It’s still a little odd to think about Duke football facing a closing window for success because of the players who could leave early for the NFL, but it’s a good position for the Blue Devils to find themselves in.
Three key juniors – quarterback Daniel Jones, cornerback Mark Gilbert and linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, the last as dominant a defensive playmaker as the Blue Devils have had since Jeremy Cash, albeit in a different role – are all solid prospects for the draft and stand to improve their stock considerably with more exposure this season.
That normally isn’t a problem at Duke, where the early departures are typically on the basketball side. But it does put some pressure on this team to make the most of this season, because there probably won’t be a next season for that trio.
Jones is the best NFL quarterback prospect David Cutcliffe has had at Duke, also a little odd to say about the Manning Whisperer after so many successful years at the school. For everything else Cutcliffe has done at Duke, against all the odds, he has yet to groom an NFL starter. Jones has a real shot, and quarterback play is always the ultimate trump card in college football.
What Jones really needs is running back Brittain Brown or receiver T.J. Rahming to blossom into all-ACC candidates; both have shown flashes. On defense, Gilbert and Giles-Harris are both NFL players, and the Blue Devils have quietly and steadily added depth since bottoming out two seasons ago to end their bowl streak.
The pieces are certainly in place for a memorable season at Duke, even if the Blue Devils have to go to Miami and Clemson. The early nonconference games at Northwestern and Baylor will offer a good sense of just how talented Duke is, and the Blue Devils play Virginia Tech and North Carolina in Durham.
Duke’s window with this team may be shorter than usual, but it’s wide open.
The prediction: 7-5, although 8-4 or even 9-3 is certainly a possibility if the Blue Devils open 3-1.
Wins: Army, at Baylor, N.C. Central, Virginia, at Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Wake Forest.
Losses: at Northwestern, Virginia Tech, at Georgia Tech, at Miami, at Clemson.