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Bowl Projections: Duke and Wake Forest Are Both 4–0. Could Either Crash a Big-Time Game?

If Clemson and Virginia Tech make it into the New Year’s Six, as our current projections forecast, every other team in the ACC climbs a rung up, which would provide a crucial boost for surprise undefeateds Duke and Wake Forest.

The eyes of a national audience will be on Blacksburg this weekend, as No. 12 Virginia Tech hosts No. 2 Clemson in Week 5’s marquee matchup, a primetime rematch of the 2016 ACC title game (and a likely preview of this year’s). But in the run-up to this Saturday’s College GameDay showcase game, don’t overlook Durham and Winston-Salem, two other ACC locales that are home to the best tilts of Friday’s early-evening and Saturday’s mid-afternoon docket, respectively.

Take that superlative as a positive or negative indicator of the strength of this weekend’s slate according to your personal preference, but do not deny Duke and Wake Forest this moment, when both teams sit at 4–0 ahead of home games against preseason favorites. The Blue Devils host an unbeaten but lightly tested and hurricane-harried Miami team that has played just two games so far. The Demon Deacons welcome winless Florida State (yes, winless Florida State), as the Seminoles look to rebound from draining losses to Alabama and NC State.

Both teams made statements with comfortable 24-point wins over Power 5 opponents in Week 2 tilts many expected to be more evenly matched—Duke clobbered Northwestern; Wake roasted Boston College—but both traditional and new-age rankings have been slow to reward either program. The Blue Devils sit two spots outside the AP Top 25, while the Deacons come in farther down the Others Receiving Votes section. Wake (No. 35) is outpacing Duke (No. 46) in Football Outsiders’ latest S&P+ rankings. However, SB Nation’s Bill Connelly’s calculation of where teams would rank without preseason projections baked into the formula indicates both are being weighed down by modest preseason expectations.

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So what’s going right, and is it sustainable? Both teams boast top 20 scoring defenses through four weeks (Wake is allowing 11.5 points per game, Duke 15.3) and sit tied for 15th in the nation with a +5 turnover margin, albeit via different paths (Duke has come up with nine takeaways, while Wake has only lost the ball once). Quarterbacks Daniel Jones and John Wolford have each come into their own as valuable members of the run game and steadily improving passers. After a down year in 2016, David Cutcliffe has stabilized Duke’s resurgent program, and the fruits of Dave Clawson’s patient overhaul in Winston-Salem began to emerge with last year’s 7–6 finish and Military Bowl victory.

If Clemson and Virginia Tech make it into the New Year’s Six, as our current projections forecast, every other team in the ACC climbs a rung up the bowl game pecking order, which would provide a crucial boost for Duke and Wake. Both programs run the risk of being passed over by the marquee bowls in favor of worse teams with larger fan bases more likely to sell out the ticket allotment, though if they keep winning the big games will have no choice. 

Below, our full predictions and projections for the 39 bowl games of the 2017-18 season, leading up to the College Football Playoff final in Atlanta on Jan. 8.

Saturday, Dec. 16

R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, New Orleans (1 p.m., ESPN)
Sun Belt vs. C-USA
Louisiana Monroe vs. North Texas

AutoNation Cure Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (2:30 p.m., CBSSN)
AAC vs. Sun Belt
Tulane vs. Louisiana

Las Vegas Bowl, Las Vegas (3:30 p.m., ABC)
​MWC vs. Pac-12
Boise State vs. Colorado

Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque (4:30 p.m., ESPN)
Old Dominion vs. BYU

Raycom Media Camelia Bowl, Montgomery, Ala. (8 p.m., ESPN)
MAC vs. Sun Belt
Ohio vs. Arkansas State

Tuesday, Dec. 19

Boca Raton Bowl, Boca Raton, Fla. (7 p.m., ESPN)
Memphis vs. Middle Tennessee

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Wednesday, Dec. 20

Frisco Bowl, Frisco, Texas (8 p.m., ESPN)
AAC vs. Sun Belt
Houston vs. Troy

Thursday, Dec. 21

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, St. Petersburg, Fla. (8 p.m., ESPN)

