It’s just a quirk of the schedule, a happy coincidence. Two weeks after losing to Miami in a game that could have a tremendous say about who ends up Coastal Division champion, Duke gets a second chance, another game that could have a tremendous say about who ends up winning the Coastal.
Because Miami followed up that win with a loss to Georgia Tech, Duke’s visit to Atlanta on Saturday takes on similar importance for the Blue Devils. Georgia Tech, at 5-0, is one of two teams in the division yet to lose an ACC game (Virginia is the other).
Duke, with only one ACC loss, is still very much a part of the conversation in the topsy-turvy division. A win over Georgia Tech would cement the Blue Devils’ position as a contender. A loss would make it extremely difficult to defend their Coastal title, essentially requiring perfection the rest of the way.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said it’s too early to start worrying about the standings or what a game might mean – “As you get later in the year and the picture becomes clearer what you have to do to get to Charlotte, then you tell your team,” Cutcliffe said Wednesday – but it’s also going to be very difficult to get to Charlotte after falling to 0-2 with losses to Miami and Georgia Tech that would loom large in potential tiebreaking circumstances.
It might be early in the year, but if the Blue Devils want to get back to Charlotte, the road starts here.
Duke managed to win the division the hard way last year, winning six consecutive games after opening with losses to Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh, but it’s hard to count on that particular bolt of lightning striking twice, unpredictable as the Coastal has been this season.
The Blue Devils weren’t happy about the way they played at Miami, nor were they thrilled about the consequences in the standings. Yet here it is, after a week off to stew about it (and prepare for Georgia Tech’s option offense): A second chance.
Technically, it’s an 11th chance, since the Blue Devils haven’t beaten the Yellow Jackets in their past 10 tries, but a second chance is good enough for the Blue Devils right now.
There are few second chances in football. For a national-title contender, one loss can ruin a season. A powerful team that doesn’t quite get the job done might not get back to that level the next season, or ever again. Starters with a seemingly permanent claim to the first line on the depth chart have all but disappeared after losing their jobs to younger, better players who never let go.
The free-for-all in the Coastal Division is an exception. This division has been as unpredictable as many predicted, even feared. East Carolina’s 2-0 record against Coastal teams pretty much sums up the chaos. Duke’s loss to Miami was damaging, but in these unusual circumstances, far from fatal.
Clearly, this is still anyone’s division to win. It’s as nuts from top to bottom as everyone expected it to be, even if there are countless surprises within that spectrum, from unbeaten Georgia Tech to surprising Virginia to struggling North Carolina, the only team in the division to be ranked in the top 25 going into the season.
Someone is going to step forward and take control. Duke has a chance Saturday to stop Georgia Tech from doing that while creating an opportunity for the Blue Devils to take control themselves – a second chance.