Every top college football team has “danger” games on their schedule during the course of a season. This weekend in Durham, N.C. could be one for the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
While on paper Alabama should roll against Duke (1-1), games are not played on paper.
With SEC West foe Arkansas on the road a week from now, ‘Bama will look to get out of the gates early on Saturday against Duke and not allow the Blue Devils to sniff any thoughts of an upset.
Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram (knee surgery) and defensive end Marcell Dareus (two-game suspension) are expected to return as the Crimson Tide make their first trip to Duke.
Earlier in the week, Ingram took part in his first practice since undergoing surgery on his left knee Aug. 31, and he appears ready to return after a two-game absence.
While Ingram was missed, his replacement has been nothing short of great in the two games to start the season.
Sophomore Trent Richardson has rushed for 210 yards and three touchdowns, including a career-best 144 yards and one score in last Saturday’s 24-3 victory over then-No. 18 Penn State.
Alabama is ranked in the top 20 nationally in total offense and defense, having allowed the least amount of points in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“We’re hopeful that those guys (Ingam, Dareus) will be able to contribute in a very positive way and make us better,” coach Nick Saban told the media this week. “That’s our expectation and there is no reason for us to think any differently based on their attitude, how they’ve worked or what they’ve done to this point to be ready to be able to play.”
Taking over a program that won a combined 10 games in its previous eight seasons, former Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe has guided Duke to a 10-16 mark since hitting the field in 2008. Last year, Cutcliffe almost led the Blue Devils to their first non-losing season since 1994 with a 5-7 finish.
Duke enters the game ranked ninth (514.5 yards per game) and 15th (44.5 points per game) in those categories.
The Blue Devils (1-1) lost the second highest-scoring game in ACC history last Saturday, 54-48 to Wake Forest.
On offense, Duke is led by QB Sean Renfree, who threw for four touchdowns and a career-high 358 yards in the loss to the Demon Deacons. Receiver Conner Vernon accounted for 181 of those yards, and Desmond Scott rushed for a career-best 122.
Alabama leads the all-time series 2-1 and won the previous meeting 30-14 in Tuscaloosa in 2006. Duke’s only win over the Crimson Tide came in the 1945 Sugar Bowl.
While ‘Bama should win this game, look for an inspired effort from the Blue Devils, who will likely view this contest as their national championship game for 2010.
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Written by Dave Thomas