Wake Forest meets the No. 25 Duke Blue Devils on Saturday in a game rife with postseason implications. For the Deacs, a win means that their quest for bowl eligibility remains alive heading into the final week of the season. For the 8-2 Blue Devils, a win means they are one step closer to an appearance in the ACC Championship Game.
To get more insight on the Devils, BSD called on Tie-Dye Nation's favorite Duke expert, Ben Swain. Swain is the host of The Walk-Ons Podcast, covering all of college basketball and is co-host of the RealTailgate.com Hoops Hangout, which covers ACC basketball with a focus on the Big Four (even Wake). Swain is also a charter member of the Tricia Liston fan club, but that's neither here nor there. Swain was nice enough to give us his take on the Devils' remarkable run this season.
BSD: You're going through what every Wake Forest fan went through in 2006. At the beginning of the year, all eyes were on another Belk Bowl and now....what has your range of emotion been this season?
SWAIN: I'm not sure I can entirely relate to what Wake fans felt in 2006 because I haven't heard any of the "this is awful for the ACC" talk. Of course that has nothing to do with Duke or Wake, and everything to do with Clemson and Florida State finally being elite football teams and carrying the banner for the conference. As for my reaction to Duke being 8-2, and I'm being completely honest with you JP, there was a lot of talk about 8 wins around the Duke program before the season started. Obviously all of those conversations took place in private where no one could hear this being discussed, but you look at the schedule and see Memphis, NCCU, Troy, Navy, Pitt, NC State, Wake, UNC, and Virginia and it wasn't hard to see anywhere between 6 and 9 wins out of those games. Now that was obviously before Anthony Boone went down in the Memphis game, and things seemed pretty bleak around that time, especially after losing Connette's starts against Georgia Tech and Pitt. It's been an extremely fun season, but I don't think there is great surprise. I will say there's a general feeling of "Oh, so THIS Is what college football should feel like" going around town. Everyone's just soaking it in.
BSD: Let's play, "Think like a Wake fan" for a moment. What's the most "Duke" thing that could happen to this team from here on out? Or have they already surpassed all expectations for the season?
SWAIN: Injuries. Duke's been so fortunate with injuries, which is odd to say when the backup quarterback has been out for the entire season and both Boone and Connette have missed starts due to injury. But right now, in November, Duke is insanely healthy. Chalk it up to luck, or maybe the coaching staff has learned their lesson about managing health after last season when EVERYONE was injured. But that's pretty much the big anvil that's hanging over Duke's head right now. As far as results, Duke could lose to Wake. They could lose to UNC. But I don't think it would be because of bad luck, I just am fully aware of how difficult it is to win a football game.
BSD: I see a lot of coaches names being bandied about for National Coach of the Year honors. Rarely is one of those names David Cutcliffe. Child, please. Shouldn't he be a finalist?
SWAIN: It depends on what the meaning of "coach of the year" is to you. Even in the ACC, I wouldn't fault anyone for voting Jimbo Fisher. That's the most dominant football team I can ever remember seeing in the ACC, and Wake fans know better than anyone that it hasn't always been the case. If it's the biggest turnaround from one season to the next, you could argue that this season was a natural next step up from last season, and with the guys Duke has coming back and the schedule still being incredibly favorable (subbing in Elon, Kansas and Tulane from NCCU, Navy and Memphis, and trading NC State for Syracuse), there's a logical next step in place for next year as well. Nationally, I'd have to think that guy is probably Gus Malzahn at Auburn. So I can see why Cutcliffe isn't up there on some watch lists. I'd have to expect that he'll edge Jimbo for a second straight ACC Coach of the Year award though, especially after Duke was picked to finish last in the Coastal at Operation Football.
BSD: What are the chances of Blue Devil Nation invading Winston-Salem on Saturday? Or, do you guys even have a Nation? Is it more of a legion? We have plenty of prime seating for you.
SWAIN: I'm actually quite disappointed at the lack of a coordinated effort from Duke to get fans to the game on Saturday. They did a tremendous job with bowl tickets last year by earning the highest allotment sold out of all ACC bowl teams, and they're doing well with the pre-sale again this year, but this is a huge game that's less than 90 minutes away. Then again, there wasn't any sort of visible effort to fill the stands for the Miami game, and it was pretty close to capacity with a very small contribution from Miami fans. So who knows? I did talk to a Duke student before tipoff of the basketball game against East Carolina about the low student turnout, and he said (with a straight face) that a lot of his friends were getting all of their work done during the week so they could go to the game on Saturday. I don't expect a sea of blue in the stands, but it wouldn't shock me to see a lot of Duke fans there. I'm going, but I would have gone anyway to hit up Dewey's for some sugar cake for the holidays.
BSD: Despite the championship, my most vivid memory of the 2006 season was Gaines Adams returning a blocked kick for a touchdown, sparking a Clemson comeback victory over the Deacs. Is that how you will feel after Wake wins on Saturday?
SWAIN: Hey, whatever keeps Grobe and Wellman employed.
Bonus Question: Could Jabari Parker start for the Duke football team. Actually, SHOULD Jabari Parker start for the football team?
SWAIN: If it keeps him in school for three seasons, I'm all for it. That guy is a national treasure. Duke fan or not, enjoy him while he's playing college basketball. Our league has been blessed to be able to watch the freshman seasons of Jameis Winston and Jabari Parker this year.