37F Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
Duke is facing quite a one-two punch to end its breakout season.
The 22nd-ranked Blue Devils struggled against eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and No. 1 Florida State in the ACC title game.
Now they must find a way to stop last year's Heisman winner, Johnny Manziel, and No. 20 Texas A&M (8-4) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve in what is expected to be Manziel's final college game.
" When we found out our matchup, we were all pumped about it because it's awesome to play against a guy that exciting and an offense that good," Duke linebacker Kelby Brown said. " It's a chance to make a statement for ourselves, and it's just fun. It's the nature of a competitor."
There isn't a whole lot the Blue Devils (10-3) can take from their preparations for Winston and the Seminoles that they can put to use against Manziel and the Aggies because they have different styles and run different offenses.
Duke linebacker David Helton, who has an ACC-leading 122 tackles, says Winston and Manziel are " two different quarterbacks."
Winston " is definitely a scrambler as well, but he's not as much of a scrambler as Manziel is," he added. " Manziel is built on scrambling. ... He likes to sit back there and kind of make magic happen, whereas Winston is more of a bigger guy and he likes to sit in the pocket a little bit more than Manziel does. Different mindsets for both of them."
Manziel hasn't revealed his plans for the future, but most believe the redshirt sophomore will declare for the NFL draft next month.
"I'm not going to reflect on that until it is his last game," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "All I can tell you is what he's done for the university up to this point (is) well-documented. His numbers speak for themselves. He is without a doubt the most exciting player in America."
Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy last season and came in fifth in this year's voting. He has been largely unavailable to the media this season.
Manziel will have a new play-caller in the bowl game with Sumlin announcing that co-offensive coordinator Jake Spavital will take over sole duties as offensive coordinator and call plays in place of Clarence McKinney, who is also running backs coach.
The Aggies were expected to contend for a national championship this season, but instead finished 8-4 - 0-4 against ranked opponents - and are coming off consecutive losses to LSU and Missouri.
" If we can win this game, it'll be the first time in the history of this program we've won three bowl games in a row," Sumlin said. " That's significant. There's been a lot of football games played and a lot of guys come through this room who can't say they've done that. That can be real special for our seniors and it can really propel us in the offseason."
Beating a Heisman winner would give Duke's big season another stamp of legitimacy.
The Blue Devils set a school record for wins, beat two Top 25 opponents, captured their first Coastal Division title and became the only team to shut out the Seminoles in the first quarter before losing 45-7 in the league title game.
" Once you play against the best and you play against somebody else, you can look at it and say, `OK, we played against the best, so what (else) is there out there?" ' freshman cornerback DeVon Edwards said. " If we do good against them, we should do good against anybody."
Duke quarterback Anthony Boone, whose first career loss as a starter came in the ACC title game, says there's no temptation to try to outduel Manziel because " that doesn't win football games.
" Guys like that are going to put up numbers. To try to go out there and compete with them is where I'll try to do too much and mistakes will happen," Boone said.
Boone had three turnovers while Winston accounted for four touchdowns and 389 total yards in Charlotte.
The Blue Devils are eager to get back on a big stage, atone for that performance and prove something to their doubters.
" What people are seeing right now is that we got beat really bad by Florida State, and maybe they're thinking, 'Well, Duke can hang in with most teams but not with that top tier," ' Brown said. " I think no one would argue that Texas A&M isn't one of those top-tier teams, so it's another chance for us to show that we belong up there."
Duke has suspended rushing leader Jela Duncan from school for an undisclosed violation of its academic policy. Duncan rushed for 562 yards and three touchdowns this season and caught 13 passes for 123 yards and a score.
Texas A&M has suspended standout freshman linebacker Darian Claiborne after he was arrested Sunday on two drug possession charges. Claiborne is tied for the team lead with 89 tackles.