Week 3 Saturday Six-Pack: Ole Miss-Alabama Headlines

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NORTHWESTERN AT DUKE

Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT

TV: ESPN3.com

Las Vegas Line: Duke -3.5

With Northwestern knocking off Stanford, and Duke having beaten up on Tulane Week 1, the winner of Saturday’s contest in Wallace Wade Stadium can stake claim to the mythical

Nerds

Ha! Take that for meeting impossibly high academic standards, juggling rigorous coursework with the inherent challenges of Div. I football and preparing to run the country!

Easy as it might be to play up the academic angle, reality is that these are two fine football teams with damn good head coaches.

What David Cutcliffe’s accomplished in his time at Duke is nothing short of remarkable. Just making a bowl game was the standard of success a few, short years ago. Now the Blue Devils are Top 25-caliber and contenders for divisional championships.

Cutcliffe’s storied quarterback-coaching acumen continues this season with Thomas Sirk. Through two games, Sirk has completed just shy of 68 percent of his attempts for five touchdowns, no interceptions and 605 yards.

Past Cutcliffe pupils Peyton and Eli Manning lent their expertise to the Duke quarterback.

Duke’s prolific, offensive style contrasts with Northwestern’s stout, defensive identity. The Wildcats take their image directly from their head coach, Pat Fitzgerald, a star linebacker for arguably the greatest team in Northwestern history.

Northwestern has yet to surrender a passing touchdown this season, and held Weeks 1 and 2 opponents Stanford and Eastern Illinois to completion percentages in the 50s.

Duke’s passing attack is more potent than either offense Northwestern has seen thus far. It may not happen early, but I like the Blue Devils to break through on the stingy Wildcats for enough big plays to force the pace-of-play in their favor and secure a win that lands them in the Top 25.

PREDICTION: DUKE 27, NORTHWESTERN 21