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Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Who will fall to Duke in '09?

By Heather Dinich
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It's going to happen this year -- somebody in the ACC (besides Virginia) is going to lose to Duke, and it's going to be a very humbling experience.

There have been some pretty impressive physical transformations since David Cutcliffe and strength and conditioning coach Noel Durfey arrived in Durham. Take, for example, linebacker Vincent Rey. He went from 255 pounds and 18 percent body fat to 245 pounds and 8 percent body fat. That's like trading a rumbling Ford pick-up for the muscle and speed of a Mustang.

Duke won four games last year and matched its win total of the previous four seasons combined. Congrats. The next step is to win more than one ACC game. With quarterback Thaddeus Lewis now a senior, and the return of Re'quan Boyette at running back, plus several standouts like Rey on defense, the pieces are in place for Duke to do that. Because the Blue Devils have two FCS teams on their schedule, they'll need seven wins to become bowl eligible. That's too much to expect in Year 2 under Cutcliffe, but more than one ACC win is not.

The question is, who will be the first to go down?

I'm going to rule out Miami and Virginia Tech. The Hokies will have far too much on the line and should want to redeem themselves from last year's embarrassing home performance. Duke will have to travel to Miami and that's a program that has a different caliber athlete on its roster, despite the progress Duke has made in the weight room and in its recent recruiting.

Here's where it gets interesting.

NC State, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest are all possible wins for Duke. The Blue Devils took Wake Forest to overtime last year before losing 33-30 in Winston-Salem. They lost to NC State by 10 points, and to UNC by eight, but both of those are "road" trips this year. Duke had won three of its first four games before being romped by Georgia Tech, 27-0. Odds are the Blue Devils learned a lesson there. And Duke beat a bad Virginia team 31-3. This year Duke has to go to Charlottesville where the Cavaliers will do everything they can to prevent that from happening again.

So ...

Here's the final order of teams, from the most to the least likely to fall to Duke this year:

Wake Forest

Maryland

Virginia (it's still possible)

North Carolina (crazy things happen in rivalry games)

NC State

Georgia Tech

ACC wins: 3

Season win total: 6