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Wake Forest vs. Duke: Initial Thoughts

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The games against Notre Dame and Clemson are over. It's time to focus on Duke.

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons defeated the Duke Blue Devils every year from 2000-2011. It was a decade (plus) of dominance, but the Blue Devils have won the past three contests. Last season, the Deacs scored a touchdown in the third quarter to pull within 6 points, but the Blue Devils went on to score 14 unanswered points and win 41-21. It was the final game of the season, and was the ninth regular season win for the Blue Devils, while it was the ninth regular season loss for the Demon Deacons. The Deacs entered that game with three wins on the season, and they left with just three wins of the season. It marked the end of Dave Clawson's first season as head coach of the Demon Deacons.

This season, however, has a chance to be different. While Clawson's Deacons will once again enter the final game of the regular season with just three wins, they have improved by leaps and bounds by any objective measure. Duke won a wild 4-overtime game at Virginia Tech on October 24th to improve to 6-1. They haven't won since. Whether it was due to the ending of the Miami game, or just playing more talented teams, they are now sitting at 6-5. This presents an outstanding opportunity for the Wake Forest football program.

Dave Clawson is not one for moral victories. He has made the clear during his 23 games as head coach of the Demon Deacons. He is tired of him and his team for getting pats on the back for losing close games against superior opponents. He only cares about the scoreboard. Admittedly, neither the Notre Dame nor Clemson games provided much of a chance to earn actual victories. Between the two games, they were underdogs by a combined 55 points. I don't know exactly what the line will be for the Wake Forest vs. Duke game, but I'd be willing to bet that it's less than a touchdown. Here's an opportunity to get rewarded for actually winning.

The season finale against Duke is the Wake Forest football team's bowl game. It will be senior day against a rival. The Wake Forest football program has been preaching the #aWAKEning for nearly two years now. Wake's football program has seen a clear uptick in recruiting, facilities, and strength and conditioning. I fully admit that the cupboard was VERY bare when Clawson and company took over, but the staff currently only has six wins in 23 attempts. Two of those are FCS, and another two are against Army. In Wake's two ACC wins, the Deacs have scored a combined nine points. A win against Duke would be different. A win against Duke would be massive for in-state recruiting, and massive for momentum headed into the offseason.

Duke has been the darling of the North Carolina (and national) media members over the past several years. And they've certainly deserved a lot of the praise they've received. David Cutcliffe has done a tremendous job, though I do think it's worth noting that most of their wins have come against inferior opponents. Still, that's smart scheduling, and that's how you build a program. Their program now is where Wake's was in 2008. While Duke did not win an ACC Championship like Wake Forest did, they did make an ACC Championship game.

A win for Wake Forest may not signify that they have passed Duke, but it will put people on notice. Clawson is building something real at Wake Forest. I can see it, and I think a lot of other Wake fans can see it as well. I look at what he did at his previous stops, and it gives me great confidence. A legitimate foundation is being built. I see the young talent on the roster, and I'm excited. Wake has the talent to beat Duke. I fully expect the Deacs to play with great pride in this contest, and to break out every trick play that they need. The staff and the players know the importance of this game, and I believe they'll take advantage of their opportunity.

That's what's on the line against Duke. In many ways, it's the most important game of the season. I think our players and staff recognize that. A win against Duke can accelerate the Wake program into the offseason, and give Dave Clawson and his staff a lot of credibility. There's just one game left in the season, but it just happens to be the most intriguing. This game is Wake Forest's "bowl game," but next year the Deacs should be playing in an actual one.