Blue Zone


Justise Winslow and Duke men's basketball team up to provide Harvey relief



In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Duke is holding a knockout tournament to raise funds to provide relief for Houston.

Former Duke star and Houston native Justise Winslow and his mother Robin Davis’ organization, Robin’s House Family foundation, will co-host the event, dubbed "Knockout Harvey," which will be at Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday morning from 9:45 to 11:30. Fans will be able to play knockout with Winslow and current men's basketball players on the floor for a $10 donation. 

Participants will receive photos on the court before the conclusion of the event, which ends before the Blue Devil football team takes on Northwestern at noon at nearby Wallace Wade Stadium. 

The foundation has accumulated almost $90,000 in its efforts to aid recovery efforts in the storm-ravaged city. 



Winslow, a former standout Duke forward, now plays for the Miami Heat after earning All-ACC Freshman honors in his lone season in Durham that culminated in the 2015 national championship. 



Around the ACC: Week 1



A year after a 9-4 conference bowl record and boasting national champion Clemson, the ACC opened up its  2017-2018 football season with a strong schedule that included a top-3 tilt.The Blue Zone takes a look at how all 14 ACC teams performed in the season's opening weekend.

Duke 60, North Carolina Central 7

The Blue Devils started the season off right against the Eagles, totaling 524 yards and hitting the 60-point mark for the first time since 1949. Redshirt freshman running back Brittain Brown exploded for 120 yards on just 10 carries in his first career game, and the defense held North Carolina Central to -17 rushing yards. Daniel Jones picked up where he left off last season, completing a cool 19-of-25 pass attempts for 213 yards. 

No. 1 Alabama 24, No. 3 Florida State 7

In arguably the most anticipated matchup of the season, the Crimson Tide’s vaunted defense clamped down on the Seminoles in Atlanta. Quarterback Jalen Hurts managed the game well, avoiding turnovers, and the rushing attack thrived behind their imposing offensive line for 173 yards. Alabama was helped by special teams gaffes by Florida State, which had a punt and field goal blocked and a fumble on a kickoff return.

After Florida State grabbed an early 7-3 lead, Hurts responded with a 53-yard toss to Calvin Ridley, the first score of 21 unanswered points. In the second half, the Crimson Tide strangled the Seminole offense, holding them scoreless and limiting them to 1.5 yards per carry. 

The most important fallout from the game was the season-ending injury to Deondre Francois.The Seminoles  had national-title hopes entering the season, but now will have to replace their Heisman hopeful at quarterback. 

No. 5 Clemson 56, Kent State 3

Any concerns about Deshaun Watson’s replacement were temporarily quelled as quarterback Kelly Bryant shone, completing 16 of 22 passes for 236 yards and rushing for 77 yards and a touchdown. 

The Tigers demonstrated balance, throwing for 312 yards and gaining 353 on the ground, while limiting the Golden Flashes to 120 yards, including a mere five yards in the air. But the competition will quickly improve for the Tigers—they will face three ranked teams in their next four contests, including No. 12 Auburn on Saturday. 

No. 16 Louisville 35, Purdue 28

Despite a sloppy game as a whole from the Cardinals, reigning Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson bailed out his team with another stellar performance to lead them to victory. The Boilermakers held a fourth quarter lead after Louisville committed nine false-start penalties, had 110 penalty yards, and fumbled the ball three times, twice at the goal-line.

But led by Jackson’s 485 total yards, the Cardinals were able to avoid an upset, and held onto the lead for the last nine minutes following the eventual game-winning touchdown pass to Dez Fitzpatrick to make the score 32-28. 

No. 18 Miami 41, Bethune-Cookman 13

After a tight first quarter with the contest knotted at 3-all, the Hurricanes opened the floodgates in the second quarter with three straight touchdowns to pull away from the Wildcats. In his second career start replacing Brad Kaaya, newly minted starter Malik Rosier threw for 217 yards and three scores and running back Mark Walton racked up 148 yards on 16 carries for two touchdowns. 

