PHOTO: USA Today Sports
Duke Blue Devils (10-3) vs Texas A&M Aggies (8-4)
Tuesday, December 31st @ 8 PM (ESPN)
Line: A&M by 12.5
How Duke got here: The Blue Devils were the feel good story of the year in college football. After a 24 point blowout loss to Georgia Tech and a 58-55 loss to Pitt, Duke stood at 2-2. The Blue Devils went on to win their next eight games. In that stretch they knocked off four bowl teams including two teams that were ranked in the Top 25 at the time of the game. Duke made the ACC Championship Game for the first time in school history.
How A&M got here: The Aggies won 5 of their first 6 and 8 of their first 10, yet they finished with a disappointing 8-4 record. Johnny Manziel was banged up during the season and the defense never carried their share of the load. Against Top 25 teams, A&M went 0-4.
For Duke to win: The Blue Devils need to hang within shouting distance of the Aggies. Duke has won four games this year by by 7 or less points so they know how to pull games out if they are close. They also need to take care of the football as they are averaging almost two turnovers per game. On defense, they have to limit the big plays. Duke was last in the ACC in giving up plays of 10 or more yards as they surrendered 189 this season.
For A&M to win: With some time off, it's time to let Johnny be Johnny. As a freshman he ran for 1,410 yards. This season he ran for just 686. On defense, they need to make an occasional stop. They had the worst red zone defense in the SEC in terms of giving up TDs as opponents scored TDs on 74% of their red zone trips against the Aggies. In losses, third down has been a sore spot as the Aggies have stopped opponents less than 50% of the time.
Key Players (Duke): Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell, RB. A&M is dead last in the SEC in ypc (5.31) and ypg (221.33) given up. With Jela Duncan out, it's time for these two to take center stage and either of them is capable of having a big game against this Aggies defense.
Key Player (A&M): Johnny Manziel, QB. There is about a 99% chance that Manziel goes pro after this game. Look for Manziel to want to atone for the two late season losses to LSU and Mizzou and go out a winner at A&M.
Key Stat: Texas A&M was the only team in the SEC to give up more than 10 rushing plays of 30 or more yards this season (they gave up 12)