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Duke in the Spotlight

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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There will be a primetime national spotlight on Wallace-Wade Stadium this Saturday as Duke hosts 15th-ranked Notre Dame.

There will be a primetime national spotlight on Wallace-Wade Stadium this Saturday as Duke hosts 15th-ranked Notre Dame. An opportunity to further the national brand awaits for David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils, a program that has undergone a dramatic transformation over the last decade-plus. Facing the most storied entity in college football history, Duke, on a rare stage, is ready to embrace the moment: one of the biggest games of this college football weekend will take place in Durham, North Carolina.

An obvious storyline entering the contest is the Blue Devils’ win in South Bend back in 2016. Led by now-New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, who completed 24-of-32 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns, Duke edged the Fighting Irish 38-35 in dramatic fashion. After Notre Dame took a one-score lead midway through the fourth quarter, Jones responded with a 64-yard touchdown strike to Anthony Nash three plays later. He then led the Blue Devils on a signature ten-play drive that resulted in a game-winning field goal by A.J. Reed.

The triumph was Duke’s second all-time over the famed Fighting Irish and first since 1961, the last time Notre Dame came to Wallace Wade Stadium. Fascinatingly, the Blue Devils have won the most recent matchup in this series and the lone meeting in Durham.  

Big picture implications aside, a win, hosting the Fighting Irish this weekend, would be a big step towards bowl eligibility for 4-4 Duke. In addition to a season-opening loss to top-ranked Alabama in Atlanta, the Blue Devils have dropped two games, North Carolina and Pitt, by a combined five points. A victory over Notre Dame would be a notable market correction. The momentum stemming from such a performance, on the field, in the headlines and on the recruiting trail, would be quite significant. The Fighting Irish remain one of college football’s biggest names.    

From facility upgrades to program expectations, Saturday, even as college basketball season starts, will be a showcase for Duke football. Correspondingly, this is a team that knows it can compete with Notre Dame — because it has. Seniors, for the Blue Devils, were part of the historic win in South Bend just three years ago. Among others, defensive back Dylan Singleton made one of the plays of the game as a then-freshman, intercepting DeShone Kizer late in the fourth quarter to setup the game-winning kick by Reed, Duke’s current kicker who has not missed a field goal this fall.

Cutcliffe, relatively-quietly, has done great work in authoring the Blue Devils’ reintroduction. Not long after one of the great wins in program history, he is now working towards a recreation.  

Duke, through players like Jones, who was selected sixth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, and appearing in the ACC Championship Game in 2013, has become part of the college football conversation. Here in week eleven, the Blue Devils are part of the national slate. After fans settle in following the end of Alabama vs LSU, perhaps the showcase game of the entire year, Duke will be the encore performance.  

With Notre Dame in town and the nation watching, the Blue Devils are, again, ready to make the most of their moment.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports