The Washington Times - July 31, 2009, 10:16AM

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:

TWO (7)

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)

NONE (33)

Bowling Green
Brigham Young
Eastern Michigan
Florida Atlantic
Florida International
Louisiana State
Miami (Ohio)
Middle Tennessee
New Mexico
North Texas
Notre Dame
Ohio State
Southern California
Texas A&M
Texas-El Paso
Virginia Tech
Washington State

—- Patrick Stevens