Walking down Chapel Drive after a Chronicle Sports meeting just a couple weeks ago, I said to another member on staff that this was a lost year for Duke football.
In an awkward season cramped between Daniel Jones and the Blue Devils' supposed quarterback of the future in Gunnar Holmberg, I firmly believed Blue Devil fans would have to wait this year out before there was any promise of competitive football in Durham.
I was dead wrong.
Yes, it’s easy to overreact after beating up on two opponents outside the Power Five, but Middle Tennessee isn’t a bad team. In fact, the Blue Raiders put up a better fight against 11th-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor than they were able to against Duke at home. One game apiece obviously doesn’t place the Blue Devils in the same tier as the Wolverines, but it does put into perspective how impressive Quentin Harris and company were this past Saturday in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
I’ll admit I was not very high on Harris before this season. After watching him take over for an injured Jones against Northwestern, Baylor and N.C. Central last year, I came to one clear conclusion—this guy can’t throw. He simply wasn’t accurate enough to be a viable starting quarterback against defenses outside the FCS. Once Jones returned, there wasn’t any further evidence to prove my initial impressions wrong. It’s why I thought that Holmberg should’ve entered this season above Harris in the depth chart.
I did, however, notice something about Harris the first time I was able to interview him, following April’s Spring Showcase: he was mature. You may be wondering why this came as news to me. Of course a rising fifth-year senior would be mature, right? How does that make him a worthy starting quarterback in the ACC? What does that even mean?
At the time, Harris still had a long way to go before he was ready to take the reins of Duke’s offense, but just by hearing him talk, I could tell he was getting there. He knew he had to improve as a passer. He knew how important that improvement would be to the Blue Devils’ 2019 campaign. And he was devoted to get to where his team needed him to be.
This past Saturday, all that dedication came to light.
Again, I know I’m probably overreacting to one great performance. But when you’re an optimist like I am, it’s hard to not overreact. Time and time again, Harris made throws that, around this time a year ago, I didn’t think he’d ever be able to make. I was wrong. Who knows, maybe he’ll toss three interceptions against Virginia Tech and I’ll be wrong once again. But right now, I believe Quentin Harris has shown he will continue to have success once conference play begins.
Another reason I’m high on Duke football is the overstatement of the team’s tough schedule. Yes, nonconference matchups against Alabama and Notre Dame are near automatic losses and the Blue Devils do face numerous solid ACC teams this season, but there is no Clemson in this year’s conference slate. Every single ACC game this season is winnable, especially if the team’s offense keeps playing the way it has been.
Am I saying Duke is going to make a run at the Coastal? No—though that’s not entirely out of question. The division is just as wide open as it was in 2018, when Pittsburgh somehow swooped in and stole the crown. But when all’s said and done, don’t be surprised if the Blue Devils end up winning seven or eight games by season’s end. In my book, that’s far from a lost year for Duke football.
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