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Friday, Dec. 22

Bahamas Bowl, Nassau, Bahamas (12:30 p.m., ESPN)
Louisiana Tech vs. Northern Illinois

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Boise (4 p.m., ESPN)
Western Michigan vs. Wyoming

Saturday, Dec. 23

Birmingham Bowl, Birmingham, Ala. (12 p.m., ESPN)
South Florida vs. Arkansas

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth, Texas (3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Army vs. C-USA
Army vs. Southern Miss

Dollar General Bowl, Mobile, Ala. (7 p.m., ESPN)
MAC vs. Sun Belt
Toledo vs. Appalachian State

Sunday, Dec. 24

Hawaii Bowl, Honolulu, (8:30 p.m., ESPN)
SMU vs. Hawaii

Tuesday, Dec. 26

Heart of Dallas Bowl, Dallas (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. C-USA
Kansas State vs. UT-San Antonio

Quick Lane Bowl, Detroit (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten
Virginia vs. Maryland

Cactus Bowl, Phoenix (9 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. Pac-12
Texas Tech vs. UCLA

Wednesday, Dec. 27

Independence Bowl, Shreveport, La. (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M

New Era Pinstripe Bowl, New York (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten
Georgia Tech vs. Indiana

Foster Farms Bowl, Santa Clara, Calif. (8 p.m., FOX)
Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Michigan State vs. Oregon

Texas Bowl, Houston (9 p.m., ESPN)
Big 12 vs. SEC
Texas vs. Tennessee

Thursday, Dec. 28

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman, Annapolis, Md. (1:30 p.m., ESPN)
NC State vs. Navy

Camping World Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (5:15 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big 12
Louisville vs. West Virginia

Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Pac-12 vs. Big 12
Utah vs. TCU

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl, San Diego (9 p.m., FS1)
Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Purdue vs. Stanford

Friday, Dec. 29

Belk Bowl, Charlotte, N.C. (1 p.m., ESPN)
Duke vs. Kentucky

Hyundai Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas (2 p.m., CBS)
ACC vs. Pac-12
Miami vs. Washington State

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Nashville, Tenn. (4:30 p.m., ESPN)
SEC vs. Big Ten or ACC
Vanderbilt vs. Florida State

Arizona Bowl, Tucson, Ariz. (5:30 p.m., CBSSN)
Sun Belt vs. MWC
New Mexico State vs. Colorado State

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Saturday, Dec. 30

TaxSlayer Bowl, Jacksonville, Fla. (12 p.m., ESPN)
SEC vs. Big Ten or ACC
Mississippi State vs. Iowa

AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn. (12:30 p.m., ABC)
Big 12 vs. SEC
Oklahoma State vs. LSU

Monday, Jan. 1, 2018

Outback Bowl, Tampa, Fla. (12 p.m., ESPN2)
Big Ten vs. SEC
Minnesota vs. Auburn

Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (1 p.m., ABC)
Florida vs. Notre Dame

New Year's Six Bowls

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Arlington, Texas (Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-large
USC vs. Wisconsin

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Ariz. (Dec. 30, 4 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-large
Washington vs. San Diego State

Capital One Orange Bowl, Miami Gardens, Fla. (Dec. 30, 8 p.m., ESPN)
ACC vs. Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame
Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Atlanta (Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m., ESPN)
At-large vs. At-Large
Michigan vs. Georgia

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual, Pasadena, Calif. (Jan. 1, 5 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinalist vs. CFP semifinalist
Clemson vs. Penn State

Allstate Sugar Bowl, New Orleans (Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinalist vs. CFP semifinalist
Alabama vs. Oklahoma

College Football Playoff National Championship, Atlanta (Jan. 8, 8 p.m., ESPN)
CFP semifinal winner vs. CFP semifinal winner