No. 21 Virginia Tech 31, No. 22 West Virginia 24

In the 52nd meeting between the rivals, and first since 2005, the Hokies took home the Black Diamond Trophy in an exciting victory over the Mountaineers. After redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson’s 46-yard scamper, Travon McMillian punched home the score with a three-yard plunge to put Virginia Tech up 31-24 with six-and-a-half minutes left. Jackson, who has been compared to former standout Michael Vick, rushed for 101 yards to go along with his 235 passing yards for a total of two touchdowns. The Hokies had a chance to put West Virginia away with a field goal but Joey Slye missed a 32-yarder with just under two minutes to play. Quarterback Will Grier, who transferred from Florida, led the Mountaineers all the way to the 15, but they were unable to convert two opportunities to send the game to overtime, which spoiled an otherwise impressive performance from Grier, who threw for 371 yards for three touchdowns and rushed for 51 yards.

South Carolina 35, North Carolina State 28

Deebo Samuel started off the game with a 97-yard kickoff return and remained untouchable for the rest of contest, catching five passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Gamecocks past the Wolfpack. Despite Ryan Finley’s 45 completions for 415 yards, North Carolina State was never able to grab the lead. The Wolfpack gained 258 more yards and 17 more first downs than South Carolina ,but two costly fumbles led to 14 Gamecock points – ultimately making the difference in the tilt.

California 35, North Carolina 30

The Tar Heels struggled to replace Mitch Trubisky, who was drafted No. 2 in the NFL Draft, and fell to the Golden Bears after leading by three heading into the fourth quarter. Brandon Harris was pulled after completing only seven passes for 60 yards to go along for two interceptions for a QBR of 8.3. Chazz Surratt failed to produce much offense in relief, throwing for just 161 yards and only rushing for a touchdown as time expired with the contest already decided. Despite returning its top three tacklers, North Carolina struggled on the defensive end, giving up two touchdowns of over 50 yards, allowing 469 yards, and ceding four touchdowns over the air.

Wake Forest 51, Presbyterian 7

The Demon Deacons took care of business as expected and steamrolled the FCS' Blue Hose. Led by starting quarterback John Wolford and backup quarterback Kendall Hinton, who combined for seven touchdowns, Wake Forest scored on its first six possessions en route to 487 yards and their highest point total since 2010.  Presbyterian failed to cross midfield until the third and finally scored in the fourth quarter, led by Torrance Marable’s 162 rushing yards. 

Syracuse 50, Central Connecticut 7

Syracuse routed the Blue Devils with a quick-strike offense that scored six times in drives under three minutes, including two sub-one minute possessions. Quarterback Eric Dungey threw for 328 yards and three touchdowns and added 51 rushing yards and another two scores on the ground. Receiver Steve Ishmael had a career-high 12 receptions for 134 yards as the Orange offense put up 586 yards.

Boston College 23, Northern Illinois 20

Anthony Brown, the first true freshman to start for BC since 2009, led the Eagles to a game-winning drive, setting up a Colton Lichtenburg field goal with just over two minutes left in the game. Brown, who completed 26 passes and threw two touchdowns, connected with Kobay White on fourth down to extend the critical drive. The Huskies had a chance to send the game to overtime, but fell short when Christian Hagan’s 39-yard attempt bounced off the crossbar.

Pittsburgh 28, Youngstown State 21

After jumping out to a 21-0 lead at the half, the Panthers squandered their advantage before finally claiming the victory in overtime. Although the Panthers had a chance to win it in regulation, Alex Kessman missed a field-goal in the dying seconds. Southern California transfer Max Brown threw for 140 yards, and the game-winning touchdown to a leaping Jester Weah on the first possession of overtime. The Penguins outgained Pittsburgh by over 200 yards in the second half, led by Christian Turner’s five receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns, and forced a fumble on Brown to set up the game-tying drive. However, a costly turnover in overtime – an interception by Bricen Garner – ultimately stopped Youngstown State’s upset bid.

Virginia 28, William & Mary 10

After losing last season’s opener to FCS foe Richmond, the Cavaliers made sure they started off their new season 1-0 with a win over the Tribe. Quarterback Kurt Benkert completed 27 of 39 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns and Jordan Ellis rushed for 80 yards to lead the offense to 354 yards. William & Mary was unable to move the ball, generating only 12 first downs, and failing to score until a field goal in the third quarter. Although the Tribe cut the deficit to 11 with just under seven minutes to play, a mishandled punt and ensuing interception put the nail in the coffin for the underdogs.

