For the second year in a row Duke has started the season with four straight wins, and again is well-positioned to play in a bowl game.
With seven games left in the season, the Blue Devils need to win two of those to assure themselves of a bowl trip.
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In 2017, though, Duke started the season 4-0 before going on a six-game losing streak and scrambling to find those last two wins. The Blue Devils did it, beating Georgia Tech and Wake Forest in the final two games of the regular season. Duke toppled Northern Illinois, 36-14, in Detroit’s Quick Lane Bowl to finish 7-6.
After losing 31-14 to Virginia Tech (3-2, 2-0 ACC) on Sept. 29, this season’s Blue Devils (4-1, 0-1), however, remain confident they won’t lose six straight.
“We’ve just got to play for four quarters,” Duke all-ACC redshirt junior linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said. “Instead of just one, two or three like we did last year. We’ve got to play four quarters and you’re going to win games. When you don’t play for four quarters in ACC games, you lose. That’s what happened (against Virginia Tech), that’s what happened last year six times in a row. We won’t lose six in a row.”
The Blue Devils probably saw their Coastal Division title hopes disappear with the Virginia Tech loss. But a sixth bowl appearance in the past seven seasons, and the program’s fourth winning season in the past five years, are both attainable.
Here’s a breakdown of the seven teams Duke will play over the next seven Saturdays, along with a look at the Blue Devils’ chances of success.
Saturday, at Georgia Tech
Record: 3-3, 1-2 in ACC
So far: The Yellow Jackets had an unimpressive first month of the season, including a three-game losing streak, before posting an emphatic 66-31 win at Louisville this past Friday night. The Cardinals defense was ill-prepared to handle Georgia Tech’s triple-option, but that won’t be a problem for Duke. Georgia Tech’s problems this season start with fumbling. The Yellow Jackets have fumbled 16 times, losing five. Georgia Tech is getting impressive play from freshmen blocking back Jordan Mason (7.64 yards per carry) and quarterback Tobias Oliver (7.80 yards per carry) in addition to senior quarterback Ta’Quon Marshall (nine touchdowns).
Duke success meter: Duke’s had an extra week to prep for the triple-option. The Blue Devils should benefit with a win.
Oct. 20, Virginia
Record: 3-2, 1-1 in ACC
So far: Virginia’s wins over Richmond and Ohio were expected. A 20-16 loss at Indiana wasn’t. Given how Louisville and N.C. State are playing this season, the split the Cavaliers earned in those two ACC games played out how it should have. Virginia has a dangerous quarterback in junior Bryce Perkins. Defensively, the only quality offense Virginia has faced is N.C. State - and the Wolfpack rolled to a 35-21 win.
Duke success meter: The Blue Devils have lost their last three games to Virginia, something they shouldn’t have allowed to happen. Duke looks like the better team this season and should, emphasis on should, win this one at home.
Oct. 27, at Pittsburgh
Record: 3-3, 2-1 in ACC
So far: The Panthers suffered lopsided losses to a pair of top-25 teams, Penn State and Central Florida. A 24-19 win over Georgia Tech showed promise but a 38-35 loss at North Carolina a week later washed away those good feelings. The Panthers have struggled to stop the run or the pass consistently. That remained true in this past Saturday’s 44-37 overtime win over Syracuse. Pitt sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett, although adequate against Syracuse, is turnover-prone and inaccurate on deep passes.
Duke success meter: Since Pitt entered the ACC for the 2013 season, Duke is 1-3 against the Panthers. That’s not good. Duke can’t afford this trend to continue because it’s November schedule is a bear. The Blue Devils figure to get the Panthers this season.
Nov. 3, at Miami
Record: 5-1, 2-0 in ACC
So far: The clear Coastal Division favorite, Miami lost 33-17 to LSU in the season-opening game but has reeled off five consecutive wins since then. Saturday’s 28-27 win over a mediocre Florida State team was a near-disaster but the Hurricanes rallied from a 27-7 deficit. Redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry has taken over at quarterback. He threw for four touchdowns, but only completed 13 of 32 passes against Florida State. Miami is winning because its defense thrives on turnovers. The Hurricanes already have eight interceptions and six fumble recoveries.
Duke success meter: Duke has just one win over Miami since the Hurricanes entered the ACC in 2004. Miami consistently has better talent and, even though Duke is better, that remains the case. Can’t see the Blue Devils winning on the road in this one.
Nov. 10, North Carolina
Record: 1-3, 1-1 in ACC
So far: UNC has looked like a team coming off a 3-9 season that had personnel issues due to suspensions. The Tar Heels are not very good. A decent running game and a capable receiver in Anthony Ratliff-Williams aren’t enough to overcome how poorly quarterbacks Nathan Elliott and Chazz Surratt have played. The defense has allowed an ACC-worst 36.8 points per game. It would be an accomplishment for the Tar Heels to win four games this season to show some semblance of progress.
Duke success meter: It’s a rivalry so, yes, the records won’t mean much. Still, Duke is far and away the better of the two blue teams in the Triangle. Blue Devils should win by a touchdown, at least.
Nov. 17, at Clemson
Record: 6-0, 3-0 in ACC
So far: The Tigers are clearly the best team in the ACC. Their defense is loaded with future NFL players. Travis Etienne is a tough runner with speed at running back. Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence is a big talent, so Clemson will be fine without Kelly Bryant. The Tigers may not be a national championship contender, but it’s the best the ACC has to offer this season.
Duke success meter: This is the most-talented team David Cutcliffe has fielded since he came to Duke in 2008. Clemson is still two touchdowns better than the Blue Devils.
Nov. 24, Wake Forest
Record: 3-3, 0-2 in ACC
So far: The way things are going, thanks to Wake Forest’s porous defense, the Demon Deacons will need a win over Duke to qualify for a bowl game. Wake Forest has allowed 36.8 points per game this season, tied with UNC for last in the ACC, and an ACC-worst 500.7 yards per game. Freshman quarterback Sam Hartman is doing his best to keep Wake Forest competitive. He has 10 touchdown passes in six games. Junior running back Cade Carney is someone Duke will have to worry about as well.
Duke success meter: This game is a toss-up every season and this will be no different. The two programs are very similar in talent. Duke looks a bit better but the Deacons are capable of winning in Durham. Duke will win if it doesn’t turn the ball over, though, because its offense will score and score and score against Wake Forest.