In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
No. 54 Duke
All-ACC First-Team selections Joe Giles-Harris and Mark Gilbert lead what could one of the best defenses n program history (Duke and Clemson are the only ACC teams who return multiple All-ACC First-Team players) but can they get more consistency from a Daniel Jones-led offense that sputtered for most of conference play before a late-season explosion?
This Duke team has the potential to return to eight wins.
2017 Record: 7-6 (3-5, ACC)
Duke rebounded from a four-win season to reach bowl eligibility for the fifth time in the last six years. They were walloped by Miami (FL) and Virginia Tech but their other four losses came by seven points or fewer, in which the offense scored a total of 64 points.
They beat North Carolina for the second straight year and fourth time in the last six years after losing 21 of their previous 22 games vs. the Tar Heels.
Head Coach: David Cutcliffe (11th Year, 59-67)
David Cutcliffe still has a sub-.500 record at Duke — thanks to a 15-33 mark in his first four seasons — but he has done a brilliant job in Durham, transforming the worst program in college football into a consistent winner, averaging nearly nine wins since 2012.
While the 63-year-old former Ole Miss head coach and longtime Tennessee assistant might be entering take-the-next-step territory, it's impossible to overstate what he's done at Duke.
RB Shaun Wilson, C Austin Davis, DT Mike Ramsay, CB Bryon Fields, S Alonzo Saxton II
All-purpose back Shaun Wilson is gone after racking up more than 3,000 total yards in his four-year career. He finished his career with a 5.2 yards-per-carry average, partly aided by all-conference center Austin Davis.
Mike Ramsay had breakout senior season and was the only player who had more than four sacks last year. Bryon Fields tied for the team lead with three interceptions and Alonzo Saxton was terrific near the line of scrimmage.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Daniel Jones, RB Brittain Brown, WR T.J. Rahming, WR Johnathan Lloyd, TE Daniel Helm, TE Noah Gray, G Julian Santos, C Zach Harmon
Longtime Cutcliffe assistant Zac Roper returns for his third season as offensive coordinator and, even with the late-season explosion, is facing some questions after the Blue Devils' offense was among the worst and most inconsistent in the ACC for most of the year.
They averaged only 4.5 points in the first quarter (100th in the FBS) and 11.7 in the first half (99th) and averaged 10.4 yards per completion (126th) and four yards per rushing attempt (86th). One reason was an unexpectedly poor season from Daniel Jones, a gifted dual-threat quarterback who struggled with turnovers and misfires after a strong redshirt freshman campaign.
Jones, Roper and Cutcliffe were very blunt with their assessment of the often-stagnant offense last year.
"The passing game, we had issues,” Cutcliffe said last October. “It’s just somewhat disappeared. When we’re open, we’re missing them. When we hit them, there are some dropped, and it’s just malfunctioning…I can’t give you an answer, but obviously, we’ve got to start finding answers.”
Jones didn't play well but he had little help from a poor offensive line and skill group that rarely made game-changing plays. The line lost three starters and while they do return a couple upperclassmen in Julian Santos and Zach Harmon (moved from guard to center), they played poorly in the spring game, especially when protecting Jones.
T.J. Rahmin and Jonathan Lloyd lead an army of experienced receivers but it was backup tight end Noah Gray that turned heads in spring practice and was the subject of glowing praise from Cutcliffe after the spring game.
"He runs routes. I’ve talked to all of our receivers and tight ends about this with a sense of urgency,” Cutcliffe said. “He comes off the football as well as anybody I’ve ever had."
They have talent at running back in sophomore Brittain Brown, who averaged 5.4 yards per carry as a freshman. If the line can give the 6-foot-1, 200-pound anything, he could have an All-ACC year
Returning Defensive Players
DE Victor Dimukeje, DE Tre Hornbuckle, DT Edgar Cerenord, LB Joe Giles-Harris, LB Ben Humphreys, CB Mark Gilbert, S Jeremy McDuffie
Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles built one of the best defenses in program history before leaving for Oklahoma State over the winter. His replacements, co-coordinators Ben Albert and Matt Guerrieri are tasked with leading a unit laced with All-American-caliber players, a loaded front six and young talent in the secondary.
As reliable as they were last year — and as good as they can be this year — the Blue Devils need to improve in the red zone (86 percent, 92nd nationally), force more turnovers (1.5 per game, 64th) and limit big plays (14.3 yards per completion, 117th).
The headliner is middle linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, a tackling machine who will contend for the Bednarik Award, given annually to the best defensive player in the country. Wanna procrastinate today? Watch Giles-Harris' highlights for the next eight hours.
Up front is an experienced group that lost Mike Ramsay but returns junior end Tre Hornbuckle (9.5 tackles for loss) and rising sophomore end Victor Dimukeje (7.5 tackles for loss).
Corner Mark Gilbert is a stud but the secondary has some questions: When will injured safety Jeremy McDuffie return? Can guys like Marquis Waters, Myles Hudzick, Jordan Hayes and Dylan Singleton take the next step?
Hudzick and Waters were named most improved players from spring practice.
RB Marvin Hubbard III, CB Josh Blackwell, S Lummie Young IV
Brittain Brown and Deon Jackson will take the lead in the backfield but Marvin Hubbard III, a shifty 5-foot-9, 185-pound redshirt freshman, will get a chance, too.
Defensively, redshirt freshman Josh Blackwell was listed as the second-team cornerback on the post-spring depth chart behind Myles Hudzick and redshirt freshman Lummie Young IV was the second-team rover safety behind Dylan Singleton. At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Young is one of Duke's biggest defensive backs.
Duke wraps up their four-year series with Army in hopes of avoiding a second straight loss to the Black Knights.
They also play Northwestern for the fourth straight year — and the 14th time in the last 23 seasons — and visit Baylor for the second half of a home-and-home series that began with a 14-point win in Durham last year.
Duke doesn't have back-to-back home ACC games but they do close with two of three at Wallace Wade Stadium.
|Friday, Aug. 31||vs. Army|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||at Northwestern|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||at Baylor|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||vs. North Carolina Central|
|Saturday, Sept. 29||vs. Virginia Tech|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||at Georgia Tech|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||vs. Virginia|
|Saturday, Oct. 27||at Pittsburgh|
|Saturday, Nov. 3||at Miami (FL)|
|Saturday, Nov. 10||vs. North Carolina|
|Saturday, Nov. 17||at Clemson|
|Saturday, Nov. 24||vs. Wake Forest|