DURHAM, NC — The turnout for Mike Elko’s regular Monday press conference this week was significantly larger than usual, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by the Duke coach.

“Is there something going on?” he quipped before stepping up to the microphone to begin his remarks.

It was a rhetorical question. Still, there’s a simple answer.

Yes, there is something going on with the Blue Devils. But it’s much bigger than the reason all that extra media, including ESPN’s College GameDay, has converged on Durham.

To them, Saturday’s game against Notre Dame is little more than a curiosity item. The ultimate David vs. Goliath scenario between Elko’s little team that could against the mighty horde from South Bend in their shiny gold helmets.

In reality, it’s an opportunity for Duke to dispel that cliché-driven narrative and change the national perception of its vastly improved program.

It’s something that should probably already have happened after beating Clemson in a nationally televised Labor Day Night opener.

By 3 touchdowns, no less.

The Blue Devils did jump into the national rankings the following week and have since moved up to No. 17 in the latest polls – making Saturday’s game against the 11th-ranked Irish the 1st between ranked opponents at Wallace Wade Stadium since November 1994.

But instead of acknowledging that Duke has proven itself capable of playing big-boy football after winning 9 games a year ago, the prevailing storylines were all about Dabo Swinney’s disdain for the transfer portal and the apparent demise of Clemson as a national contender.

It’s taken the arrival of Notre Dame and the spotlight it carries around with it for the rest of college football to finally take notice.

Lights. Camera. Action.

Welcome to the big-time, Blue Devils. The stage is yours.

Now all you have to do is prove you belong there.

“We’ve talked about that validation word, the validation of all of the things we’re capable of,” Elko said. “All of the things we’re doing internally, all of the things that we believe in, inside our building, it doesn’t mean a whole lot to the general public or to the national landscape if we don’t deliver the way we have been able to deliver on the field.

“That’s something that just needs to continue for this thing to continue to grow at the level it’s capable of growing.”

The Blue Devils are more than capable of pulling it off.

They have a veteran team that has proven itself over the past season-and-a-half. They have a dynamic quarterback in Riley Leonard who, despite not having put up eye-popping numbers yet this season, makes things happen with both his arm and his legs. With plenty of playmakers surrounding him.

They’re bigger and stronger along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball than most acknowledge.

They have at least some advance knowledge of what to expect from having faced and beaten Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman when he played for Wake Forest last season. Elko, as a former defensive coordinator for the Irish, may also have some inside intel on how things are done under the Golden Dome.

And having already faced the distractions surrounding a high-profile matchup, they’ve proven their ability to handle such a situation without being intimidated by the opponent or overwhelmed by the moment.

But as the packed house attending Elko’s presser on Monday suggests, the extracurricular activities surrounding Saturday’s game and the magnitude of the opponent make this situation a completely different animal than the hoopla leading up to the opener against Clemson.

“Sometimes you get into games like this and kids start thinking about the plays that they’re going to make, how they’re going to show out on Saturday, how they’re going to deliver and all the attention that’s going to come with it,” Elko said. “And they don’t focus on all those little details that go into their ability to actually make those plays.”

Rather than sequestering his players to isolate them from the buzz that has enveloped their campus – or as he put it, locking them away in a closet until Saturday – Elko has chosen to go the opposite route. He’s encouraging them to embrace the experience while at the same time “educating” them that the attention they’re getting will only last as long as they deliver the goods.

“I told the guys (Monday) morning that we’re getting a lot of congratulations for GameDay coming here,” he said. “I’d rather wait and get some congratulations for how we play a football game Saturday night and just try to stay focused on the task at hand.”

Win or lose, focus will continue to be a challenge for the Blue Devils moving forward.

Their upcoming schedule doesn’t get any easier with games against Triangle rival NC State and No. 5 Florida State coming up in the next 2 weeks. There’s also an emotionally-charged battle for the Victory Bell at No. 15 North Carolina.

While those games will have a major impact on the ACC standings, none will draw the national attention that comes with a visit from Notre Dame. The college football world is watching and this is Duke’s opportunity to show that it’s more than just a basketball school.

All it has to do now is take advantage of it.