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.
After losing star quarterback Daniel Jones as well two defensive leaders in Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys, many expect the Blue Devils to struggle in a down year, potentially failing to qualify for a bowl game this season.
Although Duke may need to grow into having Quentin Harris as the primary option under center, the Blue Devils return many key pieces on both sides of the ball and are primed to turn heads—and exceed expectations—in 2019.
While the Blue Devils will miss Giles-Harris and Humphreys as one of the best linebacker duos in the ACC, Duke will still have a stalwart defensive unit to give opponents headaches all season.
The Blue Devils will be returning almost all of a secondary that limited its opponents to 199.5 passing yards per game, a unit that was propped up by primarily second and even third-stringers due to a multitude of injuries through the season. Not only will the likes of safeties Dylan Singleton and Marquis Waters put a clamp on explosive plays as they did last season—Singleton had 73 tackles through the season and Waters put up 68—the eventual return of Mark Gilbert gives Duke's back line an elite level of talent and depth.
In terms of protecting against an attack on the ground, the Blue Devils will have a veritable wall set up for opposing running backs to try to break through thanks to an experienced and talented core of linemen and linebackers. Edgar Cerenord and Tre Hornbuckle put up solid numbers last year, with Cerenord contributing 14 tackles over just four games before injury and Hornbuckle notching 3.5 tackles for loss and 29 tackles through the season. Coupled with Victor Dimukeje, who tallied eight tackles for loss in 2018, get ready to see many offenses simply bounce off the front of Duke's defensive unit.
Although senior linebacker Koby Quansah will be out indefinitely following a preseason finger surgery, the Blue Devils depth will certainly account for the loss of production. Namely, redshirt junior Brandon Hill and redshirt sophomore Chris Rumph II—who switched between linebacker and defensive end seamlessly last season—will undoubtedly ruin many quarterbacks' days over the coming season.
Duke will miss having Jones under center. The former Blue Devil's smart decision making and knack for saving doomed plays bailed Duke out of many situations where its offense could have stalled out. However, don't count out a Harris-led offensive unit, especially with a large amount of returning depth with its running backs.
Harris has a solid arm with decent accuracy, throwing at a 50.6 percent clip through his Duke career. Where the redshirt senior excels, however, is finding windows to score on his own. With limited play last season as Jones' understudy, the Wilton, Conn., native rushed for five touchdowns and averaged 4.2 yards per carry.
Coupled with Deon Jackson—who led the team in rushing touchdowns on 5.3 yards per carry—and Brittain Brown, who averaged 41.0 rushing yards per game while playing through injury, Duke offense is primed to run over many opponents through 2019.
Although the Blue Devils will be looking at this season mainly as a rebuilding one, Duke will have the benefit of a very doable schedule for 2019. Outside of an incredibly slanted season opener against Alabama, a pair of difficult home tests against Notre Dame and Syracuse and a challenging road games against Virginia, the Blue Devils have the potential to win out the rest of their schedule.
Outside of heavily favored matchups against Middle Tennessee and North Carolina A&T, Duke shouldn't have any problem against struggling programs like North Carolina and Georgia Tech. Although Wake Forest and Pittsburgh should put up a bit more of a fight, the Blue Devils' experience should prevail. While Virginia Tech and Miami both on paper hold the edge over Duke, both teams struggled mightily in seasons marred with internal issues and inconsistency. While the jury is still out on how these storied programs can shape up for 2019, they are both vulnerable—giving this squad a perfect opportunity for an upset win.
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Although the Blue Devils undoubtedly lost a lot through the 2019 offseason, don't count Duke out just yet. With an elite defense and a solid offensive core, expect the Blue Devils to sneak into the upper echelon of the Coastal division and easily earn yet another postseason berth.
For more preseason coverage of the 2019 Blue Devils, check out our football season preview for features, predictions, and more.