As Duke currently sits in second place in the ACC's Coastal Division, behind only No. 23 Virginia, you’d be tempted to believe that the Blue Devils turnaround is well ahead of schedule. You’d be naive.
Make no mistake, what the Blue Devils have accomplished thus far in 2019 has been impressive. They have covered the spread against every team not currently ranked No. 1 in the nation, cruising to a 3-1 start.
However, Duke's impressive first quarter has seemed to bring about lofty goals for the rest of the season thanks to exceedingly low expectations at the start of the year.
Duke has covered as 27-point favorites against an FCS team in N.C. A&T, 6.5-point favorites facing a poor Group of Five team in Middle Tennessee, and as a 2.5-point underdog away when they beat a Virginia Tech team that is no longer like the dominant program of the early 2000s. This all suggests that Vegas has warmed up to the idea of a better Blue Devil squad, but even so, one metric sees this year's Duke team as just mediocre.
SP+, the brainchild of ESPN's Bill Connelly, is a predictive ranking system that judges teams based on their tempo and the competition they have faced, with the goal of sorting out which schools are for real and which are just beating up weaker opponents. Out of 140 schools, Duke ranked in the 80s to begin the year, a spot that found them surrounded by many smaller schools. They now sit at No. 44, nowhere near the level of a team that some say could compete for an ACC Championship berth.
This ranking puts the Blue Devils around Power 5 teams like Maryland and Florida State, programs that are nearing internal collapse. In terms of their ranking in the conference, Duke comes in at third in the Coastal, well behind the leader, Miami, at No. 31.
This team has certainly shown some young talent and has a schedule full of teams right around them in SP+. As long as Pittsburgh, who has had the Blue Devils' number in the past, doesn't pull the upset, Duke can start trending towards truly substantive growth this Saturday.
Until Duke football shows some teeth against opponents with a lick of talent however—it’s foolhardy to hype an unproven commodity.
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