No. 25 Tennessee 42, Georgia Tech 41

The resilient Volunteers once again found a way to win against the Yellow Jackets, facing two 14-point deficits and needed to block a field goal try at the end of regulation and snuff a two-point conversion in double overtime to walk away victorious. 

Georgia Tech gained nearly twice as many total yards as Tennessee, but it wasn't enough to top the Volunteers. Yellow Jacket quarterback TaQuon Marshall rushed for 249 yards and threw for 120 in a losing effort.  




Duke in the NFL: Previewing the 2017-18 season



With the 2017 NFL season kicking off Thursday night, several Blue Devils find themselves playing key roles on 53-man rosters. The Blue Zone previews the season ahead for these former Duke players. 

Jamison Crowder, Washington

After enjoying a breakout season in 2016 in which he was one of the league’s most consistent receivers, Crowder returns to Washington in 2017 with high expectations. Washington retained quarterback Kirk Cousins this past offseason, which bodes well for Crowder, who benefitted greatly from the team's willingness to trust Cousins and his receiving corps in 2016. Washington finished the year ranked second in the NFL in passing offense, and Crowder ranked third on the team behind DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. 

After both Jackson and Garcon left Washington, expectations are high for Crowder. The 5-foot-9 receiver scored seven touchdowns last season, a figure that few expect him to match given his small stature. Nevertheless, he still figures to be a bigger part of an offense that will continue to run through Cousins and his receivers. 

In his last appearance in the preseason against Cincinnati, he grabbed two of three targets for 24 yards. He has certainly been a reliable option for Cousins to lean on in his first two seasons in the league—he has caught almost 72 percent of passes targeted to him. 

Jeremy Cash, Carolina Panthers

Now in his second year with the Panthers, Cash figures to see an expanded role in 2017. The former Blue Devil standout linebacker will still be a backup when the season begins behind Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson, but will likely see more action on special teams. 

In Carolina’s last preseason game against the Steelers, Cash recorded four tackles before traveling back to Durham to take in the Blue Devils’ season-opening 60-7 rout of NCCU Saturday. 

Laken Tomlinson, San Francisco 49ers

After two years in Detroit, Tomlinson was traded to the 49ers on the last day of August for a fifth-round pick in the 2019 draft. The Lions picked him in the first round in 2015 to help rebuild their offensive line, but the success they hoped for never fully materialized. 

Graham Glasgow replaced Tomlinson at guard last year, and Tomlinson only made it back into the starting lineup once Glasgow moved over to center. Tomlinson will likely compete with Zane Beadles and Brandon Fusco for a starting guard position as starting left guard Joshua Garnett continues to recover from a knee injury. 

Ross Cockrell, New York Giants

Cockrell also found himself on the move last week—the Steelers shipped him to the Giants in exchange for a conditional 2018 draft pick. The Farmington Hills, Mich., native made 16 starts for Pittsburgh in 2016 and made 62 tackles, an improvement from the 44 tackles he posted in seven starts for the Steelers in 2015. He projects to be the No. 4 cornerback on New York’s roster ahead of Michael Hunter, who has been out with a concussion.

Vincent Rey, Cincinnati Bengals 

With Vontaze Burfict out for the first three games of the season for violating the NFL’s player safety policies, Rey will again start in his place at linebacker in the season opener. 

Burfict also missed the first three games of 2016 for player safety violations and the first six games of 2015 while recovering from microfracture surgery. During that six-game stretch in 2015, with Rey starting in place of Burfict, the Bengals went 6-0. 

The seventh-year pro has also impressed in his other shorter stints as Burfict’s replacement in the starting lineup, enough that Cincinnati rewarded him with a three-year extension in 2016. Rey also figures to see plenty of time in special teams as well. 



Making the grade: Duke football vs. N.C. Central



Duke opened its season Sunday with a win against N.C. Central, scoring 60 points for the first time since 1949. Daniel Jones threw for two touchdowns, rushed for another and registered over 200 yards, while extending his streak of consecutive passes without an interception to a 198.

Offense: A

Pass: Daniel Jones torched the North Carolina Central defense all night, finding numerous open receivers and nailing difficult throws. He connected with Aaron Young for a 54-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter, giving Duke a 40-0 lead. He finished the night completing 19-of-25 attempts for 213 yards, good for a QBR of 82. 

With the game quickly out of hand, backups Quentin Harris and Parker Boehme also got significant time. Harris led the way, completing six of his seven attempts for 62 yards and a score.

