Duke had a respectable non-conference portion of its season in September, although the opener against Richmond may long be thought of as "one that got away."
Since there's nothing the Blue Devils can do about that now, they have one clear assignment if they're going to realize second-year coach David Cutcliffe's dream of a quick bowl bid. They have to go at least 5-3 in the ACC - they have to finish with at least seven wins, since Saturday's 49-14 victory in their historic first meeting with cross-town rival N.C. Central won't count toward bowl qualification.
Saturday's home game against No. 6 Virginia Tech isn't one that absolutely has to go into the win column, but an upset that would have highlights running on national TV for the rest of the day certainly wouldn't hurt.
Duke, which has dropped eight straight in the series, gave the homestanding Hokies a scare last season when they were competitive and lost only 14-3.
"There was some confidence gained from playing in that game," Cutcliffe said. "(But) this is a better Virginia Tech team and I think our team knows that. We certainly need to be a better Duke team to have a chance in the fourth quarter to win the game.
"There's some confidence you draw from a game like that, but you have to go out every snap and compete with them. There was a lot of pride displayed on that field that night."
Tech coach Frank Beamer, who has taken his teams to 15 straight bowl games, said he's not expecting an easy afternoon.
"You look at how they played us last year," Beamer told The Associated Press. "They didn't have their quarterback (Thaddeus Lewis, pictured) in that game. He's back, and they are a better team.
"You have to bring a good game every week, and that's a fact."
Duke cornerback Leon Wright said the game is winnable if Duke plays up to its capabilities.
"We've played four games and we know what it takes now," Wright said. "We're starting to come together, and that's going to allow us to go further. It's continuing to hit and hustle and compete every play.
"We've got to eliminate the big plays. And we all have to do our job - not try to be the hero of the game, just take care of our responsibilities first. The ball will roll our way if that happens. They're going to make big plays, but we have to hold them when we need to."
Duke (2-2, 0-0 ACC) vs. No. 6 Virginia Tech (3-1, 1-0)
[Noon (EDT) Saturday, Wallace Wade Stadium]
Tech leads 12-9
Audio: WDNC-620, GoDuke.com, XM 192, Sirius 213, www.hokiesports.com
Key stats ...
Duke: Team scoring 29.0 to opponents' 25.2. Rushing 104.2 to 153.2. Passing 267.2 to 181.2. Individual leaders - (rush) Patrick Kurunwune 22-121 1 TD, (pass) Thaddeus Lewis 72-123-2-783 5 TD, (receive) Johnny Williams 20-236 1 TD, (tackle) Vincent Rey 37 1 fum. rec.
Virginia Tech: Team scoring 30.8 to opponents' 16.5. Rushing 216.5 to 165.0. Passing 135.5 to 160.5. Individual leaders - (rush) Ryan Williams 84-492 8 TD, (pass) Tyrod Taylor 34-72-542-1 4 TD, (receive) Jarrett Boykin 10-142 1 TD, (tackle) Jake Johnson and Barquell Rivers 32.
Best message board tidbit on the game:
KGlover on Devils Illustrated.com "In my opinion my key to the game will be Des Scott. I just read where he tweaked his hamstring which is not good news. Cut said he wasn't sure the extent of it but that definitely would be a major setback. If he's 100% and he can get 85+ yds. or a couple of TDs we can hang in there. He will open everything else up on offense and will keep our D off the field. I'm also looking for some big things from Connor Vernon and Johnny Williams. I think (they) surprise VT and possibly bust a couple of big plays early!! I'm wondering if we will see the combo of (Vince Oghobaase) and (John) Drew this year on our DL?"
Duke will win if ... The offense can move the ball and keep the Hokies' hands away from it. If the Blue Devils win there will almost certainly be a lot of points on the board, and they will have to create a couple of game-breaking plays. Perhaps 75 yards rushing and 350+ passing will be necessary, with no big mistakes deep in their own territory. The Blue Devils will have to keep pressure on Hokies quarterback Tyrod Taylor, somehow slow down the run, and keep the kicking game competition respectable.
Virginia Tech will win if ... The Hokies just keep doing what they've been doing. If they just run the ball 45 times for 325 yards, Duke will be in trouble. Tailback Ryan Williams is sixth in the country in rushing yards per game, and the team doesn't really have a lot of weaknesses.
Can the French Blue Devils shock the Orange and Maroon Turkeys of Southwest Virginia? It's not completely out of the question, but they have to play their best game of the season. Take the performance from the first quarter against NCCU and the fourth against Army and add some more good ones in between, and there might be a chance for a shocker.
What people are saying about the game:
Brian Mohy at HokieHaven.com: "After a big win against former No. 9 Miami, Virginia Tech has the target squarely on their back as they delve deeper into the ACC. This week could be a trap as they battle Duke, a squad that has talent at key positions and challenged the Hokies a year ago in a tough game at Lane Stadium."
Players to watch ...
Duke: #3 DT Vince Oghobaase, #9 QB Thaddeus Lewis, #21 RB Re'quan Boyette, # 31 MLB Vincent Rey.
Virginia Tech: #6 DE Jason Worilds, #8 TE Greg Boone, #17 FS Kam Chancellor, #70 OG Sergio Render.
Injury report ...
Duke: RB Re'quan Boyette (leg) probable, RB Jay Hollingsworth (ankle) probable, OG Mitchell Lederman (leg) probable, DT Vince Oghobaase (leg) probable, OT Jarrod Holt (concussion) questionable, RB Desmond Scott (leg) questionable, RB Kyle Griswould (leg) questionable, CB Randez James (hand) OUT, WR Tyree Watkins (leg) OUT.
Virginia Tech: OT Blake DeChristopher (ankle) probable, DB Davon Morgan (shoulder) probable, FL Dyrell Roberts (hamstring) probable, DT Demetrius Taylor (calf), probable.
Vegas line: Virginia Tech by 17
Score prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Duke 21