David Cutcliffe has done wonders with this program in his now decade-plus in Durham (he’s entering his 11th season), consistently getting them to a bowl game and even having an occasional 9 or 10-win season. For a team like Duke, that’s remarkable. Last year, staring at 4-6 with 2 games left, the team beat Georgia Tech and Wake Forest as touchdown-or-more underdogs to make another bowl, where they thrashed Northern Illinois. Never count this team out, as long as Cutcliffe’s here.
This year, on paper, a return to a bowl seems likely. The team has 15 returning starters and both coordinators return for their 3rd season alongside Cutcliffe. QB Daniel Jones enters his junior year, having struggled a bit with injuries last season after a very enticing freshman campaign. His upside gives Duke a lot of reason to be confident this year that more success is possible.
The markets have Duke’s win total this season set at 6 -115 (5D), 5.5 -105/-115 (BOL), and 6.5 -105/-125 (DSI), so there’s an expectation they will be right around bowl eligibility at year’s end. Is that a reasonable expectation?
|10/13||@ Georgia Tech||+1.5|
|11/3||@ Miami (FL)||+13|
When Daniel Jones is good, he’s really good. He threw for 305 against Northwestern and 346 later in the year at Wake Forest. He also rushes for 500+ yards and 7 touchdowns. The talent is there, but the question is, with his propensity to run, can he stay healthy? Injuries derailed his productivity in the middle of the season when the team lost 6 games in a row. The good news for Jones is that he has an experienced receiver corps returning around him, with almost all their rec yards coming back, and experienced prolific tight ends as well. At runningback, Brittain Brown was really the wild card last season – the team was 5-0 in games where he carried the ball 10+ times. Now in a feature-back role, it will be fascinating to see how Brown evolves and if more carries continue to equal more success. The offensive line only returns 2 starters, so the non-conference slate may need to be a training ground to get the running game on track and roles or preferences established.
The defensive front is formidable, with almost every starter returning, including a 3rd-team All-American and 2nd-team all-conference pair of linebackers. Duke plays a 4-2-5 defensive scheme, and they would really like senior Jeremy McDuffie to play the important “strike” safety position, but he suffered a torn ACL in the team’s final regular-season game last year and is still recovering, although reports are good. The team lost 2 other starters in the secondary, and if McDuffie is also unable to go, that part of the team would be a monster question mark.
This is a rough slate, no getting around it. Northwestern, Baylor, and even Army will be problematic in the non-conference, although they will have the entire offseason to get ready for the option in Week 1. They draw Clemson and Wake Forest out of the Atlantic, not ideal, and have to play at Miami, the best team in their own division. Even if you assume wins vs NC Central, vs Virginia, and at Pitt, finding 3 wins the rest of the way could prove difficult unless their non-conference results are surprisingly good. There are 2 back-to-back road pairings, at NW/at Baylor in the non-con, and at Pitt/at Miami in the conference.
Win/Total pick: Over 5.5 -105 (BOL)
This is not a pick made with extreme confidence, but really I just believe in Cutcliffe, and if you give him this level of continuity and experience with so many returning players he can make something happen success-wise. The schedule is brutal, but this is a program accustomed to overachieving in these spots. If you’re looking for silver linings, getting to play the option and Army Week 1 makes them a lot more ready for Georgia Tech October 13th (and they have a bye before THAT game to re-acclimate themselves to the option). They get to play Virginia Tech a little earlier in the season, and considering all the new pieces the Hokies are breaking in, the earlier you can play them, the better. It probably comes down to the final 2 home games – vs UNC, and vs Wake Forest. Make me a believer once more, coach Dave.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
Sustaining success is not easy to do in college football. The Duke Blue Devils found that out last season. After winning 27 games from 2013-15, including the program’s first 10-win season and first bowl win in 55 years, Duke fell all the way to 4-8 last season. Duke was 13-3 on the road during that three-year span and then won just one road game in six tries. The Blue Devils were also 1-7 in ACC play.
