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The Chronicle's 2018 Duke football beats' predictions

<p>Duke offense will struggle without Daniel Jones behind center.</p>

Duke offense will struggle without Daniel Jones behind center.

With the 2018 Duke football season getting underway Friday at 7 p.m., The Chronicle's football beat writers Ben Feder, Derek Saul, Michael Model, Mitchell Gladstone and Winston Lindqwister give their predictions for the upcoming Blue Devils campaign.

Regular-season record

Ben Feder: 8-4

With the amount of experience the Blue Devils have on both sides of the ball, there’s no way they don’t coast through conference play, with the exceptions of Clemson and Miami, and maybe one more slip up on the radar.

Derek Saul: 9-3

This is a Duke team that I’m extremely high on. With a defense that could be one of the best in the country and a breakout season from Daniel Jones, don’t be surprised if the Blue Devils end up as ACC Coastal champions.

Michael Model: 8-4

Consistency has been preached throughout the offseason and I think it’ll show alongside the maturation of Jones in 2018. Add in a dominant defensive unit and the Blue Devils could easily jump out to a 4-0 start. Duke won’t be able to overcome the ACC powerhouses and could very well drop a road contest, but anything more than that would be a disappointment for this veteran squad.  

Mitchell Gladstone: 7-5

Something just tells me that Duke won’t be able to go 4-0 to start the season. If the Blue Devils do, they’ll have a shot at eight wins—but I don’t really foresee any major upsets in conference play that would give them any more than that. Still, Duke will return to the postseason for the sixth time in seven years.

Winston Lindqwister: 6-6

Although this Duke team has a lot going for it especially on the defensive end, I feel like there are too many question marks on offense for me to put this team as a lock for a top-three finish in the Coastal Division. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a talented team that has the potential to prove me wrong—I just have a feeling the Blue Devils may face some serious growing pains along the way.

Offensive MVP

Ben Feder: Daniel Jones

In his third year under center, Jones puts together a complete season, both in the air and on the ground. Jones has the stuff, and especially if the offense incorporates a deep passing attack, expect the redshirt junior to thrive.

Derek Saul: Brittain Brown

After a successful freshman campaign in 2017, Brown will lead a highly formidable Duke rushing attack. If the redshirt sophomore can keep up his efficiency with a greater workload—he picked up 5.4 yards per carry on 130 attempts last year—Brown can become the first Blue Devil to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in 15 years.

Michael Model: Daniel Jones

Jones closed out last season with arguably the best three-game stretch of his career and his ability to scramble opens up options in the passing game. The junior will need to stay mobile and cut down on interceptions, but a consistent season could very well garner national attention. 

Mitchell Gladstone: Daniel Jones

I’ll admit, I was tempted to pick one of the many pass-catchers Duke has in its arsenal. But the Blue Devil offense is too balanced for one guy to stand out other than Jones. And if he struggles, Duke will too, just as it did in the middle of 2017.

Winston Lindqwister: Brittain Brown

Last year, Brown was a spark plug to a stagnant Duke offense. And with a sometimes questionable receiver corps and without Shaun Wilson, the Blue Devils will probably be finding themselves leaning on the redshirt sophomore more than they anticipated in the preseason.

Defensive MVP

Ben Feder: Marquis Waters

I went a little outside the box on this one, but Waters impressed in limited action this year, and snagged a starting safety position despite competing against last year’s starter Jordan Hayes. Waters has the size and ball skills to become a key difference-maker on Duke’s backline this season.

Derek Saul: Joe Giles-Harris

A member of the Bednarik Watch List for the top defensive player in college football, Giles-Harris will look to follow up on a 2017 season in which he was first-team all-ACC. His 125 tackles and 16 tackles for loss were the top marks for Duke a year ago.

Michael Model: Mark Gilbert

Gilbert is probably the best Blue Devil corner since Ross Cockrell and he has the ability to shut down opposing receivers. Gilbert rose to the challenge last year against Duke’s stronger opponents last season like Miami and Virginia Tech and I think he’ll take that step guarding some of the best receivers in the nation in 2018. 

Mitchell Gladstone: Mark Gilbert

I think Duke’s defense has a chance to be one of the best in the ACC, primarily because of the talent in its front six. Gilbert, however, might be the best player on the entire unit, and if he’s able to hold things down on his side of the field, that will allow the safeties to provide support opposite Gilbert.

Winston Lindqwister: Joe Giles-Harris

Giles-Harris is unquestionably an elite defensive player in college football, and he has the resume to boot—last year he finished the season an All-American selection and a first-team All ACC pick. The Nyack, N.Y., native has been an integral component for Duke’s stifling defense, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Best win

Ben Feder: Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech has lost too many defensive studs to be as good as they were last year on defense. This time, at home, Duke will find enough cracks in the vaunted Hokie defense to get the job done.

Derek Saul: Virginia Tech

With a depleted defense and the loss of standout wide receiver Cam Phillips to the NFL, the Hokies may not be able to reach the level of success they did last year. I expect Duke to take care of business when the two teams meet September 29.

Michael Model: Northwestern

This is less about Northwestern and more about the fact that I do not see Duke getting by Miami, Clemson or Virginia Tech. Regardless, Jones feasted off the Wildcats last season, posting just the second 300-yard passing and 100-yard rushing performance in program history in a 41-17 onslaught of Northwestern.

Mitchell Gladstone: Northwestern

Maybe it’s just the good vibes from last year’s blowout win in Durham carrying over, but something tells me that Daniel Jones will want revenge from his last trip to Evanston—an ugly 27-for-48 outing in which he didn’t throw for a touchdown but tossed an interception and finished with a 28.3 QBR.

Winston Lindqwister: Virginia Tech

The offseason has not been kind to the Hokies’ defense. With an opportunity to take on a significantly weakened Virginia Tech squad at home, the Blue Devils will finally have what it takes to knock off a team that has consistently had their number.

Worst loss

Ben Feder: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh landed one of the premiere junior college transfers in quarterback Ricky Town, who started at Southern California. Playing on the road, the Blue Devils will struggle against a talented quarterback on a team that has had Duke’s number in recent years.

Derek Saul: Baylor

After a season from hell that resulted in just one victory, it is easy to take the Bears lightly. However, this is still a team with some talent, and winning a game in Waco, Texas is no easy task.

Michael Model: Georgia Tech

The Blue Devils have shown vulnerability to the triple-option offense in recent years and have averaged more than 40 points per contest against the Yellow Jackets over the last two seasons. That being said I think Duke will slump after the 4-0 start and drop its second consecutive in a hostile road environment. 

Mitchell Gladstone: Baylor

This loss will probably look worse at the beginning of the season than at the end. Yes, I know Baylor went 1-11 last year, but this is a historically good program with a very talented coach in Matt Rhule and pretty decent players. Duke has never been to Waco, and I just think they get outplayed on the road.

Winston Lindqwister: Pittsburgh

If the final three games of Pitt’s last season are anything to go off of, the Panthers will be no joke in conference play. As a team that has recently matched up well with the Blue Devils, I can very easily see the Panthers taking down Duke at home.

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