Home field could make the difference in a battle of 2-0 teams both straight up and ATS when the Northwestern Wildcats visit the Duke Blue Devils in Durham on Saturday.
It is the Big Ten vs. the ACC on a battle of unbeatens Saturday and the home field advantage could make all the difference when the Northwestern Wildcats (2-0, 2-0 ATS) of the Big Ten pay to visit to those Duke Blue Devils (2-0, 2-0 ATS) of the ACC at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, NC at 12:30 ET in a game available on ESPN3.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Duke as a moderate home favorite for this contest with the current line at -3½ with odds of +100.
Unbeaten Straight Up and ATS
Something has to give in this game as neither team has yet tasted defeat or failed to cover a spread. Duke has changed its football culture since David Cutcliffe took over as head coach and is now expected to go to a bowl game every year. Well, so far so good as the Blue Devils have been winning college football picks 37-7 on the road at Tulane and 55-0 here at home over North Carolina Central of the FCS so far.
Northwestern meanwhile has failed to go to a bowl game the last two years, blowing a chance to become bowl eligible last year with a bad home loss to a bad Illinois team to end the season. The Wildcats served notice that this year will be different though by upsetting Stanford 16-6 to open the season and then doing what they are supposed to do vs. an FCS team in Eastern Illinois with a 41-0 rout. Northwestern does now go on the road for the first time though.
25 Wins in Three Years
Duke is no longer just a basketball power as the football team has now won 25 games the last three years with all of those seasons ending with bow bids. Granted the Blue Devils return a modest 12 starters overall, but they include all five starters in the defensive secondary. Thus it should come as no surprise that Duke is allowing just 189 passing yards per game on a mere 5.3 yards per pass attempt in the early going.
The surprise has been the run defense with the Blue Devils allowing just 1.6 yards per carry, as the young wide bodies in the interior of the defensive line Edgar Cerenord and Quaven Ferguson have lived up to their press clippings so far. As long as that continues, the Duke defense will be extremely tough and maybe help pull a few upsets vs. the elite ACC teams later on in the season.
The offense was searching for a replacement for the departed Anthony Boone at quarterback and Thomas Sirk has filled that void nicely thus far completing an impressive 42-of-62 passes (67.7 percent) for 604 yards with five touchdown passes and not a single interception. Yes, we get that the competition has not been much and Northwestern has a good experienced secondary of it is own, but Duke should be able to run well here, opening up passing lanes for Sirk.
Duke has three good running backs with a diverse skill set in the speedy Shaun Wilson, the bruising Jela Duncan and a runner in Shaq Powell that is a combination of both, and as a result the Blue Devils are averaging an excellent 247.0 rushing yards per game. The Northwestern run defense has held up well so far, but it is still an undersized unit that allowed six teams to rush for over 200 yards per game last year.
Surprised Stanford in Week 1
Yes, Northwestern owns the best win for either team with its Week 1 win over Stanford back home in Evanston, but they probably caught the Cardinal by surprise and Stanford was sloppy and out of sorts the entire game as a west coast team playing a 12:00 Noon ET game. So was the 240 total yards for that game the result of great Northwestern defense or bad Stanford offense?
Sadly we lean more to the latter, at least up front, as the Wildcats’ defensive line made no real improvement to the unit that was shredded on the ground so often last year and yet somehow held the Cardinal to 3.1 yards per rush. The fine pass defense was more expected, but if Duke continues its fine running with its talented three-headed backfield vs. a probably overachieving run defense so far, then it would also make the good Northwestern secondary vulnerable.
No Place Like Home
Finally, Duke has been a nice bet at home under Coach Cutcliffe, going 19-7-1 ATS in its last 27 games at Wallace Wade Stadium, and the Blue Devils have stepped up nicely vs. winning teams regardless of the venue going 10-1 ATS in their last 11 games vs. teams with winning records! Conversely, Northwestern is 4-12 ATS in its last 16 games vs. teams with winning records.
Expect those patterns to continue with Duke prevailing rather safely at home in Durham over Northwestern on Saturday.
College Football Pick: Duke -3½ (+100)