Duke hasn't been involved in a "must win" football game in quite some time.
Maybe since 1994, the last time the Blue Devils actually played in a bowl game. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was also the last time Duke beat Maryland at Wallace Wade Stadium.
David Cutcliffe, in his second year as head coach of a Duke program that hasn't won consistently in a generation, has set winning seasons and bowl games as his stated goal. And after his team's 49-28 victory at N.C. State two weeks ago that wasn't out of context, the chuckles have been getting more and more muffled.
Duke is 3-3, 1-1 in ACC play, and since its win over N.C. Central can't be counted toward the six wins needed for bowl eligibility Duke can go worse than 7-5 to get a football game in December.
Maryland is 2-5 and 1-2, and since the Blue Devils' other remaining opponents all have better records than Ralph Friedgen's Terps then Saturday's 1:30 p.m. game in Durham would appear to be the most likely "W" left on the schedule.
Since it's hard to see how Duke goes 4-1 in its last five after losing at home to the Terps, that makes this one a must win.
The Terps have won five straight in the series, which has not been contested since 2004 in the ACC's system of rotating cross-divisional foes.
"Our players don't know a lot about Maryland, so I did a little bit of education," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "They're used to winning championships and they're an annual bowl team and those kids are used to winning. Kids don't see much past 'now' today and all they know is Maryland has had a difficult start. But when you put on the tape they see a good football team. They've seen a lot of tape and they know what a good football team looks like and what a bad team looks like.
"A lot of people may take exception to this because of their record, but they're not a bad football team. They just haven't taken care of the ball in critical situations and that's cost them games. Both teams should be hungry for a win. This should make for a pretty good football game."
Cutcliffe said his game captains for the Maryland contest will be senior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, senior defensive end Ayanga Okpokowuruk, senior linebacker Vincent Rey and redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Kyle Hill.
Friedgen said he has been impressed and not surprised by Duke's improvement under Cutcliffe.
"I don't know how the scheduling goes, but I knew by the time I ever played Duke they'd be nationally-ranked," the Maryland coach said. "Now they're really a good football team. It's the first time we've played them since the expansion. David Cutcliffe is a very good friend of mine. I think he's a heck of a football coach. They've got a veteran team.
"I've been admiring Thaddeus Lewis since he was a true freshman playing. I thought he was exceptional at that time. Now he's a senior, he's very polished. He has a nice release, he sees the field and he's very elusive. I think they're doing a lot of good things with their football program right now."
Duke (3-3, 1-1 ACC) vs. Maryland (2-5, 1-2 ACC)
[1:30 p.m., Wallace Wade Stadium]
Maryland leads series 30-18
Audio: WDNC-620, GoDuke.com, umTerps.com, XM 191, Sirius 212
Key stats ...
Duke: Team scoring 31.6 to opponents' 27.2. Rushing 83.0 to 150.8. Passing 314.5 to 208.0. Individual leaders - (rush) Desmond Scott 31-150 1 TD, (pass) Thaddeus Lewis 134-213-2-1601 12 TD, (receive) Austin Kelly 30-343 3 TD, (tackle) Vincent Rey 49 with 1 fum. rec.
Maryland: Team scoring 22.9 to 33.7. Rushing 100.7 to 158.3. Passing 235.9 to 218.7. Individual leaders - (rush) Da'Rel Scott 55-297 1 TD, (pass) Chris Turner 141-244-8-1642 9 TD, (receive) Torrey Smith 34-554 4 TD, (tackle) Alex Wujciak 77.
Best message board tidbit on the game:
Hurley54 on DevilsIllustrated.com: "This game will be about talent on the field. I think our group of receivers is the best in the ACC even though they are young. Thad is hitting on all cylinders now and the line has really picked up on their duties and are executing. Jay Hollingsworth is supposedly ready to go too, and with Scott starting I expect the running attack to ratchet their game up this weekend. I look for another big game offensively. ... Let's make some turtle soup!"
Duke will win if ... The Blue Devils simply play the level of football they played in the previous three games against N.C. Central, Virginia Tech and N.C. State. Duke was in the game against the Hokies until the closing minutes, and held the Wolfpack scoreless for the entire second half. Lewis is playing like one of the better quarterbacks in the country at the moment, and the Blue Devils have confidence on both sides of the ball.
Maryland will win if ... The Terps can win the turnover margin battle and get to Lewis a few times. Maryland is a bit bigger and stronger, while Duke's advantages are at the skilled positions. The Terps would need a couple of big plays and a couple of Duke mistakes early to see just how fragile the Blue Devils' momentum might possibly be.
Can the French Blue Devils hold off those Snapping Turtles? Of course they have a chance to do just that. The only three teams that have beaten Duke so far have been nationally ranked (including Richmond at No. 1 in the FCS poll), and the only team that has given Duke a whipping has been Kansas on the road.
Players to watch ...
Duke: #3 DT Vince Oghobaase, #9 QB Thaddeus Lewis, # 31 MLB Vincent Rey, # 33 RB Desmond Scott.
Maryland: #10 Chris Turner, #18 LB Alex Wujciak, #38 P Travis Baltz, #82 Torrey Smith.
Injury report ...
Duke: RB Re'quan Boyette (knee) OUT, LB Abraham Kromah (leg) OUT, WR Tyree Watkins (leg) OUT.
Maryland: P Travis Baltz (leg) probable, DT Joe Vellano (foot) probable), G Lamar Young (shoulder) probable, RB Da'Rel Scott (wrist) questionable, C Danny Edwards (concussion) questionable, DE Masengo Kabongo (leg) questionable, RB Gary Douglas (shoulder) doubtful, LB Demetrius Hartsfield (hand) OUT, LB Louis Berman (leg) OUT.
Vegas line: Duke by 6
Score prediction: Duke 27, Maryland 21