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College football preview: Duke at Virginia Tech

12:30 p.m. at Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va. TV: WTTG-5, WJZ-13. Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM). Records: Hokies 3-3, 1-1 ACC; Blue Devils 5-1, 2-0.

BIGGER STAKES For a change, Virginia Tech’s annual matchup with Duke carries considerable weight when it comes to the ACC’s wide-open Coastal Division race. Though the Blue Devils haven’t beaten the Hokies since they joined the ACC, Duke is off to its best start since 1994, just one win away from ending an 18-year bowl drought. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is reeling after three losses in four games and is currently off to its worst start since 1992. Another conference defeat would likely put Virginia Tech’s 19-year bowl streak in serious jeopardy. Even last year, when Duke finished 3-9, the Hokies needed some dramatic defensive stands to escape with a 14-10 win over the Blue Devils.

DEMORALIZED DEFENSE Virginia Tech entered this season with high expectations on defense, but the Hokies have been a mess on that side of the ball. Last week at North Carolina, Virginia Tech watched Tar Heels running back Gio Bernard run for 262 yards, the most the Hokies have ever allowed one player to gain. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster spent the week emphasizing tackling and fundamentals, but his secondary will be tested by Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon (41 catches, 555 yards, 5 touchdowns).

QB DILEMMA It’s unclear exactly who will start under center for Duke. Senior Sean Renfree has the highest completion percentage in the ACC this year, but he missed last week’s win over Virginia with an elbow injury. In his place, backup Anthony Boone threw four touchdown passes and showed he’s also a threat running the ball. Renfree has been listed as probable for Saturday’s game and Coach David Cutcliffe said he would make a decision on a starter Friday evening.

— Mark Giannotto

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