Thirteen different Blue Devils caught passes Sunday, but Young led the way with five catches for 89 yards. 

Rush: Duke ground the Eagles’ overmatched defense down with its running game. As a team, it averaged 5.2 yards per carry and totaled almost 250 yards. Redshirt freshman Brittain Brown took advantage, racking up 120 yards and a score on just 10 carries. 

X’s and O’s: Offensive coordinator Zac Roper established the run game early, something to look for later in the season. Although the Eagles were clearly overmatched, it is clear that Roper will look to get the ground game going early and often to give the Blue Devils a two-dimensional offense, something they clearly lacked last season. 

Defense: B+

Pass: On just the second possession for the Eagles, Byron Fields Jr. perfectly read a short pass and jumped the route for a pick-six. The rest of the night was more of the same. Without an experienced quarterback leading the Eagles, Duke’s defense held them to just 94 yards passing. It is certainly difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from a game like this, but the Blue Devils performed as expected. 

Rush: Duke returned just one starter on its defensive line, but it looked like a seasoned bunch against N.C. Central. The Blue Devils gave up roughly two yards per carry and just 64 total rushing yards on 31 carries, smothering the Eagles’ run game. One concerning sign was an Isaiah Totten 81-yard touchdown run—Duke will need to avoid these sorts of big plays that plagued it last year. 

X’s and O’s: Outside of yielding a few big plays, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles called a strong game that kept the Eagles on their heels. 

Special Teams: B+

After a tumultuous season in the kicking game for the Blue Devils last year, Austin Parker started it off right, making his lone field goal attempt but missing an extra point in the second half. Along with his placekicking, Parker averaged over 40 yards a punt.



HALFTIME: Duke 47, N.C. Central 7



Through two quarters of play in 2017, Duke is in full control against an inferior opponent.

The Blue Devils hold a 47-7 lead against N.C. Central at the end of the first half at Wallace Wade Stadium. Although Duke played a solid half, a number of mistakes by N.C. Central have kept the crosstown visitors out of the game. The Eagles have already helped the Blue Devils to a free 46 penalty yards and a free two points after a bad snap went over the head of sophomore quarterback Micah Zanders for a safety, and Duke has yet to draw any flags.

Duke’s redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones had a modest showing, going 13-for-18 and throwing for 137 yards, though he didn’t need to do much offensively as the combination of senior Shaun Wilson and redshirt freshman Brittain Brown led the way with 59 and 99 yards on the ground, respectively. 

On the defensive side, redshirt sophomore linebacker Joe Giles-Harris led the way with four tackles, including one sack. Redshirt senior Byron Fields Jr. helped out the offense with a quick pick-six, ending the Eagles' second drive of the afternoon on the first play.

Until running back Isaiah Totten broke loose for an 81-yard touchdown run and gave his team its lone score of the half, N.C. Central had -13 rushing yards, and the team only totaled 134 yards for the half.

Here are some observations from the first half:

  • Brown looked hard to bring down. After taking his first career touch 24 yards down the sideline, Brown took his second rush 39 yards to the end zone after running past the Eagles’ front seven and turning the safety around with a late cut. Already with 99 yards on the day, look for the redshirt freshman to do even more damage against the slower NC Central defense.
  • Duke head coach David Cutcliffe has chosen to go with punter Austin Parker to knock down field goals for the team over redshirt senior William Holmquist. Parker made his only kick from 32 yards.
  • Aaron Young seems to be one of Jones' favorite targets with a team-leading four receptions so far, including a 54-yard touchdown on a deep ball in the second quarter.
  • Duke’s special teams looked sharp, limiting NC Central to an average starting field position of their own 24-yard line.
  • Aside from the touchdown run from Totten, Duke has looked sharp and avoided major mistakes in all aspects of the game.


Chronicle pregame: Duke football vs. North Carolina Central



Before the Blue Devils take on North Carolina Central Saturday night to open their season, The Chronicle's Ben Feder, Hank Tucker, and Ben Leonard get you ready for the season and discuss the team's strengths and weaknesses. 


