What to watch in the ACC: Week 15

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
10:15
AM ET
So it comes down to this. No. 1 Florida State and No. 20 Duke square off in Charlotte, N.C., with the ACC title on the line, and with much more at stake for the Seminoles, who are a win away from a berth in the national title game. Here are a few things to keep an eye on Saturday night (8 ET, ABC) when both teams take the field:

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Ellen Ozier/USA TODAY SportsDavid Cutcliffe and Duke are out to shock the college football world and upset No. 1 Florida State.
1. The noise factor. No, we're not talking about the volume of the crowd here. We're talking about the external factors going into this game for both teams. Duke has been written off as a four-touchdown underdog, has been criticized for its allegedly easy path to the Coastal Division title and has been told over and over again that it has no business being in this game. Florida State, meanwhile, will know the outcome of the Jameis Winston saga by kickoff. How each responds emotionally once the game is underway is worth watching.

2. Red zone efficiency. Florida State ranks at or near the top of the ACC in most statistical categories, including red zone efficiency (No. 1 in offense, No. 2 in defense). Duke, on the other hand, is ranked near the middle of the pack in most categories, but the Blue Devils are No. 4 in red zone defense, which does not exactly underscore just how good they have been in recent weeks when pressed inside their own 20 (six touchdowns allowed in their last five games, after surrendering 15 in their first seven). If the Blue Devils can hold the Seminoles to some field goals on what are likely to be several trips into their territory, or even force a turnover or two, they will give themselves a chance to pull off a monumental upset.

3. Special teams. What will help Duke even more? Big special-teams plays. And the Blue Devils have excelled in that department. They are No. 2 in the ACC in punt return average (13.6), yards and touchdowns (two), and they lead the conference in kickoff return average (26.2) and touchdowns (two). Can DeVon Edwards and/or Jamison Crowder come through again for Duke? It certainly would not hurt to steal a few points in the third phase of the game if the Blue Devils want to crash the BCS and help re-shape the national title picture.

Matt Fortuna | email

College Football

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