Next up for Duke is Northwestern out of the Big Ten.
Like Duke, Northwestern has always been an academic outlier in its conference. Unlike Duke, at least until recently, it has been fairly competitive in the Big Ten.
It’s somewhat odd actually that it’s been respectable in football but in basketball, which is an easier sport to compete in in many ways, it’s been vastly more difficult.
That’s been the opposite for Duke of course. The Blue Devils have been a solid basketball school for decades. When it was still a very young school Wallace Wade turned it into a football power and that lasted to some extent until the 1960s, but Duke is seen now as a basketball school by pretty much everyone.
We can hope that’s true for Northwestern too.
A lot of people still think Duke football is what It was more than a decade ago but David Cutcliffe has built a program which is more along the lines of an SEC program or Clemson or Florida State, although not with that talent level.
And his quarterback play is typically more like NFL sets than what you would see from Alabama, Clemson or FSU.
What is similar though is that Cutcliffe has recruited athletic players and trained them to play a style similar to those schools.
He’s found some obscure talents, like DeVon Edwards, who got one scholarship offer and took it, and Thomas Sirk, who didn’t play quarterback in high school.
Duke’s current quarterback, Daniel Jones, was also lightly recruited after playing for Charlotte Latin, not exactly a hotbed of college talent (we were a bit wrong on this. Charlotte Latin has been a highly successful program. However in NC, private schools are not nearly on the same level athletically as public schools).
He may turn out to be the best quarterback Cutcliffe has had as a college head coach and that includes Payton Manning.
Like the aforementioned schools, Cutcliffe puts a premium on athleticism and speed and recruits accordingly.
Last year’s matchup saw Duke go with a young and inexperienced Jones out of necessity: Thomas Sirk missed the season with an Achilles injury and Jones took a few games to adjust. He played well against Northwestern but not as well as he would later.
Duke had a great many other injuries as well which helped drag down the Devils down to a 4-8 mark.
Yet consider: despite the injuries and the baptism-by-fire of Jones, Duke lost to #19 Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech by three each, beat Notre Dame in front of Touchdown Jesus, beat #17 UNC and lost to #7 Louisville at Louisville by just 10.
And of course lost at Northwestern by nine too.
Remember, that game was tied 7-7 when Duke screwed up a punt leading to a Wildcat score.
And you may remember that Duke whiffed on some attempts and probably left 17 points on the field.
Talent wins games in any sport but execution can trump talent (we’re talking to you, Butler) and in that game, a young Duke team, lacking some critical upperclassmen, did not execute.
We’re not big on promising wins (how could anyone not participating do that?) but we will say this: last year’s Duke team could’ve won that game if it had limited mistakes.
An interception here, a 58-yard pass there and pretty soon you’re in real trouble.
Predictions are for suckers but we’d like you to keep these things in mind as you form your own expectations:
- Daniel Jones is growing up fast. He had a tough beginning last year but by the time he hit his stride he was playing very well. A year of weights and more Cutcliffe quarterback whispering and he could be on the verge of a breakout season.
- Shaun Wilson is a known factor in the backfield but Brittain Brown could be Duke’s best talent. That gives the Blue Devils a pretty potent run/pass offense in conjunction with Jones.
- Duke has a number of guys who are sold receivers as well.
It’s harder to get a sense of defense against an opponent like NCCU but Duke has Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris to build around. Giles-Harris had eight tackles and Humphreys had six as did impressive freshman Victor Dimukeje
Essentially Duke lost on the road last season because of inexperience and mistakes. This is still a young team but with a great deal more experience.
One question we do have is special teams. Kicking was a big problem last year and if it is this year, Duke will have a handicap. Cutcliffe has spoken often about how critical he thinks special teams are and in the past it’s made a world of difference for Duke. Better special team play last year could have put Duke in a bowl game.
If it’s up to his normal standards, Duke will stand a much better chance against a tough and well-coached Northwestern squad.
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