With the 2019 Duke football season getting underway Saturday, The Chronicle's football beat writers Derek Saul, Evan Kolin, Ramona Naseri, Dilan Trivedi and Shane Smith give their predictions for the upcoming Blue Devils campaign.
Derek Saul: 6-6
I’m going right down the middle with this one—I don’t see the Blue Devils turning into the dumpster fire that some do, but the utter inexperience on the offensive side of the ball will prevent Duke from really breaking through.
Evan Kolin: 6-6
I thought about giving Duke a winning record here, but decided against being overly optimistic. Yes, the passing game will pretty much be a full reset. But David Cutcliffe said this year’s defense is the best he’s had at Duke, and I’ll take his word for it.
Ramona Naseri: 5-7
I don’t think Duke’s offense has what it takes to overcome a lot of the obstacles they’ll face this season. They won’t have the chance to build up momentum with a new quarterback before competing against their toughest opponents because the real competition is early on in the season.
Dilan Trivedi: 5-7
I think the stretch of four games in October starting at home against Pitt and culminating on the road against Carolina will determine if Duke finishes at .500 and is bowl-eligible. All these contests should be competitive but I don’t think the Blue Devils have enough experience on offense to close out drives in those tight games and will drop three of those contests.
Shane Smith: 5-7
I’m actually higher on this team than most, and I think their defense has a chance to be one of the best in the ACC. However, the schedule is just too tough with three of their rotational opponents in the AP Top 25.
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Derek Saul: Noah Gray
Although perhaps this is more of a breakout pick than an MVP, I love Gray’s talent and opportunity. While fighting for tight end snaps with Daniel Helm and Davis Koppenhaver in 2018, Gray still managed to haul in 20 receptions for 234 yards. I expect Harris to heavily target the 6-foot-4 junior throughout the season.
Evan Kolin: Deon Jackson
Jackson showcased his big play ability last season, and the all-purpose back enters 2019 ready to be the focal point of the Blue Devils’ offense. While that will likely draw him more attention from opposing defenses, expect Duke to utilize Jackson’s unique skill set as much as they can this season.
Ramona Naseri: Deon Jackson
Deon Jackson is a productive player and will serve as an important component again this season. Last season, he had 113 yards in just 14 attempts against Miami, averaging over 8 yards per attempt.
Dilan Trivedi: Deon Jackson
Jackson should benefit from improved offensive line play and the dynamics of playing with an athletic QB. The junior will thrive on read-option plays that will open up the field as defenses account for Quentin Harris’ rushing ability and will be valuable as a pass-catcher out of the backfield for Harris, who doesn’t exactly boast the same throwing gifts as his predecessor Daniel Jones.
Shane Smith: Jack Wohlabaugh
He may not be the most impactful player in 2019, but in an offense that is sure to be working out kinks throughout the season, he will certainly be the best. Coach Cutcliffe has raved about his potential to be one of the best centers in the country, and an all-ACC first team appearance is not out of the question for the redshirt-senior.
Derek Saul: Victor Dimukeje
The 2018 leader in sacks and tackles for loss, Dimukeje is a near lock to repeat as the pacesetter in those categories assuming health.
Evan Kolin: Michael Carter
Duke’s front four may be the team’s best defensive group, but Michael Carter is the top individual player on that end of the field. The junior has really stepped up in practice and will be tasked with anchoring the Blue Devils’ secondary.
Ramona Naseri: Mark Gilbert
The redshirt junior would have likely been able to enter the NFL Draft had he not suffered a dislocating hip injury last season. He’s undergone two surgeries since and is just waiting to be medically cleared. Although there’s no saying if he will be able to join his teammates this fall, I do think that if he stays healthy the 2017 all-ACC player could be a valuable asset to the Blue Devils.
Dilan Trivedi: Chris Rumph II
I expect Rumph to breakout this year with more playing time and his ability to play some LB , which became more important with senior Koby Quansah going down with an injury. The sophomore had seven tackles (four TFL), a sack and a fumble recovery in his lone start last season at Georgia Tech and will look to repeat that stat line on a more consistent basis this year.
Shane Smith: Dylan Singleton
An ankle injury cut Singleton’s 2018 season short last year, but he’s back anchoring a secondary that should be a major strength of this team. The senior was an all-ACC honorable mention pick for his performances in 10 games last year after recording 73 tackles and two forced fumbles.
Derek Saul: Syracuse
The Orange currently check in as the No. 22 team in the country, but I’m not sure I buy the hype. Playing at home, the Blue Devils should pick up a key ACC victory.
Evan Kolin: Syracuse
Syracuse’s preseason top 25 spot seems largely based on a breakout 2018 that’s unlikely to replicate. Combine that with the fact that the Orange lost their starting QB and will travel to Durham late in the season against a Duke squad chasing a bowl appearance? Count me in for the upset win.
Ramona Naseri: Miami FL
Miami FL is predicted to be in the ACC championship so snatching a win from them at home would derail their dreams. I think that with the tough competition early on, Duke may have the capacity to bring down Miami FL in their last game of the season.
Dilan Trivedi: Syracuse
With matchups against Alabama, Notre Dame and Miami - all college football “bluebloods” - you would hope the Blue Devils could pull off one miracle win. If this was last year’s team, I would probably grant Duke an outside chance. However, with this current squad, I think the Blue Devils would be happy upsetting a complacent Orange team that may have rested too much during its bye week.
Shane Smith: Virginia
While the Cavaliers may not have a pedigree of a marquee win, they should be one of the favorites to mwin the Coastal division with quarterback Bryce Perkins and an exceptional secondary. Virginia has owned the Blue Devils of late, but I believe they can ride a dominant run game and a deeper defensive line to keep Perkins in the pocket and seal a win.
Derek Saul: Virginia
The Cavaliers have owned the Blue Devils over the last few seasons, taking all four of the teams’ matchups since 2015. I anticipate more of the same dominance come Oct. 19 in Charlottesville
Evan Kolin: Pittsburgh
Duke just hasn’t seem to find any luck in week five matchups at home over the past few seasons, and I can see that trend continuing this year. Pittsburgh dropped 54 points on the Blue Devils last October, and the hiring of new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple only makes them more frightening.
Ramona Naseri: Pittsburgh
Duke has had a tough time stopping Pittsburgh in years past. The Panthers have a four year winning streak against the Blue Devils and have clearly shown to be the more effective team. I don’t think there will be much of a difference this year.
Dilan Trivedi: Virginia
The Cavaliers have won the last four contests and I expect that streak to continue this season. Virginia returns quarterback Bryce Perkins, who will develop into a true dual threat signal caller and lead his squad at home to a fairly convincing victory.
Shane Smith: Pittsburgh
Duke should have a small advantage after having an extra day of rest for this game, but their matchups with the Panthers in previous years have all been shootouts. Simply put, I don’t think the Blue Devils will have the offensive power to keep up in another one of those games.
Also check out Saul, Kolin and Smith give an in-depth preview of Duke's season as well as this weekend's matchup against Alabama in the sports department's first Facebook Live video of the year.
For more preseason coverage of the 2019 Blue Devils, check out our football season preview for features, predictions, and more.