Head coach David Cutcliffe has turned the Duke program from a laughing stock to a legitimate competitor. Last year marked the first season since 2011 that the Blue Devils failed to participate in the postseason. It also meant the first time that Duke didn’t get those much needed extra practices for making a bowl game. It was a challenging season in a lot of ways, as the team played more underclassmen than in past years and still had those bad luck injuries that Cutcliffe can never seem to avoid. With a reasonable schedule and some exciting returning starters, the Blue Devils may find themselves right back in a bowl game again.
Then again, maybe not. The betting market has a low ceiling for the Blue Devils, as 5Dimes Sportsbook is showing a win total of 5.5 and the juice is heavy on the under at -145. Keep in mind that the number does not include conference championships or bowl games. It only applies to the regular season, so an APR bowl berth wouldn’t save Duke if they only have five regular season wins.
|Date||Opponent||Projected Line||Expected Wins|
|9/23||@ North Carolina||+1.5||0.48|
|9/29 (F)||Miami (FL)||+13||0.17|
|10/28||@ Virginia Tech||+15.5||0.12|
|11/25||@ Wake Forest||+3.5||0.39|
Total Expected Wins: 4.71
There should be a lot of optimism about the Blue Devils offense this season. Sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones looked pretty good at the position in Zac Roper’s offense. Jones completed nearly 63 percent of his passes with a 16/9 TD/INT ratio. He also ran for 141 times for 486 yards. As you would expect, the sack totals went up with an inexperienced quarterback, but Jones is now in his second year and should improve. He’s got some help with running back Shaun Wilson, as long as he’s healthy. Behind Wilson, the Blue Devils are a bit depth-shy, so he’s going to have to stay healthy. A late bye week may not be the best thing for Wilson, who is on the smaller side at 5-foot-9. TJ Rahming had 70 catches during his sophomore season and is the clear top returner at WR.
The offensive line returns a starting center and a starting left tackle, so that’s a big plus for a young quarterback. Last year marked the first time that Duke managed less than four yards per carry since 2012. That’s something that will need to be addressed because the Blue Devils need to sustain drives in order to be competitive. They’re operating at a disadvantage athletically with so many programs in this league. Also, the non-conference slate features two tough opponents in Northwestern and Baylor very early in the year, so establishing the run in September could pay dividends in November.
Defensively, Duke is usually pretty competent. Only five starters return this season from a group that allowed 28.2 points per game. The Blue Devils allowed 33 points and 464 yards in league play, so it’s pretty clear that they have some work to do. Top returning tackles Joe Giles-Harries and Ben Humphreys have Sunday upside at the next level, but Duke needs some more consistency from the supporting cast. Big plays were the problem last season. Duke allowed 6.3 yards per play, nearly a full yard more than the previous season.
Duke’s best cover corner last season was Breon Borders and he has moved on. Borders got hurt against Virginia Tech and Duke allowed 297, 237, and 396 passing yards in the final three games. Teams also made significant adjustments after getting a chance to see Duke on film. The Blue Devils had 29 sacks last season, but 20 of those 29 came in the first five games of the season.
The Blue Devils left 21 points on the field last season, as kicker AJ Reed made only three of his 10 field goal attempts. Overall, the Blue Devils were pretty lackluster on special teams. Those little elements at the margins are so important for teams that are overmatched. Duke can ill afford to struggle in an area like that this season, but they probably will. The schedule is favorable in that Duke doesn’t play Clemson or Louisville from the Atlantic, but Northwestern and Baylor at home are not picnics in the non-conference part of the year.
Win Total Pick: Under 5.5
The juice is heavy, but the under is the play here. Duke just doesn’t have enough to compete. Even when Duke won 10 games in 2013, they only had a 5.9 to 5.7 yards per play advantage over the opposition. It was a similar story in 2014 with a 5.4 to 5.3 advantage. Duke seemed to run really well in close games. Last season, they won close and got beat by double digits when they lost. Cutcliffe has worked a lot of magic in Durham, but the pixie dust jar might be empty again this season.