Duke rested up in its second bye week of the year Saturday, but its ACC opponents managed to rack up a perfect 4-0 record Saturday–even if some games were uglier than they should have been.
Georgia Tech, the squad that manhandled the Blue Devils last week in a 27-0 win, squeaked past Gardner-Webb, 10-7, while Miami’s 20-14 win over Central Florida was not much prettier. Virginia, though, completed its three-week transformation from sullen to surging. Two weeks ago, the Cavaliers were pounded by Duke 31-3. Last week, they turned around to rout Maryland 31-0, just one week after Maryland had edged Clemson when that still meant something. This week, Virginia beat former Division-I darling East Carolina 35-20. And lastly, No. 22 North Carolina earned the admiration of most college football fans when the Tar Heels stormed back and held on to a 29-24 win over Notre Dame in Chapel Hill.
The non-conference portion of Duke’s schedule, however, didn’t fare as well. Northwestern lost to No. 23 Michigan State, surprisingly for the Wildcats’ first defeat of the season. No. 13 Vanderbilt–the fact that the Commodores are a top-15 team is an even bigger shocker than Northwestern’s fast start–showed cracks of vulnerability for the first time in a 17-14 loss to Mississippi State. Division I-AA James Madison, though, did top Richmond 38-31 on a last-second kick return for the win.
While every week in college football–especially in the ACC–is exciting, Duke had particular reason to watch the action this time (quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, for one, was down Tobacco Road to watch Notre Dame’s Armando Allen, his high school running back).
On Saturday, none of Duke’s ACC opponents played another ACC team, allowing the Blue Devils to root for their conference members wholeheartedly. And while the out-of-conference losses hurt, they don’t hinder the progress the ACC made this week. If only Clemson and Wake Forest could have put on a better (read: respectable) show Thursday night.
–by Ben Cohen