Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: New-look Blue Devils 'a dangerous crowd'

This week's Q&A-Mac is brought to you by Duke Week: Now with new and improved interest!

Q: Indeed, Duke brings a 5-1 record into Lane Stadium today. Are the Blue Devils for real?

A: Well, they didn't exactly load up their nonconference schedule with heavyweights, and the one ranked team they did play (Stanford) beat them 50-13. But combined with Virginia Tech's struggles so far this year, this is the first time I can recall Duke being a legitimate "dangerous crowd," as Frank Beamer likes to say.

Q: You must not have been around for the Steve Spurrier days, huh?

A: Nope, but I remember the Ted Roof era well.

Q: Still, the Devils have played the Hokies pretty tight in recent years, haven't they?

A: They have, but those have always been surprises (at least to me). A tight game today - or even a Duke win - wouldn't be. This is their big shot, a chance to become bowl eligible by mid-October. Heck, even the New York Times wrote a story on Duke football this week.

Q: Duke this, Duke that. Is everyone just dismissing the fact that the Hokies are a 10-point favorite?

A: Good point. But I think that has a lot to do with the history of the series, given that 36-0 (2006) or 45-0 (2005) Tech victories used to be common. Different Tech team, different Duke team. The Hokies are 1-5 against the spread so far this year; the Devils are 5-1 vs. the line.

Q: Will the back-to-basics hitting drills the Hokies did in practice this week help their tackling today?

A: Can't hurt. You know Duke's going to complete some passes. Wrapping up in the open field and limiting yards after the catch are what it's all about today. Well, that and getting a little pressure on the quarterbacks.

Q: How great have the baseball playoffs been so far?

A: Exceedingly great. All four division series went to five games for the first time. You know Bud Selig's got to love that, and not just because of the drama and interest of win-or-go-home games.

Q: Why else?

A: Because every potential disaster with shoehorning in the new playoff system this year and compressing the schedule has been averted. You didn't have a team with a better record getting swept. In the 2-3 format, a higher seed bowing out after playing only one home game would have been brutal.

Also, the removal of a second travel day kept the momentum continuous. You lose one night, you play again the next - sort of like how baseball ought to be.

Q: Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s streak of 461 consecutive Sprint Cup starts will end this weekend, as he misses the Charlotte race because of a concussion. How big of a blow is this to NASCAR?

A: Bigger than you might think. Earnhardt wasn't going to win the title this year, but there were reports out of Charlotte of some fans packing their campers and leaving once they heard he wasn't going to be racing.

Earnhardt plans to skip next week's event at Kansas, too, and hopes to return for the Oct. 28 race at Martinsville Speedway. You know track officials have their fingers crossed on that one.

Q: Comment of the week on the blog?

A: We have two. First, from Trevor, on why he's picking Tech to lose today: "I don't care if this is Duke. Tech is in a down year, and the running game is virtually nonexistent, and the defense is more up and down than the humps on a camel."

And secondly, from Zman: "Hope the Hokies win. I also think they'll cover. They are going to wake up angry sooner or later and someone will pay."

Q: Which do you agree with?

A: Both. Or maybe neither. I don't know. Like I said, it ought to be interesting.

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