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Duke fall sports preview: Football

Quentin Harris will be tasked with leading the Duke offense this season.
Quentin Harris will be tasked with leading the Duke offense this season.

 A lot of buzz has surrounded the Duke football program in recent months, as three-year starting quarterback Daniel Jones was selected with the sixth overall pick in April’s NFL Draft and the Blue Devils will open the season against No. 2 Alabama. Despite the headlines, Duke could be due for a disappointing fall, with a tough schedule and significant personnel losses in tow. Let’s take a look at what to expect from the Blue Devils this fall.

Player to look out for: Quentin Harris

A stout defense and formidable running attack will be Duke’s greatest strengths this upcoming season. But the play of redshirt senior quarterback Quentin Harris is what will make or break the Blue Devils’ record by the end of the year. With Daniel Jones sidelined for two games last fall, Harris performed well enough for a couple of commanding victories over Baylor and N.C. State. But the Wilton, Conn., native has been known to possess a very inconsistent arm—as evidenced through the start of fall camp. His raw speed can keep defenses honest, but Harris’ ability to throw the football will go a long way in determining Duke’s success throughout the 2019 campaign.

Most anticipated matchup: Aug. 31 vs. Alabama

Although the matchup against the Crimson Tide is not expected to be close by any margin, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in Atlanta is by far the most anticipated contest in recent Duke football history. The young Blue Devils will be tasked with taking down a dynasty looking to reclaim its throne following last year’s embarrassing defeat to Clemson in the national title game. The Duke defense, without linebackers Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris, will have to slow down Heisman Trophy favorite Tua Tagovailoa who threw for just under 4,000 yards and over 40 touchdowns in a historic offensive performance for the Crimson Tide last season. 

On the other side of the ball, quarterback Harris and the running back duo of Deon Jackson and Brittain Brown will try to move the ball on the ground against an always stout Alabama defense. Don’t expect the final line to be close, but the primetime contest is certainly a historic one for the Duke program.

Worst Case Scenario: 

Like Blue Devil fans saw in 2016, the changing of the guard at quarterback is often not a smooth process, and the offense could take a while to develop with Harris taking over as the full time starter. With experienced and talented groups in the secondary and defensive line, the other side of the ball carries them to wins here and there, but ultimately a schedule that features three AP Top 25 teams and 11 opponents that reached a bowl game in 2018 will be their downfall. The Blue Devils start to show promise in the middle of the season during the easier part of their schedule but falter late in the season, failing to make a bowl game for just the second time in eight years.

Best Case Scenario:

The Blue Devils have several factors stacked against them in the earlier half of the season. They will need to adjust to Harris as their quarterback while going head to head with some of the toughest programs they’ll be up against this year. However, if a solid transition is made, then Duke can use these pieces to their advantage. The Blue Devils may be able to play to their competition, with Harris proving himself as a quality passer and with younger players on defense stepping up. If the team manages to get in some hard earned wins within the first set of games, then this will build up the confidence of the players for the latter half of the season. 

They will also come out of these more difficult match ups with a stronger skill set to ride with come post-season. Combining a few tough victories from early on with some easier wins to follow, Duke could ideally finish its season with eight or nine wins. By learning to adapt to their schedule, the Blue Devils will be ready to qualify for and win their fourth bowl game in the past five years.

Editor's note: This is a part of The Chronicle's daily series of previews for Duke's fall sports, the rest of which can be found here.

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