Duke football has gone bowling six of the last seven seasons.
Can Duke continue that run?
David Cutcliffe and staff will have to fill some holes to plug, quarterback, wide receiver, tight end and linebacker particular areas of concern.
But that’s business as usual. Successful teams rarely return everyone and successful programs have the pieces to plug the gaps.
That’s how they become successful programs.
And I’ll talk about this more over the next few months, as Duke begins spring ball, sometime in March.
But replacing talent isn’t Duke’s only roadblock.
There’s that schedule.
Non-conference games against two of the four teams in the most recent playoffs and an ACC cross-over game against a Syracuse team coming off a 10-3 season.
In fact, 11 of Duke’s 12 2019 opponents went bowling last season. UNC was the only one who didn’t and no one expects a rivalry game on the road to be easy.
And only six home games.
Until and unless the ACC expands or contracts or rearranges itself, Duke is locked into an eight-game conference schedule, four at home, four on the road.
That leaves four non-conference games. Duke had three non-conference games at home--meaning seven total home games-as recently as 2017. But next season is a 2/2 split, the second year in a row.
Technically, the season opener against Alabama is a neutral-site game. But if the Alabama nation could turn Wallace Wade crimson, as happened back in 2010, it’s pretty easy to imagine the same thing happening in Atlanta.
Alabama figures to start the season ranked either No. 1 or No. 2. Duke hasn’t had much recent success against highly-ranked, non-ACC teams.
Actually they haven’t had any. Under David Cutcliffe, Duke as regular-season losses to Alabama and twice to Stanford, by margins of 49, 30 and 37 points.
Sure, half of the 2019 NFL draft will be comprised of Alabama players. But the players replacing them will be first-round picks in 2020 or 2021.
Don’t expect a drop-off.
Duke is 1-3 all-time against Alabama, the only win the 1945 Sugar Bowl. Only the most dewy-eyed Duke optimist sees that streak ending this August.
Duke may have a puncher’s chance against Notre Dame. After all, the Devils defeated the Irish only two seasons ago, in South Bend, no less. That wasn’t a vintage Notre Dame team. But it wasn’t a very good Duke team, either.
Duke has only hosted Notre Dame one time, back in 1961. Duke won 37-13 over a Notre Dame team quarterbacked by future pro star Daryle Lamonica.
Notre Dame got its revenge five years later, 64-0 worth of payback.
It figures to be an uphill fight for Duke.
Middle Tennessee (road) and North Carolina A&T (home) round out the no-conference schedule.
You may wonder why Duke is playing at Middle Tennessee. But under Cutcliffe, Duke has played at Florida International and at Troy. That’s the price you pay for not being able to fill a 60,000-seat stadium and guarantee a boatload of money.
You may recall Appalachian State bludgeoning some team you’ve never heard of in the New Orleans Bowl last month.
That was Middle Tennessee.
NC A& T replaces NC Central as the local MEAC opponent. A MEAC team shouldn’t be able to compete with an ACC team. But they shouldn’t have been able to beat East Carolina, either, and they did last season. And they did win the HBCU national championship. They know something about spotlights.
At the very least, they should provide more competition than Central.
I don’t think I’m being unduly pessimistic to suggest that a 2-2 non-conference mark is realistic.
That means Duke would have to go 4-4 in the ACC to get even a low-tier bowl game.
Duke has been 1-7, 3-5 and 3-5 in the ACC over the last three seasons. Until Duke can figure out ways to beat Pittsburgh (four straight losses), Virginia (four) and Virginia Tech (three ), then that’s going to be difficult.
Clemson was Duke’s cross-over ACC game last season, so they’re gone for awhile.
But Syracuse came about as close to beating Clemson last season as anyone.
Duke has only played Syracuse once since the latter joined the ACC, winning on the road in 2014.
Syracuse doesn’t have the cachet of Alabama or Notre Dame. But they were one of my imprint schools, the school that produced Jimmy Brown, Ernie Davis (the first African American Heisman Trophy winner), Floyd Little and Larry Csonka over a span of just over a decade.
Prior to that, Duke played Syracuse twice, beating them 21-0 in 1938, 33-6 in 1939.
The latter was Syracuse’s only visit to Wallace Wade and it occurred when Wade had turned Duke into a national power. The only thing interesting about that 1939 Syracuse team is the fact that it was co-captained by Duffy Daugherty, who went on to a hall-of-fame-coaching career at Michigan State.
The other seven teams are the same seven Duke plays every year. Miami, Georgia Tech and North Carolina have made coaching changes, and it will be strange not to see Tech’s triple-option chop-blocking Duke into a season-ending injury or two.
Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Miami join Syracuse as ACC visitors to Duke.
Some interesting side notes. The Alabama game will be on August 31. Duke is 4-1 in August, the loss 27-0 to Virginia in 2003.
Because of the early start, Duke gets two open dates, September 21 and November 2.
The Virginia Tech game in Blacksburg will be on a Friday night, September 27.
And if you have the time and inclination, gas up the camper. All of Duke’s games will either be in North Carolina or in a state that borders North Carolina.
And they all promise to be big.
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