0:35—How Daniel Jones has developed heading into his second year as a starter

1:48—Why the Chronicle's Ben Leonard thinks Duke can go 8-4 this year

2:20—Why the Blue Devils' secondary is a crucial unit this season; players that could step up for them 

3:45—Jeremy McDuffie's injury status

4:05—breaking down Duke's options at kicker

5:00—What the Blue Devils should look to do against the Eagles



Duke football 2017 position preview: Kick and punt return



With the 2017 season right around the corner, The Chronicle's football beat writers break down each of the nine major position groups: quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, offensive line, defensive line, defensive backs, linebackers, kicker/punter and punt/kickoff returners.

For all of Duke’s struggles last season, there was one area where it excelled: kickoff returns. 

After a porous defense allowed points in bunches, the Blue Devils got a lot of kickoff return opportunities—and made the most of them. 

Buoyed by top returner Shaun Wilson, they were third in the ACC in kick return average, giving quarterback Daniel Jones’ offense strong field position to work with. And they were nearly as good as limiting their opponents’ returns, ranking fourth in the conference in that regard. 

They were not quite as successful in the punt return game, something head coach David Cutcliffe will look to improve upon this season. 

Key Players lost: Ryan Smith and DeVon Edwards

Smith was Duke’s punt returner last season, and enjoyed moderate success, ranking seventh in the conference in punt return average. He was certainly a burner—he ran the 100-meter-dash and 4-x-100-meter relay for the track team in the spring. But Smith is the only key returner the Blue Devils will lose heading into this season. 

Edwards, an All-American specialist that holds the school record for career kick returns for touchdowns, tore his ACL early last season to cut his career short and hand the job to Wilson.

Starters: TJ Rahming, Shaun Wilson, Johnathan Lloyd

Also the team’s starting running back, Wilson will return kicks this season for the third year in a row. After seeing limited action on returns in 2015, Wilson blossomed in the return game, averaging nearly 25 yards per kickoff return, including a kick he returned for a 96-yard touchdown against Notre Dame. Although he isn’t the fastest returner by any stretch, his shiftiness makes him a deep threat. 

Lloyd will be the second man deep alongside Wilson—he has fielded just one kickoff return in his career, taking it 16 yards. 

Rahming, last season’s leading receiver, will assume the punt return duties and try to fill in for Smith’s absence. Rahming has not fielded a return in his Duke career, but took a punt for a touchdown in high school. His shiftiness and speed could make the Blue Devils more dangerous on punt returns this season.

Dark Horse: Johnathan Lloyd

If opposing teams opt to kick away from Wilson more this season, Lloyd would likely be the beneficiary. The redshirt junior could emerge as a dangerous option with the help of his strong kick-return unit. 



X Factor: Duke football vs. North Carolina Central



With North Carolina Central making the short trip to Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday, the Blue Devils will look to get their ducks in a row in their first regular season game. Duke blew past the FCS Eagles 49-6 in last year’s matchup. 

Every week throughout the football season, the Blue Zone will break down a player on each team who could be the difference-maker in the upcoming contest. 

N.C. Central: running back Ramone Simpson

The Eagles will come into this game with concerns in their passing offense, especially after losing their No. 1 receiver Jalen Wilkes  to suspension and lacking an experienced quarterback. If N.C. Central wants to have any chance at pulling a colossal upset of the Blue Devils, it will have to lean on its rushing attack, featuring two talented backs in juniors Dorrel McClain and Ramone Simpson.

While McClain, a former All-MEAC First teamer, is the more highly touted of the two, Duke will watch out for Ramone Simpson in this one. When McClain was afflicted with injuries early last season, Simpson stepped up in a big way. He ran for 632 yards and five touchdowns while averaging almost five yards per carry and started the final seven games at running back.  

But Simpson is also a talented a receiver—he racked up 238 receiving yards. Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles will likely look to try and slow him out of the backfield. 

Duke: wide receiver T.J. Rahming

With second year quarterback Daniel Jones seeking to improve on last year’s breakout season, he will need to get in rhythym with his receiving corps. 

He will look to his No.1 receiver frequently to try to continue the momentum he built late last season from the pocket. The 5-foot-10 receiver has had another year to mesh with Jones after leading the team with 70 receptions for 742 yards, including closing the season with three straight games of at least eight receptions and 100 yards. 



Season preview: The Chronicle's guide to Duke football's 2017 schedule



The Blue Devils kick off the regular season Saturday evening against N.C. Central looking to start a run to another bowl game after failing to play in the postseason last year. The Chronicle gets you ready for the season with a look at all 12 of Duke's opponents and the rest of the ACC.

