Editor's note: This article is part of a point/counterpoint series about Duke's chances of bowl eligibility this season. Click here to view the opposing argument.
The 2010s has arguably been the greatest decade in Duke football history. However, the 2019 Blue Devils will be plagued by past success and fail to become bowl eligible this season.
Duke has earned postseason eligibility in six of the past seven seasons, with the Blue Devils winning the latter trio and snapping a 54-year bowl championship drought in the process. David Cutcliffe’s revitalization of the program has encouraged a facility overhaul in Durham, which has ramped up recruiting efforts and created a strong pipeline from Duke to the National Football League.
While the Blue Devils have been able to weather the departures of graduated seniors over the years, a pair of early exits will especially reduce Duke’s effectiveness on both sides of the ball. Both quarterback Daniel Jones and perennial All-ACC linebacker Joe Giles-Harris decided to forgo their final year of eligibility last December, opting to declare for the NFL Draft.
Jones’ departure capped the renewal of the Blue Devils’ air attack, as Duke will also be without its top-three receivers and starting tight end from the 2018 campaign. According to the team’s depth chart released Tuesday, the Blue Devils’ attempt to fill the void will be quarterback Quentin Harris alongside wide receivers Aaron Young, Scott Bracey and freshman Jalon Calhoun, and tight end Noah Gray.
Having offensive chemistry will be key throughout the season, but Duke could face a steep learning curve given its lack of experience and depth—especially with Jake Bobo out indefinitely with a fractured clavicle. While Noah Gray enjoyed a breakout 2018 with 234 yards and a touchdown, the Blue Devils’ receiving trio will each need to break out for Duke to match its offensive output from a year ago.
Young and Bracey combined for a mere 10 catches and 166 yards last season. Although Young has showed splashes of greatness—including a career-high 114-yard performance against Army last season—he and Bracey have not been able to stay on the field throughout their Duke careers. Neither player has ever logged a full season, with Young playing just two games last year due to a hamstring injury.
Even if they do stay healthy, it remains to be seen what Harris can do under center. Known for his dual-threat skillset, Harris has just one career start against an FBS opponent. Harris got the job done against Baylor in 2018, but completed just 12-of-30 attempts for 174 yards and three touchdowns against a mediocre Bear defense. With a pair of staunch backs in Preseason All-ACC honoree Deon Jackson and Brittain Brown, Duke will almost certainly be led by its ground attack. However, the run game alone will not be enough against the Blue Devils’ defense-first opponents.
On the other side of the ball, Duke will be without its two leaders from last season, Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys. Redshirt junior Mark Gilbert’s return from a hip injury that kept him out most of last season remains uncertain after he underwent a second procedure earlier this summer. Senior Koby Quansah fractured his thumb last week, but remains on the depth chart for Saturday’s matchup against Alabama.
With players such as Leonard Johnson, Michael Carter II and Chris Rumph II breaking out last season while filling in for a plethora of injured starters, Duke’s defense should be marginally improved. However, allowing 27.4 points per game, given its drastically inferior offense, will likely not be enough to get the Blue Devils to 6-6 or even 5-7, especially given its strength of schedule.
All in all, the 2019 Duke team may not be that much worse off than the 2018 iteration, but given its daunting schedule, the Blue Devils will have much less room for error.
A perk of becoming a nationally recognized program is that other nationally recognized programs—such as No. 2 Alabama—want to play you. Unfortunately for Duke, matchups with the Crimson Tide and No. 9 Notre Dame almost certainly will translate to a 2-2 nonconference record.
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Even with Jones and Giles-Harris in the fold, the Blue Devils still finished 3-5 in the ACC during each of the previous two campaigns. With an intra-division matchup against No. 22 Syracuse in addition to road games at Virginia Tech, Virginia, Wake Forest and North Carolina—once again under Mack Brown—the 2019 season will be a transitional year for the Blue Devils.
Duke will have very little breathing room in a competitive ACC Coastal division and bowl eligibility will require strong chemistry and clean play throughout. A.J. Reed’s return as kicker three years after a shaky freshman campaign also highlights the uncertainty surrounding the 2019 season. Unfortunately, I believe all the contingencies on this year's Blue Devil squad will be too much to overcome. The best football of the greatest decade in program history is behind us.
For more preseason coverage of the 2019 Blue Devils, check out our football season preview for features, predictions, and more.
Digital Strategy Director for Vol. 115, Michael was previously Sports Editor for Vol. 114 and Assistant Blue Zone Editor for Vol. 113. Michael is a senior majoring in Statistical Science and is interested in data analytics and using data to make insights.