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Duke’s Bowl Streak: Can It Continue?

It won’t be easy but it’s not impossible.

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NC Central v Duke
DURHAM, NC - SEPTEMBER 03: Head coach David Cutcliffe of the Duke Blue Devils watches his team during their game against the North Carolina Central Eagles at Wallace Wade Stadium on September 3, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

For three straight years, the Duke football team has been bowl eligible - a feat that not too long ago seemed unreachable.

In past years, looking at a schedule at the beginning of the season meant trying to determine who the Blue Devils could beat just so that they could get in the win column.

These days, that look at the schedule now means determining which six teams Duke has a chance at defeating in order to become bowl eligible and continue its post season streak.

While it is true that anything can happen in a football game, the schedule can reveal many different factors. So let's look at the Blue Devils season.

Duke already has one win, but it’s a win against a Division 1-FCS team (as a member of the ACC, Duke is a member of the Football Bowl Series).

A quick search for the rules around FCS eligible wins reveals a maze of legalistic possibilities, but it appears that the win can count towards Duke's six.

The games at Army and Virginia look winnable, given the way the Cavaliers have performed so far this year and given the Black Knights struggles in the past against the Blue Devils.

Georgia Tech is 2-0, but one of the wins is over Mercer while in the other Tech barely defeated a Boston College team that went winless in the conference last year.

If the Blue Devils win those three games, that would leave two more victories to continue the bowl streak.

Let's go ahead and take Louisville and Notre Dame off the table. If somehow Duke were to win those games, they would be similar to the upsets that Duke managed in 2013 when they defeated both Virginia Tech and Miami on their way to a Coastal Division title.

Wins in those games are not impossible but not likely either.

Virginia Tech and North Carolina are both at Wallace Wade this year. The Hokies have a new head coach in Justin Fuente, who replaces Tech legend Frank Beamer. Tech just played the first game at a race track, in Bristol, with 160,000 people in the stands, losing to Tennessee.

While they may be down a bit this year, Tech is a traditional power house and success is expected.

The Tar Heels began the season in the Top 25, and then were blown out by Georgia. However, they are considered one of the top teams in the ACC this year.

Let's say Duke manages a win against UNC or Virginia Tech (which may honestly be stretching things a bit). That would lead to five wins - one closer to the magic bowl number.

The final two conference games of the year are on the road versus Miami and Pittsburgh. Last year's game against the Hurricanes featured one of the most memorable, if not quite legal, plays of the football season. The loss on the final play of the game seemed to put the Blue Devils in a downward spiral, as Duke lost four of its last five regular season games.

The Panthers have been a reliably tough opponent, defeating Duke handily in 2015 (30-13) while falling to the Blue Devils in double overtime in 2014. The latter was a key part of Duke's magical 2014 season.

Neither game is a lock. A veteran team might have a chance to win both, but as they showed last Saturday, Duke has loads of talent but also lots of inexperience.

The one game left to discuss, of course, is this Saturday's Northwestern game.

Northwestern starts the season 0-2, with surprising losses against Western Michigan and Illinois State, teams that they should have beaten.

Both Duke and Northwestern will be very hungry for a win on Saturday. Both teams enter are predicted to have down years, and both want to continue to keep their bowl eligible streaks alive.

As I noted last year, they are evenly matched, with Northwestern taking a one game lead on the overall series (9-8). However, seven of the last eight games have been won by the Wildcats.

A coach never wants to say that one game, particularly a game in the middle of September, can make or break a season. However, this game may indeed be a measuring stick for the remainder of the year.

A loss, and Duke may enter its Oct. 1 game against Virginia 1-3 and hoping to scrape its way to six wins. A victory, however, may be the needed confidence boost Duke will need heading into South Bend to face Notre Dame.

This Fighting Irish team has lots of talent but also has lost lots of parts from its successful past two teams.

Even if Duke loses that game, if they can keep it close the Devils can gain confidence as they face two winnable games.

Let's hope that the team that shows up in Evanston on Saturday is more like the one that won the first game versus the one that showed inexperience in the second.