clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Five Questions For Duke’s 2019 Football Season

Duke has some big questions to answer but the Blue Devils are a stable program capable of another bowl run

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Duke v Northwestern
EVANSTON, IL- SEPTEMBER 08: Mark Gilbert #28 of the Duke Blue Devils and Michael Carter II #26 celebrate an interceptionagainst the Northwestern Wildcats during the first half on September 8, 2018 at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois.
Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Who is Duke’s most important player on offense?

Answer: Although quarterback Daniel Jones (who was a shock #6 pick by the New York Giants and who was ridiculed by fans and the media until they actually saw him) isn’t easily replaced - you can’t just get one off the shelf - Duke is well positioned to succeed without him.

The Blue Devils will install senior Quentin Harris at quarterback. He’s not as big or as agile as Jones, but he played well when Jones was out with an injury last year.

Harris isn’t as good a passer or athlete, but coach David Cutcliffe has praised his intelligence and improvement. He’ll most likely get the job done. Quarterback depth is a real concern though. redshirt freshman quarterback Gunnar Holmberg suffered a knee injury in August and is out indefinitely. Duke has as many quarterbacks on the roster as we can remember but Harris is the only one with even slight experience and he has only started a couple of games in his career. That’s a serious concern. If he goes out of the game, things get fuzzy quickly.

If it’s not Harris it’s probably going to be a running back. Duke should have a tremendous running game with Brittain Brown and Deon Jackson likely the primary guys. Cutcliffe has several other backs as well including highly promising freshmen Jaylen Coleman. Unlike quarterback, depth is a real asset here. Look for David Cutcliffe to use the backs to make life easier for Harris. It may end up being offense by committee but quarterbacks are always chairmen of their committees. Harris needs to play well and stay healthy.

Who is Duke’s most important player on defense?

Good question. Injuries decimated Duke’s defense last year and graduation claimed linebackers Ben Humphries and Joe Giles-Harris. In the first three wins last season, the Blue Devil defense gave up just 48 points, which was on pace for a high mark in the Cutcliffe era.

Injuries wrecked that.

The good news is that Cutcliffe thinks this will be his best defense at Duke yet and there are lots of guys who can step up. It could be cornerback Mark Gilbert, but he’s still rehabbing from last season’s hip injury and a subsequent summer surgery.

Safeties Dylan Singleton(ankle) and Michael Carter (leg) and cornerback Jeremy McDuffie (2017 ACL) also battled injuries.

Assuming the injury bug doesn’t hit Duke as severely this year, there are several candidates besides Gilbert. Sophomore defensive end Leonard Johnson is mobile, fast and powerful. Safety Michael Carter could be key.

If he was completely ready we’d say Gilbert, but until he is, we’ll go with Johnson.

3) What should be the biggest change between last year and this year?

The defense. Last year it was severely limited by injuries. Assuming that it stays healthy, it’s in position to really affect the outcomes in some games. And even with last season’s severe limitations, it was at times effective. At Clemson, missing five opening game starters, Duke still managed to force Clemson to punt on six of its first seven possessions.

As the game wore on, depth won out and Clemson eventually won 35-6. The halftime score though was just 14-6 and that team ended up beating Alabama 44-16 for the national championship.

What is the most important game on the schedule and why?

Answer: Who could it be other than Alabama? Clemson’s been superb lately but Alabama has been Alabama since Wallace Wade coached there in the 1920s. That’s the gold standard for college football. No one outside the Blue Devil locker room expects Duke to win but those are the people you want to believe.

By any definition a Duke win is a long shot. Nick Saban has done a superb job with his program and even if Duke had comparable talent, or talent that played out of its mind, it can’t possibly match the depth that Alabama has year in and year out. It’s on a different level.

That doesn’t mean Duke can’t win. It certainly won't be easy but there are some things that may work in Duke’s favor.

First, it’s an early game. Duke will have less injuries and problems than it will later. This is a much better game to play early from that perspective.

Second, given the dismissive attitude Paul Finebaum has taken towards ACC football, how far down the line has that gone? Are the Alabama players as unconcerned? That’ll make Saban nuts but it has happened in the past. Think of the Miracle On Ice, Duke-Vegas 1990. Think Buster Douglas vs. Mike Tyson.

But most all think Appalachian State in the Big House.

ASU came to Michigan prepared to win. Michigan? They had no idea that App State was a very serious football program and by the time they woke up it was too late.

We’d never predict a Duke win but Cutcliffe is a much better coach than many people realize. He breathed life into a corpse at Duke and his teams are typically tough and smart and always well conditioned. Don’t bet on it but don’t rule it out either.

And even if Duke doesn't pull off the shocker, if they can show they can compete with an Alabama, they shouldn’t be scared of anyone else on the schedule.

What is your prediction for Duke’s W/L record?

Duke has schedule four non-conference games: Alabama, Notre Dame, Middle Tennessee and NC A&T.

As mentioned above, if you can compete with Alabama, you can probably compete with Notre Dame. If Duke wins three non-conference games, their bowl chances go up considerably.

In conference play, Duke gets Pitt, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Miami at home and will visit Virginia Tech, Virginia, UNC and Wake Forest.

In general the ACC has improved so theoretically Duke could be better and win less. We’d expect at least 6-7 wins including a couple of payback games. That should put Duke in line for one of the earlier bowl games, perhaps the Belk or Military Bowl.

The ACC has 10 guaranteed bowl spots so Duke really has to beat out just four teams to go.

If you're going to shop Amazon please start here and help DBR
DBR Auctions|Blue Healer Auctions| Drop us a line