Poll voting can be misleading.
That’s true of both the Associated Press ballots cast by writers and the USA Today tallies from the coaches.
In the past decade or so, Michigan has been the butt of overrated scoffs. The Wolverines brought it upon themselves with their 2007 season-opening loss at home to Appalachian State, but the they aren’t alone.
But sometimes the polls reveal results beyond a team ranked too high or too low.
The Week 3 results (actually, only the second poll since the preseason due to truncated opening week games), Duke lost a football game by two touchdowns, 27-13 Saturday at Notre Dame, yet climbed from one vote in the USA Today preseason poll to 13 this week. It’s not enough for the Top 25, but it’s worth noting.
The writers left blank on their ballots Duke, which plays its home opener against Boston College, making its season debut, at noon Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium. But maybe the coaches voting for the Blue Devils think Notre Dame was ranked too low as a preseason No. 10. The Irish moved up to No. 7 in both polls.
“I had a number of coaches text me,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “I think they saw a good football team in Duke. I think that’s legitimate. To stay there you have to win to get votes. To be considered a good football team you’ve got to win. I don’t think everybody realized the ability Notre Dame has. This Notre Dame team is better than a year ago. I don’t like coming close. I like playing well. We did play well, but we didn’t play well enough to win. I certainly think we earned consideration.
Eight Big Ten and Pac-12 listed in the preseason poll but not eligible now that games are underway dropped out. That opened room for Duke, but the only other 0-1 team among “others” was preseason No. 25 Iowa State; the Cyclones trail Duke with six votes. The Blue Devils also have equal or more points than five teams that won games, Arkansas State (13), Texas Tech (11), Coastal Carolina (8), North Texas (5) and South Florida (3).
For Duke, matching up with the Irish long enough to trail only 17-13 into the fourth quarter was an extreme contrast from a year ago. Duke lost to then-No. 2 Alabama in the season opener, 42-3, and then in the ninth week fell to then-No. 15 Notre Dame, 38-7.
Duke wasn’t overpowered up front with its improved size and experience in the offensive line. The Irish made big plays for losses, but throughout 60 minutes it wasn’t a mismatch. Duke scored first with a field goal for a 3-0 lead when quarterback Chase Brice connected with Eli Pancol for a 55-yard gain to the 8-yard line. Duke outgained Notre Dame 151 to 7 in the first quarter. By halftime, Duke still led 246 to 238; the difference was Notre Dame converted plays for a touchdown and 10-6 lead.
Defensively, Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams had 205 all-purpose yards with 112 rushing and 93 receiving, but the Blue Devils forced three consecutive three-and-outs to open the game. Notre Dame’s initial first down wasn’t until the third play of the second quarter.
The Irish were about to punt three plays later, but sophomore punter Jay Bramblett, a high school quarterback, needed to cut back inside to sidestep from the defense stringing out. A typical punter made not have made that cut — or even had a fake punt called for him. Bramblett’s first down sparked the Irish to finish a 12-play, 96-yard drive for a 7-3 lead with 10:39 remaining in the first half.
Duke has strong defensive ends with NFL prospects Chris Rumpf II and Victor Dimukeje, but the question was inside. Senior Derrick Tangelo (6-2, 310) and redshirt junior Ben Fry (6-2, 255) were stout against the run until later in the contest. Notre Dame ran at them early; Tangelo finished with five tackles and Frye three.
Notre Dame finished with 73 plays for 441 yards total offense to Duke with 67 and 334.
“Our locker room was a blend of disappointment in South Bend,” Cutcliffe said, “but also understanding we are a different team than we were a year ago – and we were.”