Sept. 2: vs. N.C. Central

Sept. 9: vs. Northwestern

Sept. 16: vs. Baylor

Sept. 23: at North Carolina

Sept. 29: vs Miami

Oct. 7: at Virginia

Oct. 14: vs. Florida State

Oct. 21: vs. Pittsburgh

Oct. 28: at Virginia Tech

Nov. 11: at Army

Nov. 18: vs. Georgia Tech

Nov. 25: at Wake Forest

The rest of the ACC's Atlantic Division:

Boston College

Clemson

Louisville

N.C. State

Syracuse



The Chronicle's 2017 Duke football predictions



With Duke's 2017 football season kicking off Saturday against N.C. Central in Wallace Wade Stadium, The Chronicle's football beat writers and sports editors made predictions on how the team will fare and which players will stand out the most.

Regular season record

Ben Leonard: 8-4. With an improved offensive line and a quarterback in Daniel Jones that could take the next step this season, the Blue Devils are in line to surprise many with one of the best passing attacks in the conference. Duke has all of its hardest games at home and only two games it could lose on the road—against UNC, which it beat last season and against Virginia Tech, which it was a blocked field goal from beating. The Blue Devils lost most of its close games last season, and won’t suffer that fate again this year. 

Ben Feder:  5-7. Although quarterback Daniel Jones should take a step forward in his second year under center, there are too many concerns throughout the roster, and too tough of a schedule to improve much on last season’s 4-8 record. To become bowl eligible, Duke is going to have to win some contests it could not last season—against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Virginia—and even if the offense can keep the Blue Devils afloat, a bunch of young defensive players are going to have to step up, both on the defensive line and in the secondary. 

Hank Tucker: 4-8. I'm not buying into the hype that Duke will be any better than it was last year, and the schedule does the Blue Devils no favors with matchups against Florida State and two Power-5 nonconference opponents. The only essentially guaranteed win on the schedule is the season opener against N.C. Central, and although Virginia and Army are not particularly good, both of those games could be close on the road. Jones can only do so much at quarterback, and an inexperienced secondary and defensive line is a bad formula for Duke's defense.

Michael Model: 6-6. Following a rough start to the 2016 campaign— which included tough losses to Wake Forest and a 34-20 defeat at the hands of Virginia in which quarterback Daniel Jones threw five interceptions— the Blue Devils were able to stay competitive in the second half, playing close games against no. 7 Louisville and no. 19 Virginia Tech on the road, and defeating no. 17 North Carolina at home. If Duke can limit explosive plays and stay in ballgames, I can see them remaining competitive in the majority of their games. If the Blue Devils can produce at home and get a victory against Pittsburgh or Miami and avoid those aforementioned devastating losses of last season. I can see Duke cruising to a 6-6 record and making it back to a bowl game after a one year hiatus. 

Mitchell Gladstone: 6-6. This is a tough call because in all honesty, I don’t think the floor is all that low for this team, but at the same time—due to a handful of tough opponents—the ceiling is not particularly high. I can probably chalk up a trio of easy victories (N.C. Central, Virginia and Army) and three expected losses (Florida State, Virginia Tech and Baylor). Ultimately, Duke might pull off a surprise win or lose a game it should win or both, and in the end, it all comes out a wash. The Blue Devils finish the regular season at .500 and earn themselves a chance to make it a winning season for the fourth time in the last five years.

Offensive MVP

Ben Leonard: Daniel Jones. After emerging late last season as one of the ACC’s top signal-callers, Jones will lead a resurgent Duke offense that takes it to the next level under his watch. Backed by an improved offensive line, his continued development will help open holes for Shaun Wilson and Brittain Brown to run. 

Ben Feder: Daniel Jones. Gone are running backs Joseph Ajeigbe and Jela Duncan, and in is graduate transfer right tackle Evan Lisle, who should provide more stability to the offensive line. It is Jones’ time to shine. With an emerging group of wide receivers, a solid tight end in Daniel Helm, and an explosive running back in Shaun Wilson, Jones has all the weapons at his disposal for a dominant 2017-18 season.

Hank Tucker: Daniel Jones. Who else could the choice be? Jones will be the star of the show this year without Duncan in the backfield with him, and he will likely spread his completions out to a variety of receivers. Jones will have to have a good season for Duke to have any success at all, considering the deficiencies it has on defense.

