#1 Alabama set to face Duke

 
 
STATS LLC

While recovering from knee surgery, Mark Ingram has watched a pair of impressive games from his Alabama teammates. The school's only Heisman Trophy winner might play a part in the next one.

Ingram and defensive end Marcell Dareus are expected to return when the top-ranked Crimson Tide make their first trip to Duke on Saturday.

On Monday, Ingram took part in his first practice since undergoing surgery on his left knee Aug. 31, and he appears ready to return after a two-game absence. The junior running back injured his knee five days before a 48-3 season-opening win over San Jose State on Sept. 4.

In his place, Trent Richardson has rushed for 210 yards and three touchdowns. The sophomore had a career-best 144 yards and one score in last Saturday's 24-3 home victory over then-No. 18 Penn State.

Greg McElroy threw for 229 yards and two touchdowns, and the defense held the Nittany Lions scoreless until there was 9:47 remaining.

The Crimson Tide (2-0) are ranked in the top 20 nationally in total offense and defense, having allowed the fewest points in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Those rankings could get better with the additions of Ingram, who rushed for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns last year to help Alabama win its 13th national title, and Dareus, the defensive MVP of last year's BCS championship game.

Dareus, who had a team-best 6 1/2 sacks last season and returned an interception for a touchdown in the title game win over Texas, was suspended two games by the NCAA for accepting nearly $2,000 in improper benefits from an agent on two trips to Miami. The school chose not to appeal the suspension in time for last week's matchup with Penn State.

"We're hopeful that those guys will be able to contribute in a very positive way and make us better," coach Nick Saban said. "That's our expectation and there is no reason for us to think any differently based on their attitude, how they've worked or what they've done to this point to be ready to be able to play."

Saban will see a familiar face on the opposing sideline when he faces Duke for the first time as Alabama's coach. Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe led SEC rival Mississippi when Saban was at LSU.

Inheriting a program that won a combined 10 games in its previous eight seasons, Cutcliffe has guided Duke to a 10-16 mark since taking over in 2008. Last year, he nearly led the Blue Devils to their first non-losing season since 1994 with a 5-7 finish.

Duke was 101st in yards per game and 100th in scoring after the former Tennessee offensive coordinator's first season, but enters this game ranked ninth (514.5 yards per game) and 15th (44.5 points per game) in those categories.

The Blue Devils (1-1) opened with a 41-27 victory over Elon but lost the second highest-scoring game in ACC history last Saturday, 54-48 to Wake Forest.

Duke's Sean Renfree threw for four touchdowns and a career-high 358 yards, including 181 to Conner Vernon, and Desmond Scott ran for a career-best 122. However, the Blue Devils never led after the first quarter and let the Demon Deacons rack up 500 yards.

"We just kept fighting. As many problems as we were having defensively, our kids never shut down. There is a lot to that and that is encouraging," Cutcliffe said. "We don't expect anyone to give up on this young team because it can do some special things."

Duke is 0-10 all-time against No. 1 teams.

Alabama leads the series 2-1 and won the previous meeting 30-14 in Tuscaloosa in 2006. Duke's only win came in the 1945 Sugar Bowl.

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