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Column: Duke football has fallen behind North Carolina thanks to poor in-state recruiting

Despite 114 yards from Mataeo Durant, the Blue Devils were clearly outmatched in Saturday's edition of the Battle for the Victory Bell.
Despite 114 yards from Mataeo Durant, the Blue Devils were clearly outmatched in Saturday's edition of the Battle for the Victory Bell.

20-17. 56-24. 38-7. 

In case you were wondering, those scores reflect the last three Duke-North Carolina matchups, with the last two serving as pretty clear indications of the one-sided nature of this rivalry at the moment. Since Mack Brown arrived in Chapel Hill, the narrative between the two programs has flipped on its head. But why exactly is that the case?

Well to be frank, it all boils down to the recruiting trends right here in the state of North Carolina. Taking care of your backyard is the goal for every program from a recruiting standpoint—I don’t care if it is Alabama or Akron we’re talking about—but the Blue Devils have not been cleaning up in that department in the slightest.

Despite North Carolina being a consistent breeding ground for high-level recruits—with the sixth-most blue-chip prospects from 2016-2020—Cutcliffe and his staff have struggled to snag in-state talent at the same rate as North Carolina. This trend has been particularly apparent during Brown’s tenure, as 54% of the Tar Heels’ last three classes have been comprised of North Carolina high schoolers, juxtaposed to only 21% for the Blue Devils during the same time frame. 

Just think about Saturday afternoon’s blowout. The proverbial offensive and defensive MVPs for the Tar Heels were Sam Howell and lineman Myles Murphy, respectively, both of whom were four-star, in-state prospects. Those are the types of players that can drive the quick rebuild that the Tar Heels have experienced.  

Whether it is due to the assistant coaching hires Brown and Cutcliffe have made—the former has assembled a group that includes three top-75 recruiters, while the latter has been loyal to a fault when it comes to personnel questions—or Duke’s relative inability to fill in the gaps through the transfer portal, the talent disparity between the two jumps out. 

I know it’s not quite apples to apples to compare a private school to a large state school with more of an incentive to direct resources towards football, but the raw talent gap is still stark and should be more than concerning from the Blue Devils’ perspective, especially considering that entering the 2019 contest, they had won five of the last seven in this series. 

If this trend continues, this losing skid to its fiercest rival will only continue for Duke. And that is not something Cutcliffe and company can afford.

All recruiting stats courtesy of 247Sports.


Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor for The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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