No. 60 Duke
A decade ago, a four-win season would've been a remarkable accomplishment. Now it's a letdown that has Duke fans wondering when they'll return to ACC Coastal contention.
David Cutcliffe returns a sophomore quarterback, a receiving corps he calls their best ever and two disruptive tackling machines at linebacker.
2016 Record: 4-8 (1-7, ACC)
Though Duke posted their lowest win total since 2011, they defeated both North Carolina and Notre Dame and lost to Louisville, Georgia Tech and Virginia in three-straight weeks by a combined 16 points.
Head Coach: David Cutcliffe (10th year, 52-61 overall)
David Cutcliffe remains the most underrated coach in the ACC — by a mile. Duke went 22-125 between 1995-2007 and won fewer than three games in nine of those 13 seasons. He slowly built the program into a winner and went 27-13 between 2013-15.
Last year's plummet from eight to four wins was difficult but the 62-year-old remains the best thing that has ever happened to Duke football.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Daniel Jones, RB Shaun Wilson, WR Johnathan Lloyd, WR T.J. Rahming, WR Chris Taylor, WE Aaron Young, OT Gabe Brandner, G Zach Harmon, C Austin Davis
Lost in Duke's four-win season was the development of redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones. The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder was pressed into duty when Thomas Sirk suffered an early season-ending injury and proceeded to throw eight interceptions in his first five games — including five against Virginia.
Jones improved in October and November and completed 65 percent of his passes for 799 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions in their final three games. And he's spent much of the offseason improving passes of 20 yards or more.
“I felt like that really paid off for us,” Jones said of deep passes. “Early on in spring ball, we had some great chemistry and we’ve kept that going. That’s been big for us, and we obviously have room to improve, but I felt like we made some strides.”
Three juniors headline a receiver group that Cutcliffe loves. T.J. Rahming returns after leading the team in receptions (70) and yards (742). He was the only player with 35 catches or 400 yards.
“I love, I don’t like, I love our competition at wide receiver right now,” said Cutcliffe in March, while also noting the development of sophomore Aaron Young. “This is the best receiving corps that we’ve had. We’ve had a lot of playmaking going on this spring. It has been fun to watch.”
Shaun Watson is back at running back and three starters return on the offensive line, led by seniors Gabe Brandner (tackle) and Austin Davis (center).
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Mike Ramsay, LB Ben Humphreys, LB Joe Giles-Harris, CB Bryon Fields Jr., CB Mark Gilbert, S Alonzo Saxton II, S Jeremy McDuffie
While Duke's defense wasn't laced with All-ACC First- or Second-Team selections, they didn't go 4-8 because of their defense. In four losses, they didn't yield more than 24 points.
Their top two tacklers return in linebackers Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris, who combined for 214 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Humphreys is the leader and earned All-ACC Third-Team honors in 2016 but Giles-Harris is bursting with potential.
“When you have a veteran secondary like the one we have that’s been playing together as long as they have, you’re able to do a lot of different things,” Giles-Harris said in September, crediting his strong play early to veteran defensive backs. “With them back there, there’s more trust in us to play freely and you know they’re going to help make up for whatever we miss out on.”
Two of those veterans are gone — Breon Borders and DeVon Edwards — but they do return four notable players, including rising sophomore corner Mark Gilbert. He had two passes defended last year.
Elsewhere, senior defensive tackle Mike Ramsay will be tasked with stabilizing an inexperienced line.
Notable Player Losses
RB Jela Duncan, DT A.J. Wolf, CB Breon Borders, S DeVon Edwards, S Deondre Singleton, S Corbin McCarthy,
Duke lost five key defensive backs. Safeties Deondre Singleton and Corbin McCarthy combined for 132 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and interceptions, while All-ACC selection Breon Borders departed with 12 interceptions and 34 passes defended over four years.
Defensive tackle A.J. Wolf was disruptive as a senior, setting career highs in tackles for loss (7.5) and sacks (5.5), and running back Jela Duncan is gone after averaging 5.4 yards per carry in his career.
Notable Player Additions
RB Brittain Brown, WR Scott Bracey, OT Evan Lisle, S Javon Jackson
Three redshirt freshmen and one grad transfer will be the most visible additions during fall camp.
The staff wisely redshirted three-star running back Brittain Brown. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder will have a big role behind Shaun Watson. Receiver Scott Bracey is still buried on the depth chart but he's one to watch later in the season.
The biggest addition is Evan Lisle, a four-star member of Ohio State's 2013 class who didn't start a single game in four years with the Buckeyes. He should be the Week 1 starter at right tackle.
On defense, Javon Jackson is competing for playing time at one of their three safety spots.
Duke is one of few Power Five playing multiple non-conference Power Five teams this season. They host Northwestern and Baylor in September before visiting North Carolina in their ACC opener in Week 4.
The Blue Devils play six of their first eight games at home, but close the season with three of four games on the road, including a suddenly-tricky visit to Army on Nov. 11.
|Saturday, Sept. 2||vs. North Carolina Central|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. Northwestern|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. Baylor|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||at North Carolina|
|Friday, Sept. 29||vs. Miami (FL)|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||at Virginia|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||vs. Florida State|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||vs. Pittsburgh|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||at Virginia Tech|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||at Army|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||vs. Georgia Tech|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||at Wake Forest|