Despite plenty of success the last few seasons, including a pair of bowl wins, Duke is on the verge of doing something it hasn't in five years. But to do so, the Blue Devils will need to emerge victorious in their regular-season finale.
Duke will return to Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday afternoon with an eighth win in its sights when the Blue Devils host Wake Forest to conclude their ACC slate. Although Duke reached the eight-win plateau in 2015 when it knocked off Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl, head coach David Cutcliffe's team hasn't been as successful during the regular season since 2014, when the Blue Devils took down these very same Demon Deacons in Durham before losing to Arizona State in the Sun Bowl.
Of course, Saturday will also be an opportunity to recognize the senior class that has carried Duke to both of those postseason victories, something they hadn't done in more than a half-century.
And while this will be these veterans' last chance to step on the turf at Wallace Wade, Cutcliffe acknowledges that there's still plenty of football ahead for this group as they hope to rebound from a deflating loss at Clemson and end their last collegiate campaign with not just one, but two wins.
"They've won a lot of football games in their time," Cutcliffe said. "We're certainly celebrating them all week. Senior Day is never as emotional for me because I'm so used to being in bowl games. The night before a bowl game, that's when I get pretty emotional."
One guy who probably won't be recognized is Daniel Jones, given that he's just a redshirt junior. But Jones is set to complete his classes in December and could opt to leave the Blue Devil program if he has his sights set on April's NFL Draft.
Jones, however, hasn't gotten much help from an experienced pass-catching corps. Johnathan Lloyd, Daniel Helm, Davis Koppenhaver, Chris Taylor and T.J. Rahming—all in their final seasons of eligibility—are five of Duke's top seven receivers, but just Lloyd and Rahming are among the top 30 in the ACC.
Furthermore, Jones still sits outside the top five in total yards among quarterbacks in the conference.
That said, the Blue Devils are going to need their passing game to energize an offense that will likely have to bear the brunt of the responsibility with a defense that is as banged up as ever. Duke defensive backs Mark Gilbert and Dylan Singleton are already out for the year and things haven't gotten better—co-captains and linebackers Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys both have knee injuries that may or may not keep them off the field vs. Wake Forest.
After the Blue Devils needed to beat the Demon Deacons to extend their season last year, roles will be reversed this time around. Wake Forest needs to win to get to .500 on the season and reach bowl eligibility.
“We have to remember how hungry we were last year,” offensive lineman Zach Harmon told reporters at Duke's weekly media session. “ It’s that same mentality and mindset that Wake Forest is coming in with. Wake Forest is always a physical game, we have a lot of pride to stick up for and our seniors will tell you we want to leave this field with a win, and just keep the ball rolling.”
Harmon will join those five receivers and 10 other Blue Devils in the team's pregame Senior Day ceremonies. That group also includes kicker Collin Wareham, defensive tackle Edgar Cerenord—who is out for the year with a ruptured Achilles—left tackle Christian Harris and a trio of walk-ons.
But once the celebrations are out of the way, it will be business as usual for a Duke team that is eager for a positive finish to an already successful season.
"Our seniors need to play like seniors," Cutcliffe said. "They have to lead the way and understand we have their back. We're have to have that edge in energy. There needs to be intensity about us. Let's go out in style."
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."