No. 19 Duke plays host to Virginia Tech
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) So much for those who wondered if Duke's run to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game was a one-year fluke.
In some ways, these Blue Devils have been even better.
No. 19 Duke (8-1, 4-1) debuts its highest national ranking in two decades Saturday when the Blue Devils host Virginia Tech (4-5, 1-4), which is looking to avoid its longest in-season losing streak since 1992.
Duke closes its season with three straight home games - an enviable position as it looks to wrap up its second straight Coastal Division title.
''We've got a tougher test right now even though we're home, but I'm at peace with our kids,'' coach David Cutcliffe said. ''We're going to get ready. ... We know our opponents, and we know it's going to be tough, and that's good that it's going to be tough. Just another opportunity for us to grow.''
They've done anything but take a step back: Duke had two losses at this point last year, and was never ranked higher than 20th. And while those Blue Devils reeled off eight straight wins to catapult themselves back from an 0-2 start to league play, this group has spent all season at or near the top of the division.
Now comes a visit from the Hokies, who enter on a three-game losing streak. They haven't lost four in a row in the same year since 1992 - the season before their 22-year run of bowl appearances began.
''We're trying to keep it even keel right now,'' quarterback Michael Brewer said. ''It's not a time to panic or anything like that. We understand that we're in a bit of a hole here, but the best thing for us right now is to have a good week of practice and play well against Duke.''
Some things to know about Duke's visit from Virginia Tech:
BUSY BLUE DEVILS: This marks the middle game in a run of three games in a 13-day span for Duke, which plays host to rival North Carolina in a nationally televised game Thursday night. Defensive end Dezmond Johnson admitted that matchup is ''in the back of my mind'' but emphasized that the focus is squarely on Virginia Tech because ''you can only play one game on Saturday anyway.''
COASTAL CLARITY: The Blue Devils can make the Coastal Division race significantly clearer by beating the Hokies. Duke is the division's only team with one conference loss, and the closest challengers - Miami and Georgia Tech - are underdogs to nationally ranked Atlantic Division rivals this week, which means the Blue Devils could have an iron grip on the division by midnight Sunday.
TECH'S TURNOVER TROUBLES: The Hokies' defense is usually pretty good at creating turnovers - they have intercepted a best-in-the-nation 265 passes since 2000 - but Virginia Tech has generated just two takeaways during its losing streak - including none in its past two games. Tech has forced 10 turnovers in its four wins and four in its five losses.
THE STREAK: Virginia Tech is one of only six programs in college football history to make it to 21 consecutive bowl games but that streak is in danger of ending this year. It's the second-longest active streak in the nation behind Florida State (32). The Hokies' last nonbowl finish came in 1992, when they went 2-9-1. ''We definitely need to get bowl eligible to keep the streak going,'' defensive end Ken Ekanem said.
TECH VS. THE RUN: A big reason why the Hokies have struggled lately has been their run defense. Three of their worst outings this season have come in the past three weeks, and they've allowed a total of 832 yards on the ground in losses to Pittsburgh, Miami and Boston College. ''We execute well, and then we have a few plays where we're not in the right gap at the right time, and that play breaks for like 70 yards,'' Ekanem said. ''We just need to get more reps and make our young guys see the game a lot slower.''
AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz Jr. in Blacksburg, Virginia, contributed to this report.
Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap