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Duke Opens Football Season Saturday With NCCU

Game time: 6:00 || Venue: Wallace Wade: || Video: ESPN3

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Duke v Wake Forest
WINSTON-SALEM, NC - NOVEMBER 28: Breon Borders #31 celebrates his interception with Assistant Coach Derek Jones of the Duke Blue Devils during their game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at BB&T Field on November 28, 2015 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Duke defeated Wake Forest 27-21.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Duke football opens the season at home against MEAC co-champion North Carolina Central. The Blue Devils have beaten the Eagles all four times they’ve played during Cutcliffe’s tenure, most recently 55-0 last year. We expect that trend to continue, but we’ll give some team history and some names likely to be called during the game.

Central has won a share of the MEAC title in ’14 and ’15, but have lost post-season chances on tiebreakers both years. Their goal for the year is to get to the post-season, a goal that luckily will not be hindered should the Blue Devils take care of business on Saturday.

Incidentally, winning even a share of the championship would give the Eagles a three-peat for the first time in school history. Speaking of school history, HC Jerry Mack was the first coach in NCCU history to win 15 games in two years. Eagles defensive end Ryan smith was drafted by Tampa Bay after last season. He recorded five tackles in their game against Duke last year.

The Eagles bring back fifteen of their starters, most importantly redshirt senior quarterback Malcom Bell, who recorded 1,581 passing yards last year, along with 509 rushing yards, and 13 total touchdowns. He is labeled as a dual-threat quarterback, which will at least be familiar to the Duke defense.

He will throw to wide receivers Quentin Atkinson, who lost all but one game last year to injury, Khalil Stinson, who played only three of last year’s games while recording 10 catches and returning two punts. Both receivers are 6’ 2’’, 200, giving them a slight height advantage on Duke’s starting corners. As a result of more experience and depth on offense, we may see more scoring than last year (the bar is low).

The Eagles also boast 2015 MEAC Rookie of the Year in running back Dorrel McClain, who rushed for over 900 yards and scored 8 touchdowns last year.

Their defense was highly ranked in TFL, red zone defense, sacks, and run defense, among FCS teams. Their top linebacker, Jeremy Miles missed the Duke contest, and LeGrande Harley missed the season as a transfer.

The front seven likely will not be able to do heavy damage to an FBS offensive line, especially given Duke’s strength at the position, but the run game will get at least a healthy challenge. Moreover, the weak secondary gives Daniel Jones and a young receiving corps a friendly matchup to open the season.

Special teams for the Eagles produced three punt return touchdowns and four blocked punts, so Duke special teams will need to avoid being unreasonably rusty if they want to help replicate last year’s shutout.

The expectation for Duke is a thorough win, even given the various questions we raised in the season preview.

The Blue Devils should be looking for revenge against Northwestern in Week Three, but it will be important to execute against Central (and again at home against Wake Forest next week) in order to build confidence heading into that matchup.

Duke’s non-conference schedule is progressively getting stronger as the years roll on, and so it is crucial that the Blue Devils win the games they’re heavily favored in.