope for an opening. They know they’d be better off with a sixth win.
“I think everybody is aware of” the bowl pursuit, coach David Cutcliffe said. “But it’s not the premium. The premium is Wake Forest.”
Neither team has lost to an instate opponent this season, with the Demon Deacons beating Appalachian State and North Carolina State and the Blue Devils owning wins over North Carolina Central and North Carolina. That makes this the de facto state championship game and adds more bragging rights to an already intense rivalry between the two similar private institutions with high academic standards.
Both also enter with confidence, with Wake Forest savoring its dramatic victory over the Wolfpack in which they forced an N.C. State receiver to fumble inches before he could score the go-ahead touchdown, and Duke snapping a six-game losing streak by dominating Georgia Tech 43-20.
“It’s going to come down to winning one-on-one matchups and execution,” Wolford said.
Some other things to know about the Duke-Wake Forest game:
ON THE LINES: The Blue Devils will try to keep QB Daniel Jones upright against a Wake Forest defensive line that ranks fourth in the ACC with 26 sacks. Duke is tied for ninth in sacks allowed, giving up 27 of them on the season. Conversely, the Demon Deacons’ improved offensive line did not allow Wolford to be sacked last week against N.C. State, and is giving up an average of only 1.36 sacks.
SHORT-HANDED DEVILS: Duke won’t have S Jeremy McDuffie, who will have surgery early next week to repair damaged ligaments in his right knee. The Blue Devils might shuffle their secondary, perhaps elevating Dylan Singleton and Michael Carter II to starting safety positions and shifting Saxton from “spur” safety to bandit. “We’ve got options,” Cutcliffe said.
THE SERIES: If history is any indication, the Demon Deacons are due to string a few victories together in this streaky series. Before Wake Forest won last year in Durham, Duke reeled off four straight wins — a run coinciding with the Blue Devils’ four-year bowl streak. The Demon Deacons won 12 in a row before that, from 2000-11.
MORE SIMILARITIES: The Blue Devils and Demon Deacons both started 4-0 for the first time , before the schedules got tougher in October, with Wake Forest losing four of five and Duke dropping six in a row before last week’s win. This could be the first season that both schools earn bowl berths.
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