Yet neither team will lack motivation when they meet Saturday in their regular season finale - even if the goals are somewhat more abstract.
The Blue Devils (8-3, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) want to get back to the level of play that put them in first place atop the Coastal for much of the season.
The Demon Deacons (3-8, 1-6) want to show they've improved during the first year of coach Dave Clawson's rebuilding job.
''They will show they will never give up, no matter the record,'' Wake Forest defensive end Zach Allen said. ''Just play for each other no matter what.''
That's what the Blue Devils plan to do, too.
No longer do they have the burden of protecting a lead in the standings, or having a reasonably clear path to the Orange Bowl - which goes to either the ACC's champion or its highest-ranked non-playoff team.
Both of those goals were washed away during the two-game losing streak that dropped them into the middle of the pack and into one of the league's mid-level bowl games.
''Now, I feel like we're at a point where, yeah, we had a lot of expectations of going back to the ACC championship game, ''running back Josh Snead said. ''That built up a lot of pressure from the football players to the coaches. Now I feel like that pressure isn't on us that much, so we can focus in on winning (this week) and preparing for the bowl game, which will give us the opportunity to go 10-3.''
But that's only if win No. 9 comes against Wake Forest - which just beat the Virginia Tech team that a week earlier started the Blue Devils' tumble with a turnover-filled, 17-16 upset. Then came a loss to North Carolina in which Duke seemingly never was in the game.
''In the two losses we had,'' Duke defensive lineman Dezmond Johnson said, ''we weren't the team we have been.''
Some things to know about Wake Forest's visit to Duke:
TURNOVER TROUBLES: When the Blue Devils lose, they turn the ball over. They still have an ACC-fewest 12 turnovers - and nine of them have come in their three losses (three apiece). Wake Forest has had issues with ball security, too: Ten of its 18 giveaways have come on the road, its only turnover-free game was its 34-20 loss to Clemson and its turnover margin in its three wins is only plus-1.
THE DAVES: Clawson and Duke coach David Cutcliffe have something unique in common: Both have been the offensive coordinator under Phil Fulmer at Tennessee, with Clawson taking over for the 2008 season when Cutcliffe - Fulmer's longtime right-hand man - left for Duke. Clawson also has a history against the Blue Devils - in his last visit to Wallace Wade Stadium, he led Richmond to a 16-0 win over Duke in the 2006 opener.
STREAKY SERIES: Duke has won the last two meetings of a series that before that had been dominated by Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons won 12 straight meetings from 2000-11. The Blue Devils lead overall, 55-37-2.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Both teams' kickers have been perfect on field goals this season - except when they faced Virginia Tech. Duke kicker Ross Martin is 16 of 18 with both misses coming against the Hokies on Nov. 15. Mike Weaver of Wake Forest made his first 10 attempts opf the year before missing three times last week against Tech - with a fourth negated by a penalty - then hitting field goals in both overtimes of a 6-3 win.
NINE WOULD BE FINE: This will be Duke's third try at securing its ninth win - a mark only five other Blue Devils teams have reached. They did it last year, winning 10 games, but have never reached the nine-win plateau in back-to-back years.
Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap