This fall’s Blue Devils feature a trio of some of the most exciting weapons in the program in recent memory: a promising quarterback transfer in Chase Brice, an electric kick returner in Damond Philyaw-Johnson and perhaps the most talented pass rusher in the nation in Chris Rumph II.
All these pieces make it difficult to say that I simply do not see Duke finishing with a winning record this fall, and it boils down to one simple reason: its schedule. Here’s why the Blue Devils’ 11-game slate makes me think this will be another rebuilding year for head coach David Cutcliffe’s squad.
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many college football programs to opt out of playing this fall, the ACC and other conferences have become insular, opting for schedules filled with nearly exclusively conference games. Of Duke’s 11 contests currently scheduled, there is only one nonconference matchup, an Oct. 31 tilt against Charlotte. The rest of the Blue Devils’ opponents will be ACC foes, including No. 10 Notre Dame, which will play the 2020 season as a part of the conference.
So, what’s the big deal with Duke playing 10 of its 11 games against ACC opponents? In a typical regular season, the Blue Devils would play eight conference games and four nonconference matchups with potential for a bowl game against a nonconference foe as well. Assuming Duke picks up a win against Charlotte, it would still need to win five ACC games to finish with a winning record of 6-5. Winning half of their conference games may seem like no big deal, but the Blue Devils have not finished .500 or better in ACC play since 2015. In fact, they have not come particularly close. Let’s take a look at Duke’s conference record over the last four years:
2016: 1-7 ACC
2017: 3-5 ACC
2018: 3-5 ACC
2019: 3-5 ACC
Total: 10-22 ACC
That 10-22 conference record is ugly, equating to a .313 winning percentage. Extrapolated over 10 games, that would be just 3.13 wins, far short of the five the Blue Devils would need this season. For reference, let’s look at how Duke fared outside of the ACC in the regular season in that same timeframe:
2016: 3-1 Non-ACC
2017: 3-1 Non-ACC
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
2018: 4-0 Non-ACC
2019: 2-2 Non-ACC
Total: 12-4 Non-ACC
That 12-4 nonconference record looks a heck of a lot better than the 10-22 ACC mark. Unfortunately for Duke, it will not get the benefit of playing against the likes of North Carolina A&T, Middle Tennessee or N.C. Central in 2020.
Though I think the numbers speak for themselves, I would be remiss to not actually discuss any real football here. But that’s the point: I believe in the talent of Brice, I think Noah Gray and Jalon Calhoun are two of the most talented Duke pass catchers in recent memory and Rumph and Victor Dimukeje will punish opposing offensive lines. Even with all of this talent, I simply do not think the Blue Devils are deep enough to overcome their gauntlet of a schedule. Expect another year of rebuilding for Cutcliffe and company.
For more preseason coverage of the 2020 Blue Devils, check out our football season preview for features, predictions, and more.