No. 25 Duke has made a most unlikely climb up the ACC standings, into the national rankings and into the school record book.
But a loss at sputtering Wake Forest on Saturday, and it's all gone.
The Blue Devils (8-2, 4-2) will match a school record with nine wins and clinch at least a share of the Coastal Division title by beating the Demon Deacons (4-6, 2-5) in their first game as a ranked team in nearly two decades.
"It could turn around at any second," defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento said. "If we lose this week, I'm sure the bandwagon guys out there are going to fall off because they think it's the same old Duke."
The Blue Devils don't want their first appearance in the Top 25 since the 1994 season to be a short one. In winning six straight games — their longest streak since that season — the perennial cellar-dwellers have become the talk of the ACC.
"The players have earned some respect, which they should enjoy," coach David Cutcliffe said. "They know what's out there for them. There's an opportunity that exists, but it's a week-to-week proposition."
If any coach can relate, it's Wake Forest's Jim Grobe.
The Demon Deacons put together a similar worst-to-first season during their Orange Bowl run in 2006. But since the core of that team moved on, they've yet to have a winning season and have reached just one bowl game.
After losing three straight, Wake Forest needs victories over the Blue Devils and at Vanderbilt next week to qualify for the postseason.
"We are disappointed that we haven't played very well the past couple times out," Grobe said. "We know we've got a great challenge. ... I feel like our football team is in a state of mind where we want to play better."
5 things to know about Duke's second straight visit to Wake Forest:
DUKE'S TWO QBS: The Blue Devils have an unusual two-quarterback setup — one takes care of the touchdowns, and the other gets the victories. Anthony Boone has a career record of 8-0 as a starter while change-of-pace Brandon Connette, who also enters in some short-yardage situations, is coming off a five-touchdown performance — four rushing, one passing — in the upset of No. 24 Miami. His 12 rushing TDs rank second in the league and he's thrown for 13 more scores.
CAMP OUT (STILL): When WR Michael Campanaro left Wake Forest's lineup with a broken collarbone, the Demon Deacons' offense went with him. They have yet to score a touchdown since Campanaro was hurt Nov. 2 at Syracuse and have one TD in their last 10 quarters. Cutcliffe says Duke can't worry about how Wake Forest might try to jump-start its offense going because "the emphasis has to be on Duke playing very, very good team defensive football."
ONE-SIDED RIVALRY: The Blue Devils probably won't look past Wake Forest because the Demon Deacons have beaten them so many times. Before Duke's 34-27 win last year, Wake Forest had won the last 12 meetings and Grobe had never lost to the Blue Devils. Plus, the Demon Deacons are in win-or-else mode. "We know how hungry this team is," Duke tight end Braxton Deaver said. "They need two wins to get to a bowl, and that's as hungry as you can possibly be."
DEMON DEACONS' D: Wake Forest's lopsided loss to the Seminoles can't be blamed on the defense because 45 of the 59 points were direct results of the offense's turnovers and a special-teams breakdown. The only teams to score more than 24 points against the Demon Deacons are in the top 10 — Clemson and Florida State — and undersized NT Nikita Whitlock has been tough for opposing offensive lines to control. "He's not easy to deal with, in any form or fashion," Cutcliffe said. "But their other players aren't either."
FEW LATE SCORES: Neither team has been particularly easy to score against in the fourth quarter. For all of its struggles, Wake Forest has given up just 28 points in the final quarter of its games. Duke has been nearly as stingy: Of the 34 points it has allowed in the fourth quarter, there have been two field goals, three offensive touchdowns — only one since Sept. 14 — and an interception returned for a TD.
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