Michael Model: Daniel Jones. After a tough start to his college career, Jones showed his potential in the second half of the season. In the Blue Devils’ final six contests, the Charlotte, N.C., native completed more than 63 percent of his passes, while boasting a touchdown to interception ratio of nine to one. Although Duke went just 1-5 over that span, Jones did an excellent job of keeping the Blue Devils in the game and giving the team a chance to win. The redshirt-sophomore is also a two-way player, and led the Blue Devils’ in rushing touchdowns with seven while finishing as the team’s second-leading rusher with 486 yards a season ago.

Mitchell Gladstone: T.J. Rahming. Over and over, it’s been one name for the Duke offense: Daniel Jones. But do not sleep on the guy that will be Jones’ number one target after pulling in more than twice as many passes as any player on the Blue Devil roster target last season. Head coach David Cutcliffe said earlier this week that Rahming has potential similar to that of former wideout Jamison Crowder, who was twice named first-team All-ACC and finished his career with a conference-record 283 receptions.


Defensive MVP

Ben Leonard: Ben Humphreys. While questions swirl about Duke’s secondary and defensive line, the middle linebacker will play quarterback for a strong linebacking corps. He racked up 106 tackles last season—one shy of tying for tops on the team—and will continue to be a force in opponents' backfields this season.Speedy, big and strong at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, there's no question why many have tabbed him as a preseason All-ACC selection.  

Ben Feder: Joe Giles-Harris. Last season, Duke counted on its linebackers to make a ton of plays, as Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys led the team in tackles by a largin margin. But with Humphreys coming off offseason shoulder surgery, Giles-Harris may need to showcase his immense talent even more this season.

Hank Tucker: Ben Humphreys. Linebacker is the one position group on defense that will have both talented and experienced players on the field. Humphreys, a third-team All-ACC pick last year, will do as much as he can along with Giles-Harris to make up for the question marks both on the defensive line and in the secondary.

Michael Model: Joe Giles-Harris. The redshirt-sophomore was arguably the Blue Devils best defender last season. Giles-Harris led Duke with 107 tackles and was a wall on defense, forcing 9.5 tackles for a loss last season. In just his second season as a starter, Giles-Harris is back and stronger than ever and will lead a Blue Devils’ defense which struggled, allowing more than 28 points a game a season ago.

Mitchell Gladstone: Joe Giles-Harris. This is not a particularly hard choice. Giles-Harris and his roommate, fellow linebacker Ben Humphreys, are far and away the two best players on this unit and the pair will very likely lead Duke in tackles once again. So why Giles-Harris? He’s probably slightly more athletic and will carry the motivation of wanting to out-tackle his buddy for a second straight season.

Best win

Ben Leonard: Virginia Tech. Duke was a blocked field goal away from beating the Hokies last year and should be able to push them this season, even on the road. Until last season, the Blue Devils had played tough on the road under Cutcliffe, and figure to reestablish that success this year against Virginia Tech, which does not have any experienced quarterbacks on its roster and has to replace two star offensive linemen, Augie Conte and Jonathan McLaughlin. 

Ben Feder: Georgia Tech. Last season, with an inexperienced Jones at the helm, Duke lost a tight contest in Atlanta 38-35. Now, with Georgia Tech’s starting quarterback Justin Thomas out of the picture, the Blue Devils will not have to deal with a dynamic veteran in his third season running the triple-option. At home, with an offense that should improve with Jones, the Blue Devils will get just enough stops to prevail.

Hank Tucker: Pittsburgh. With the Panthers losing running back James Conner and quarterback Nathan Peterman to the NFL, they could be vulnerable to their first loss to Duke since 2014 when they come to Durham Oct. 21. In the midst of a brutal home schedule, this will be one game that makes the Wallace Wade faithful happy.

Michael Model: Miami. The Blue Devils will face Miami after a tough stretch against Northwestern, Baylor, and North Carolina. Jones had a tendency to step up in big games last season, keeping Duke close against Notre Dame, North Carolina, Louisville, and Virginia Tech. Following losses to Baylor and North Carolina this year on the road, the Blue Devils will be hungry come Sept. 29. With a streak of three-straight losses looming, Jones passes for over 300 yards and no interceptions as Duke knocks off a top-20 opponent for the second-consecutive season.

