College football version of Big Ten/ACC Challenge on tap in Week 3

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Northwestern at Duke

The nation’s elite must think its cute when the highest of the higher learning football schools get together to decide the best of the smart kids.

Stanford, Northwestern, Duke, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest have consistently matched up in recent years and the academic jokes are becoming less applicable.

Stanford has straight up won big vs the best since Jim Harbaugh turned around the program. Northwestern has become a postseason fixture for more than a decade; most recently defeating Mississippi State of the SEC in the 2013 Gator Bowl. Duke is 21-8 since the start of the 2013 campaign including an appearance in the ACC Championship Game that year. Even Vandy won 18 games in two years before James Franklin decided to bolt for Happy Valley.

Northwestern has a chance to start 3-0 after upsetting Stanford 16-6 and besting Eastern Illinois 41-0. Duke is also 2-0 with nondescript wins over North Carolina Central and Tulane by a combined 92-7.

Despite the recent progress, the Blue Devils were expected to take a step back this year after losing QB Anthony Boone, playmaker Jamison Crowder and a host of defensive starters.

Junior QB Thomas Sirk leads the offense in both passing and rushing. He’s hit on over 67 percent of his passes with a 5-0 TD to INT ratio and leads the team with 154 yards on the ground. Shaun Wilson (134 Rush Yards) and Shaq Powell (95) share the running back carries. Johnell Barnes caught 11 passes last week vs Tulane after catching just 23 in 2014.

The Wildcats beat Stanford with a stifling defense that accounted for three sacks and eight tackles for loss while limiting the vaunted Cardinal rushing attack to 85 yards. Freshman QB Clayton Forson has been asked to throw just 40 times in two games. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Justin Jackson lugged it 28 times vs Stanford for 134 yards. He is the man that makes a limited offense go.

Duke will thrive against the ACC’s bottom feeders. True, Northwestern may have benefitted from a bad day from Kevin Hogan vs Stanford. But rush defense doesn’t go into a slump. Cutcliffe’s ability to prepare a quarterback and an offense gives me a moment of hesitation. This one should be close, but I like what the Wildcats have going.

Line: Duke by 3.5

‘Cats take the Dukies 24-20