Head coach David Cutcliffe is entering his 10th season on the sidelines for the Blue Devils, tying with Georgia Techs’ Paul Johnson for the longest-tenured coach in the ACC. He has compiled a record of 59-67 at the school and the Blue Devils has had four winning seasons in the past five years and won their last two bowl games. Duke returns seven starters on each side of the ball from at team that went 7-6 last season. Junior quarterback Daniel Jones will try to help improve an offense that ranked 80th and 88th nationally in points and total yards per game.
Team strengths: The defense. Dukes’ defense was a huge surprise in the ACC last season, improving from 67th nationally in 2016 to 21st in total yards allowed per game in 2017. Allowing only 20.2 points per game put Duke in the top-three in the ACC in scoring defense. With seven starters returning from that unit, led by All-America linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, there’s no reason why the defense can’t improve.
Team weaknesses: Passing offense. Duke struggled to throw the ball last season, finishing 11th in the ACC and 79th nationally in pass yards per game. The blame could be put mostly on the receivers, who struggled with getting separation from defenders and no wideout that was a legitimate deep threat. Jones threw for nearly 2,700 yards, but had only 14 touchdown passes. The offense does return its top-three receivers from last season, but with only two starters returning along the offensive line, the passing game is bound to struggle again this fall.
Players to watch: Running back Brittain Brown, wide receiver T.J. Rahming, linebacker Giles-Harris and cornerback Mark Gilbert. Brown is the teams’ leading returning rusher and had 701 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns last season. Now that he’s the primary running back look for his numbers and production to improve this fall. Rahming led the team in receptions and receiving yards, finishing with 65 catches for 701 yards and two touchdowns. He will need to be the leader and guide all the young receivers to help improve the Blue Devils’ passing-attack. Giles-Harris was a tackling machine last season, finishing with 125 stops, including 16 from behind the line of scrimmage, 4.5 sacks and an interception, earning first team All-ACC honors. Gilbert had 35 tackles, including three for loss and a team-high six interceptions last season.
The schedule: Challenging. The home slate is favorable and Duke is capable of winning all of them except for the games against Virginia Tech. The road games aren’t too bad besides the trips to Miami and Clemson. Duke avoids Florida State out of the Atlantic division.
My take: Cutcliffe is a solid coach who knows x’s and o’s. The Blue Devils should be better on offense and defense this season. Finishing with eight wins during the regular season and a shot at nine in a bowl game is a realistic goal and this year’s team is capable of accomplishing that.