Mitchell Gladstone: Northwestern. Is Georgia Tech or Pittsburgh a particularly good win? I’m not quite sure. But I do think that the Blue Devils will get a big-time victory, especially with all of their tough home contests this season. And in 2017, Duke finally gets off the schnide versus the Wildcats. Daniel Jones steps up in his first home test and gets revenge on a Northwestern defense that absolutely shut down the Blue Devil offense last year in Evanston, Ill.

Worst loss

Ben Leonard: Northwestern. Quarterback Clayton Thorson had Duke's number last season—and don't expect that to change. He torched a Blue Devil secondary that is better than it will be this season for 324 yards, and the Wildcats snuffed Duke’s offense almost entirely. The Blue Devils will continue to grow as the season goes on, but they will fall victim to the perpetually underrated Wildcats once again. 

Ben Feder: Virginia. An imposing defensive front wreaked havoc on Jones last season, who had six turnovers in his worst performance last season. Quarterback Kurt Benkert decimated the Blue Devil secondary, which has lost many key pieces from last season and is littered with inexperience. With this game in Charlottesville, Va., the Cavaliers have the tools to pull off a second straight upset.

Hank Tucker: Virginia. The Cavaliers have not been very good in recent years, but they have found ways to have success against Duke with back-to-back wins. Benkert is the only returning starting quarterback in the ACC's Coastal Division other than Daniel Jones, and he already torched the Blue Devil secondary once last season—I agree with Ben Feder that he can do it again.

Michael Model: Wake Forest. Wake Forest was relevant in 2016, when they became bowl eligible for just the second time since 2008. There’s no reason to expect drop off from this squad this season. The Demon Deacons will return quarterback John Wolford, leading-rusher Matt Coburn and sophomore Cade Carney who gained 103 yards and three touchdowns against the Blue Devils a year ago. Duke will be bowl eligible when they enter their final contest, but will fall to Wake Forest for the second-consecutive season.

Mitchell Gladstone: Wake Forest. After winning seven games last season, the Demon Deacons are no longer a walkover. The Blue Devils should have a bowl game locked up by this contest on the final week of the regular season, however. Still, with a chance to end the ACC season on a high note and potentially put themselves in position for a big-time bowl game, Duke falters against Wake Forest for a second season.

Breakout player

Ben Leonard: Brittain Brown. Brown rushed 19 times for 143 times this fall in scrimmages, and should emerge as a strong No. 2 back behind Shaun Wilson—at the very least. Head coach David Cutcliffe had a difficult time not playing him as a true freshman last season, and he will break out on the scene as a potent back in some capacity this season. 

Ben Feder: Mark Gilbert. Although he played sparingly at the beginning of the season as a true freshman, Mark Gilbert showed flashes of talent behind All-ACC performer Breon Borders. Now, Gilbert will have his time to shine in a starting role, and the combination of his athleticism and his size at 6-foot-1, will help him become a playmaker in a Duke secondary desperate for one.

Hank Tucker: Brittain Brown. With a distinct skillset from starter Shaun Wilson, Brown could a lot of time on the field right away and a lot of chances at touchdowns in short-yardage goal-line situations. Wilson has never been a very consistent threat, and I could see Brown getting more and more opportunities if he proves himself as the season progresses.

Michael Model: Brittain Brown. After being redshirted due to a surplus of depth at the running back position last season, Brown should get plenty of opportunities to impress this season. With the departures of Jela Duncan and Joseph Ajeigbe, Brown will give Cutcliffe an option to go with a much bigger back given his 6-foot-1 frame. Much bigger than incumbent starter senior Shaun Wilson, Brown will plow through opposing offenses and end up splitting the load with Wilson. Come 2018, Brown will be the team’s number-one option and a force in the Blue Devils backfield.

Mitchell Gladstone: Scott Bracey. This one could be a total flop—Bracey was listed as a second-string wideout on the first depth chart of the season and Cutcliffe mentioned that his condition was not yet up to par. But just as the Blue Devil head coach pushed Mark Gilbert back into a starting role, I think Cut and offensive coordinator Zac Roper do the same with Bracey, who was inside the top 200 prospects in ESPN’s Class of 2016. By season’s end, he is Duke’s No. 3 wideout and pulls in four touchdowns.