Las season, Duke’s young core led by the not-so-young David Cutcliffe had a season that looked a lot like a large, desolate valley in between two beautifully verdant hills. Their youth showed many flashes to begin the year, a large part of the reason I chose them as one of my gambling muses, fell into a well in the middle, and was dragged out by Lassie to close out the year. This ultimately led to me not making a ton of money (6-5-1 ATS), and a .500 record and a bowl win for the Devils. Promising for a young squad.
Last Year’s Record: 7-6
The weird nature analogy I threw in the intro tells the whole story of this average season record. The boys from Durham truly took on the persona of their school’s basketball nature and had a true season of runs. The first four saw them go undefeated, which leaked into an abysmal 0-6 stretch, which concluded with 3-0, including a bowl win in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Redshirt junior quarterback Daniel Jones looks to bounce back this year after a statistical slide from his redshirt freshman season. On more attempts, he saw dips in yards, completion percentage and td-int ratio. With a lot of youth in the backfield (the top three backs on the projected depth chart are redshirt sophomores or younger), a lot of the focus will again be placed on Jones to turn around the early down woes of Duke’s offense last season (first down yards per play average was ranked 119 in FBS).
Luckily, the youth of the backfield is countered by a plethora of experience in the receiving corps, including Jones’ safety blanket, redshirt senior tight end Daniel Helm. Another key to success for Jones could be an increased trust in his receivers, including deep threat Aaron Young and the senior trio of T.J. Rahming, Johnathan Lloyd and Chris Taylor.
Maybe the biggest thing to look out for with this team is the offensive line, which will have fresh faces at center and both tackle positions. Thanks to transfers and players waiting in the wings last season, there are players available to fill the void, but they will need to come together quickly to make this offense reach its peak efficiency.
Especially with some question marks on offense, this team’s bread and butter is undeniably the defense. They lost impact players from the secondary, but are still projected to be a far above average unit not only in the ACC, but in the national landscape (SB Nation has them as a projected top 30 defense).
The centerpiece of this defense is linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, who is an absolute tackling machine all over the field, including the backfield, where he has logged 25.5 tackles for loss in the last two seasons. If this defense is as good as projected, then he will be a household name by early November.
The special teams will be entirely revamped this year after losing their kicker, punter, and holder. All the replacements have college experience, but none were in starting roles last season, so their success will be something to watch for in the early stages of the season.
Key Losses: 3/5 offensive linemen (including center Austin Davis), running back Sean Wilson. Bryon Fields (cornerback), Alonzo Saxton (safety) and Mike Ramsay (defensive tackle).
All Name Team Member: Liam Smith, sophomore offensive tackle
There is a Liam Smith on Duke’s offensive line squad. There is also a Liam Smith who is incredibly important to the growth and success of Student Union as a website and a family. So you may have come here looking for a name like Skiddlybop Chihuahua, but I am incredibly proud of super-producer Liam Smith bulking up to a whopping 6 foot 5 and 270 pounds and finding his true calling as an offensive tackle for the Duke football Blue Devils.
SB Nation is giving Duke football a projected six wins this year despite the extra year under the young team’s belt and an above-average defense. This might be due to the bear of a schedule that they are looking at, including games at Northwestern, at Miami and at Clemson. Still, even seven or eight wins seems vaguely plausible with a challenging, but feasible non-conference schedule and a favorable home schedule. Overall, with the logjam that is the middle of the ACC, look for the Blue Devils to be on the plus side and for them to ultimately have a trip in December to a bowl game.