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First Up For Duke Football: NCCU

The Bull Durham bowl is on.

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Duke v Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 19: Daniel Jones #17 of the Duke Blue Devils looks to pass during the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 19, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Football seasons opens with a nice recent tradition, an intra-Durham game between Duke and North Carolina Central.

We’d bet an awful lot of Duke students, now and through the years, would have no idea if you asked them for directions to NCCU.

There’s been an unfortunate gap between the schools and sports competition, which mostly started after the Duke lacrosse case, has helped to bridge it.

Duke has dominated the football competition, and none of the games have been particularly close.

Duke has immense advantages over Central. From training to nutrition to some extraordinary innovations in sports technology, Duke is on the cutting edge and does things that Central simply can’t do or compete in.

In the last three meetings, Duke has won 45-0, 55-0 and 49-6. It’s fair to say that Duke has dominated the series - the Blue Devils have won five straight.

And it’s not like Central is a bad team or poorly coached. Last year the Eagles went 8-0 in the MEAC before losing to Grambling State 10-9 in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl.

NCCU returns eight starters on defense but will have to find a new quarterback as three-year starter Malcolm Bell is gone.

Duke is in a opposite situation: after Achilles injuries wiped out last year for Thomas Sirk, freshman Andrew Jones stepped in at QB. It took him a while to adjust but by the end of the season he had left a solid impression. He finished the year with 2,836 passing yards. If he maintains that pace for his career, even without improvement, he’ll be close to a top 30 career finish (#30, Zac Dystert of Miami of Ohio, finished with 12,016). Jones led all freshman in pass completions with 270.

Duke has a lot of answers at running back too with Shaun Wilson leading the way. There are several promising freshmen on the roster - Brittain Brown, Elijah Deveaux, Deon Jackson, Marvin Hubbard and Joshua Blackwell. We’ll start to see how that sorts out Saturday.

TJ Rahming leads a core of receivers. Receiving is a bit of a mystery for Duke with some guys who could become very good but who haven’t really stepped up yet (some because of youth).

On defense, Duke has some very promising pieces, led by Ben Humphries and Joe-Giles Harris. Duke played eight true freshmen on defense last season, the most David Cutcliffe has ever used. Injuries really hurt there too so hopefully this season Duke has better luck in that regard.

One other area of concern for Duke last season was the kicking game. Cutcliffe takes special teams very seriously and that’s been an edge for the Devils quite often. Duke at least has more options this seasons so we’ll see. It’s very likely to be improved but is still a real concern.

One of the other things that’s going to be interesting tomorrow is quite simple: for the first time in 456 games, since 1976, someone besides Bob Harris will be behind the mike for the Duke radio network.

That’s going to take some getting used to. We’re sure David Shumate is a consummate professional but approaching Bob’s standard won’t be easy, and since part of that standard involves loyalty, we can’t know that for a long time.

We certainly hope so though.

We wish him the very best of luck as he starts what we hope is a long and fruitful Duke career.

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