Pittsburgh visits Duke in matchup of teams chasing UNC
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Just a couple of weeks ago, the Pittsburgh-Duke game seemed destined to help decide the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division champion.
And it still may. Just not for either team.
These Panthers and Blue Devils are effectively playing for second.
A victory by Duke on Saturday would move rival North Carolina one step closer to wrapping up its first outright Coastal title and its first berth in the ACC championship game. The 17th-ranked Tar Heels would then clinch it by beating Miami later in the day.
For either Duke (6-3, 3-2) or Pitt (6-3, 4-1) to catch North Carolina, they'll need a lot of help. But the Blue Devils insist motivation won't be a problem even though they're pretty much out of the division race.
''Just keep your nose the grind and keep on working,'' Duke tight end David Reeves said. ''Crazy things happen in college football. You just have to be ready for it whenever it does happen. We just have to hold up our end and see where it is when the dust settles at the end.''
Both teams enter with two-game losing streaks that include losses to North Carolina in the mini-round-robin that clarified the cloudy Coastal race. The Tar Heels beat Pitt 26-19 before routing the Blue Devils 66-31 last week.
''We have three ACC games left, and that's really where our focus is,'' first-year Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said.
The defeats in Duke's losing streak came on both ends of the spectrum: Before the blowout loss to UNC came a 30-27 setback against Miami when the Hurricanes lateraled the final kickoff eight times before returning it for the winning touchdown that the ACC later said shouldn't have counted due to multiple officiating errors.
''Losing one at the last second is like, `Almost there,' versus if you get beat pretty badly, you just want to brush it off and get going,'' Reeves said.
Some things to know about the Pitt-Duke game:
QUESTIONABLE QB: Duke QB Thomas Sirk is questionable after suffering an upper body injury during the UNC loss. He's third in the Atlantic Coast Conference in total offense, averaging nearly 282 total yards, and is the league's No. 10 rusher with an average of 61.7 yards. Coach David Cutcliffe says backup Parker Boehme has worked with the starters in case Sirk can't play.
SENIOR DAY: This marks the final home game for a Duke senior class that has won 31 games - three wins shy of becoming the winningest four-year class in school history. ''Every win for our seniors is a milestone,'' Cutcliffe said.
GOOD LOSSES? All three of Pitt's losses have come to teams ranked in the top 17 - No. 6 Notre Dame, No. 8 Iowa and No. 17 North Carolina. Those defeats have given Narduzzi a measuring stick to gauge his team's progress in Year 1. ''I told them last week we'll find out if we measure up,'' Narduzzi said. ''Obviously we don't. We saw some deficiencies in spots where we need to get better at. We'll address that in recruiting.''
DEFENSELESS DUKE: Duke's once-top-10 total defense has been gashed lately. In its last three games, the Blue Devils have allowed averages of 46 points and nearly 516 yards. ''I felt like I was in the Big 12,'' Cutcliffe said of that blowout loss in Chapel Hill. ''That's probably the score of the video games they play.''
ANOTHER SHOOTOUT? Points haven't exactly been hard to come by in the last two Pitt-Duke games. The Panthers came to Durham and won 58-55 two years ago, with the Blue Devils returning the favor last year with a 51-48, double-overtime victory.
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.
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