Charlotte, N.C. -- Same city. Different result. That’s what Duke is hoping for Saturday night in Charlotte.
Less than a year after playing Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl in Queen City, the program’s first postseason game since 1994, Duke is back for another nationally televised game, this time with the ACC title on the line. Duke hasn’t won the conference championship since 1989, and is now only the third team to represent the Coastal Division since the conference began contesting a conference championship game in 2005.
This year’s game features National Coach of the Year David Cutcliffe and his 20th-ranked Duke program and the recently-anointed number one team in the country, Florida State. The two programs have achieved excellent results in different ways. Duke has been the conference’s best fourth-quarter team, leading the league in scoring differential in the game’s final stanza while relying on clutch plays at critical times in comeback wins. Florida State has, for the most part, bludgeoned teams with a quick-strike, efficient offense that has already scored 75 touchdowns this season, including 15 that required less than a minute to produce.
While the Seminoles high-powered offense features a Heisman Trophy candidate and the ACC Player of the Year in quarterback Jameis Winston, the other side of the ball has been just as dominant. The Seminoles lead the nation in scoring defense, pass defense and interceptions. The Blue Devils will try and counter with offensive versatility, spear-headed by a two quarterback system, born of necessity, which continues to buck conventional wisdom.
After seeing three quarterbacks suffer injuries at one point or another since spring practice, Duke was forced to shuffle Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette in and out of the lineup at various times while Thomas Sirk watched from the sidelines with a torn Achilles tendon.
While many teams struggle with multi-quarterback rotations, Duke has thrived. For first time in school history, Duke has posted more than 20 touchdowns through the air and on the ground. Connette and Boone have both thrown 10+ scoring passes, the second time Duke has had two QBs reach that mark in the same season.
In a season full of firsts that sees Duke enjoying 10 wins and back-to-back bowl appearances, the Blue Devils have a chance to add one more. Duke and Florida State have played 18 times - Saturday night Duke will aim for its first win of the series.