The “B” word is making the rounds in Durham, a suddenly strong belief Duke’s football team might actually play beyond Thanksgiving weekend for a change.
There’s reason for optimism, but there is a bit of a wrench in the plans this season —- the Blue Devils play two teams from the former Division I-AA.
One is Richmond, the defending national champs. The other is North Carolina Central, a crosstown school that should help generate some attention in Durham.
Impressive as those credentials are, Duke will still need to win seven games should it defeat both of the lower-division opponents.
That’s going to make fetching a bowl berth more difficult. It isn’t causing coach David Cutcliffe to limit expectations.
“Don’t you need seven wins to be a bowl team?” Cutcliffe asked in his typically forthright manner.
The second-year coach is to be admired for such an approach, but there’s also the truth that just making a bowl would be a victory for the Blue Devils. Of course, they’re not the only ones in the ACC playing two lower-division foes; North Carolina and N.C. State are doing the same.
Only one ACC team (Virginia Tech) is dispensing with such a guarantee game this year.
It’s not surprising in a national context. Just more than a quarter of all major-college teams are not playing a lower division opponent this year. Of the BCS conference schools and Notre Dame, just 16 of 66 aren’t facing a I-AA —- and if the Pac-10 played only an eight-game conference schedule, that number would surely be lower still.
Here’s a rundown of the major-college programs playing either two or zero teams from the former Division I-AA:
Duke (Richmond and N.C. Central)
Kansas State (Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech)
Mississippi (Northern Arizona and SE Louisiana)
North Carolina (The Citadel and Georgia Southern)
N.C. State (Murray State and Gardner-Webb)
Rutgers (Howard and Texas Southern)
South Florida (Wofford and Charleston Southern)
—- Patrick Stevens