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College Football Weekend Preview: David Cutcliffe Is Just Getting Started at Duke

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College Football Weekend Preview: David Cutcliffe Is Just Getting Started at Duke

Believe it or not, Duke controls its own destiny in the ACC Coastal division heading into Saturday's showdown against Miami, each looking for a date against Florida State in the conference championship game.

These are heady times for Duke, qualifying for back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time in school history. In an era with 35 bowl games, that hardly qualifies as impressive, but it also gives an idea of just how moribund the Blue Devils football program has been for the past several decades.

Coming off a season in which Duke qualified for its first bowl in 18 years, head coach David Cutcliffe deserves a world of credit for not only keeping his Blue Devils relevant in 2013 but actually improved.

How Duke is currently 7-2 in spite of losing the ACC's all-time leading receiver in Conner Vernon and a quarterback that's now on the roster of the Atlanta Falcons (albeit on injured reserve) in Sean Renfree is absolutely remarkable.

Some of what the Blue Devils has accomplished this season has been done with smoke and mirrors and just plain old luck. After all, Duke has committed four turnovers in each of the past two games and won.

Cutcliffe is probably best known for mentoring the Manning brothers at the college level, Peyton at Tennessee and Eli at Mississippi. But this year Cutcliffe has his work cut out for him, keeping Duke afloat while being forced into a quarterback rotation due to injuries and mediocre play from Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone.

The Duke quarterbacks have one very good receiving target in Jamison Crowder, but there's not a whole lot of other next-level talent among the upperclassmen.

Duke is getting the job done with a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing key roles, especially at safety from Jeremy Cash and DeVon Edwards. The more experienced this Duke team becomes, the better they figure to be in years to come.

As for this weekend's game against Miami, there's plenty at stake for both teams. If Duke can force Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris into some turnovers, they'll have a chance to win. Without running back Duke Johnson, who's been lost for the season with an ankle injury, Miami will be relying heavily on Morris.

Prediction: Duke wins the turnover battle and wins the game at home against Miami, 28-24. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU.

 

The Wisconsin Connection

Wisconsin enters Saturday coming off a better win than most pundits probably give them credit for against a very decent BYU team that very well could be ranked again by season's end.

The Badgers now face one of the very best offenses in the nation, one actually ranked higher than Wisconsin in terms of scoring offense and total offense.

Indiana enters the Legends division matchup averaging 43.1 points and 527.1 yards per game, both second in the Big Ten. By comparison, Wisconsin ranks third in both categories, averaging 37.1 points and 486.9 yards.

Hoosiers quarterback Nate Sudfeld does a good job distributing the football to arguably the best group of receivers in the conference in Cody Latimore, Shane Wynn, Kofi Hughes and tight end Ted Bolser, each of them with at least five touchdowns.

Indiana will miss leading running back Tevin Coleman, who will not play Saturday because of an ankle injury. Coleman leads the team with 958 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, but the Hoosiers still get solid backup play from Stephen Houston who averages a highly effective 7.34 yards per carry.

For as good an offense Indiana boasts, their defense is the polar opposite, ranking 122nd in the nation in total defense by giving up 519.1 yards per game. There 125 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Wisconsin ranks seventh in the nation, allowing slightly less than 300 yards per game. They're not going to be able to stop the explosive Indiana offense cold, but there's at least a chance the Badgers force a couple punts. Indiana, on the other hand, will be lucky to stop a single Wisconsin drive.

Prediction: James White continues his hot streak, complemented by Melvin Gordon by rumbling over Indiana 48-31. On Wisconsin. Television coverage starts at 11:00 a.m. CT on ESPN2.

 

What Happened Before Saturday

Wisconsin needed help from Ball State on Wednesday in a MAC West showdown against Northern Illinois, but didn't get it when the Huskies proved victorious 48-27.

Unless Northern Illinois loses, there's little hope for the Badgers to overtake the Huskies in any ranking whether it's the Associated Press, Coaches poll, Harris poll or BCS standings.

In order to be eligible for a BCS bowl, a team has to be ranked in the top 14 of the BCS, which will be difficult for Wisconsin to achieve.

Either Northern Illinois or Fresno State figures to get an automatic BCS bowl berth if they're ranked in the top 12 and ahead of a champion from an automatically qualifying conference such as the American Athletic Conference, where Central Florida and Louisville are currently ranked lower.

The best chance of Northern Illinois losing was probably against Ball State, although future games against Toledo and the MAC Championship still represent legitimate obstacles.

Jordan Lynch is the country's most-difficult quarterback to stop from running the football, and he's even more dangerous passing the ball when he has a speed merchant like Da'Ron Brown as a target.

Even though Brown fumbled on Wednesday, he was probably the game's MVP turning eight receptions into 209 yards and two touchdowns. And even Brown was nice enough to fumble after a long gain deep in Ball State's territory.

 

Where College GameDay Is At

ESPN's pregame show is originating from one of the less intriguing locations of the season, the campus of USC for their nationally televised primetime game against Stanford on ABC at 7:00 p.m. CT.

USC is a good team, but one that's not even currently ranked after suffering three losses on its way to 7-3 record this season.

Interim head coach Ed Orgeron had done a good job keeping the Trojans relevant after firing Lane Kiffin earlier in the season, but losses to Washington State, Arizona State and Notre Dame have few people believing in the men of Troy, at least from a national perspective.

USC, however, has an opportunity to change people's perception of the program on Saturday by hosting a Stanford team that's coming off last week's huge win over Oregon.

What gives the Trojans hope is the play of wide receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholar. If there's a relative weakness on Stanford's defense, it's their cornerbacks.

The Stanford front seven might be among the best in the nation that can stuff the run and provide a pass rush. But Lee and Agholar can make them pay on the perimeter if Cody Kessler can get them the football.

Ball-control offense will once again be the calling card of the Cardinal. Running back Tyler Gaffney rushes the ball 23 times per game on average and was called upon 45 times last week in the upset over Oregon.

Is this a letdown spot for Stanford? They already lost to a middling Utah team coming off a win over Washington.

Prediction: USC keeps things close, but the Cardinal pulls away late behind one big touchdown pass from Kevin Hogan. 24-21, Stanford.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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