There’s a relatively clear power structure in the ACC. You have North Carolina, the greatest dynasty in North American sports history. Duke, Virginia and Florida State have been stalwarts of the second tier for the better part of a decade and are usually serious title contenders. N.C. State, Louisville and Clemson are all consistently winning programs as well.
The Blue Devils are in the midst of an incredible run of success, and their talent this year is their best since their record 2017 campaign, plus the Tar Heels are missing key players. With Duke’s recruiting having resurged to match the on-field results, it’s poised to reach the Final Four again, just as soon as Final Fours are a thing we can do again.
“Our ultimate goal, which we haven’t done yet, is to win a national championship,” head coach Robbie Church told The Chronicle Aug. 31. “We’ve been close, but we have not reached that yet.” -Adler
New player to watch: Grace Watkins
The Blue Devils brought in another talented class, ranking as high as No. 3 in the nation. And, for the second year in a row, the Gatorade California Player of the Year will be making her home in Durham. Last year it was Sophie Jones. This year, it's Grace Watkins, a star forward ranked as the No. 19 prospect in the country. One of just a couple underclassmen forwards, Watkins looks to make an immediate impact for the Blue Devils on the offensive side of the ball, slotting in alongside her older teammates. -Browning
Returning player(s) to watch: Trio returning from injury
Sydney Simmons. Sophie Jones. Mia Gyau. Question: What do they all have in common (other than the fact that they play for Duke)? All three are returning from significant injuries that kept them out of the rotation for varying amounts of time. Simmons missed all of the previous season after suffering an injury in the preseason. Jones played almost every minute of every game her freshman campaign until suffering a season-ending injury in early October. Gyau suffered the third season-ending of her college career just days after Jones. All three are slated to return this season, and expect them to quickly adjust and make an impact on the team, adding to what is already one of the Blue Devils' deepest teams in years. -Browning
Most anticipated matchup: Virginia, Sept. 17
If the Blue Devils want to keep pace atop the conference, they’ll have to go through Virginia.
Duke is 0-2-1 against Virginia in the past two years, as the Cavaliers continue a startling resurgence toward the top of the conference. Their on-field results from the past several years haven’t quite matched the Blue Devils’, but their recruiting has actually been better, making the matchup between the two that much more important. Whoever takes this game accomplishes two equally-consequential things: they establish themself as a top-five team, and they lay claim to recruits from Richmond, the Tidewater and the Banks. -Adler
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The best-case scenario for Duke women’s soccer is the same as always: a national cha—oh. We’ll go with an ACC championship, then, with a multiple-goal win against Virginia and the kind of performance against North Carolina that would make any spectator want to be a Blue Devil. -Adler
The worst-case scenario involves the trio of previously-injured players failing to come back to their previous levels, and Duke’s lack of young talent at forward coming home to roost. Frankly, there’s just too much positive inertia with this team to do anything bad enough to fall out of the ACC’s second tier, though. -Adler
Browning: 8-2-1 (6-1-1 in the ACC), loss in ACC Championship
Adler: 7-3-1 (5-2-1 in the ACC), loss in ACC semifinals
Editor's note: This is a part of The Chronicle's series of previews for Duke's fall sports, the rest of which can be found here.