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ChronSports' Top 10 of 2019 — No. 9: Duke football kicks off season against No. 2 Alabama

The Blue Devils played under the bright lights of Mercedes-Benz Stadium to open the 2019 season.
The Blue Devils played under the bright lights of Mercedes-Benz Stadium to open the 2019 season.

As 2019 comes to a close, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest stories of the year in Duke athletics. Each day, we will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year for the Blue Devils.

Coming in at No. 9: Duke football opens the 2019 season with a marquee matchup against then-No. 2 Alabama, showing just how far the Blue Devils have come under head coach David Cutcliffe.

The 2019 season may not have gone exactly to plan for head coach David Cutcliffe and his Blue Devils on the gridiron, but their season opener marked uncharted territory for Duke football.

Just more than a decade after Cutcliffe took over a Duke program that had won 10 games over its last eight seasons, his team took the field against then-No. 2 Alabama to play in front of 71,916 fans in Mercedes-Benz Stadium and for the millions of more fans at home watching the nationally televised game on ABC Aug. 31. 

The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game matchup between the Blue Devils and the Crimson Tide was years in the making, a true celebration of Cutcliffe's injection of life into a previously flailing Duke football program. 

The Blue Devils kept up with the reigning national runner-up for the first half—even playing the first quarter to a scoreless tie—though Alabama's vastly superior athleticism would allow the Crimson Tide to pull away in the second half for a lopsided 42-3 victory. 

After the loss to Alabama, Duke would go on to play its best football of the season, pulling off three straight wins, including a signature win in Blacksburg, Va. Led by quarterback Quentin Harris' three-touchdown performance, the Blue Devils embarrassed Virginia Tech 45-10 on the Hokies' home turf, putting Duke on the cusp of an AP Top 25 ranking. 

Following the convincing victory against Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils' season went off the rails, as Duke would win just two of its next eight contests to finish the year 5-7. With just five wins, the Blue Devils would miss out on a bowl game for just the second time since 2012.

Despite the unsavory end to the season, Duke wanted—and got—'Bama, further cementing the Blue Devils as a team that's certainly no longer the laughing stock of the FBS.

READ MORE on Duke football's matchup with Alabama:

'This sets Duke football apart': Alabama matchup caps David Cutcliffe's program turnaround

Duke football hangs under bright lights for half, proves program's rise

ROLLED OVER: Duke football stomped by No. 2 Alabama despite scoreless first quarter

A look at the rest of our top 10 countdown:

No. 10: Duke wrestling's Mitch Finesilver places 4th in NCAA championships