- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
Florida State has the best record in the ACC but can't afford a slip-up if it wants to have any chance at a conference title.
Duke leads the Coastal Division and is in control of its own destiny in an unlikely bid for a spot in the ACC championship game.
If it weren't for a history of Florida State dominance in the series, this would certainly have the status as one of the conference's marquee games of the season. Even with FSU installed as a heavy favorite, there are still plenty of interesting storylines to follow.
Here's a look at our top five:
1. Is Duke for real?
As it stands, this might be an ACC championship game preview, which certainly is surprising given Duke's dismal football history. The Blue Devils have ended long droughts against Wake Forest and UNC already this season, and they had a 20-0 first-half lead against Virginia Tech before faltering, so clearly this year's Duke team is better than its pedigree. But FSU is 17-0 all-time against Duke, and the games have never been particularly close. This year's game could represent a chance for Duke to prove it's taken the next step or for FSU to show that not much has changed.
2. How will the running game fare without Chris Thompson?
Florida State didn't miss a beat last week after Thompson went out with a season-ending knee injury. James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman combined for 119 yards and three touchdowns following Thompson's second-quarter departure. Duke comes into this game ranked seventh in the ACC in rushing defense, allowing an average of 153 yards per game, while Freeman, Wilder and fullback Lonnie Pryor are all averaging at least 6 yards per carry as Thompson's understudies this season.
3. Does Duke have Florida State's attention?
The long history of dominance over Duke certainly provides ample reason for FSU to overlook the Blue Devils, and the looming bye week after three straight months of constant work offers ample opportunity to look ahead. But Florida State players insist there's no chance of enjoying the bye if they don't beat Duke, and while the Seminoles have been lethargic at times on the road this season, they've averaged a whopping 55 points per game at home -- the second-best mark in the country.
4. Will Conner Vernon set the ACC receiving record at Doak Campbell Stadium?
The record currently belongs to Florida State alum Peter Warrick, but the Duke receiver is just 94 yards to eclipse that mark. Vernon, a senior, has drawn raves from FSU coaches and DBs for his fundamentally sound technique and deceptive quickness, but Xavier Rhodes and Co. aren't interested in seeing the record set on Warrick's home turf.
5. How will Florida State's special teams perform?
There are a handful of intriguing questions on FSU's special teams, from Dustin Hopkins' quest for the ACC record for most field goals (he needs just two) to punter Cason Beatty's recent struggles (two blocks and one shanked kick in last four games) to combatting Duke's overall strength on special teams (second in ACC in punt returns, first in punting this season). But the biggest story line for Florida State will be the debut of Tyler Hunter as the Seminoles starting punt returner after Rashad Greene was benched this week following his third fumble of the season against Miami.