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The Chronicle's 2022 Duke football beats' predictions

<p>Duke is looking to rebound after a winless ACC slate in 2021.</p>

Duke is looking to rebound after a winless ACC slate in 2021.

Friday evening, Duke and first-year head coach Mike Elko begin a new era at Wallace Wade Stadium against Temple. Before that first game kicks off, The Chronicle's football beat writers Jonathan Levitan, Micah Hurewitz, Sasha Richie, Andrew Long, Rachael Kaplan and Franck Djidjeu predict the Blue Devils' season.

Regular-season record

Levitan: 4-8

Even after overstepping with my prediction a year ago, I remain optimistic about the Blue Devils’ chances to exceed expectations in 2022. Once again, Duke has the chance to capitalize on a fairly weak nonconference schedule and—despite all of the roster turnover on offense—should be comfortable enough with sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard under center after fall camp to head into ACC play 3-1. And while the Blue Devils are still catching up to their conference counterparts, I expect head coach Mike Elko’s first Duke iteration to grow enough throughout the fall for a late-season win against Boston College or Virginia Tech.

Hurewitz: 3-9

Elko’s first year has a bit of hype attached to it, but this team is still just a less-experienced version of last year’s squad. The Blue Devils' defense won’t be suddenly able to keep up with the high-powered offenses of the conference—as Duke finished fourth-worst in the nation in points allowed. Offensively, the Blue Devils are rolling with a sophomore at quarterback for the first time since sending Daniel Jones on the field in 2016. They’re without a "bell cow" back like Mataeo Durant and a top receiving target in Jake Bobo. With several incoming transfers and an all-new coaching staff, they might be able to scratch out a conference win against a team like Georgia Tech. But don’t count on it.

Richie: 3-9 

You know when you buy a new car and you figure out that your left window switch is a little sticky and the exhaust sputters a little as it starts, and you wonder if you would’ve been better off with your old reliable Prius? You wouldn’t be, to be clear. But that’s how I feel about Duke right now. I am a believer that Elko will turn around the program—eventually. But in his first year? I wouldn’t hold your breath. There will be a lot of new systems and schemes, and some of them—in fact, most of them—won’t really work just yet. We’re in the “trust the process” stage of the Elko era, and that likely won’t garner more wins than a few nonconference matchups.

Long: 4-8

As far as I’m concerned, the only ways Duke can go are up and sideways, and the optimist in me wants to lean toward the former. As Micah said, this team isn’t as experienced as last year’s and it is adapting to a new coach and new system, but that doesn’t necessarily spell disaster. Of course, a 4-8 record is nothing to write home about and certainly nothing that will put the Blue Devils in ACC contention, but I can see this year as one of slow progress. As an understocked program in an overstocked conference, Duke won’t punch above its weight, but it doesn’t have to just yet. Like a well-stocked spice drawer, this program just needs some thyme.

Kaplan: 4-8 

While I do think that Duke's future is bright, I don’t think this is the year we see that turnaround. Elko’s recruiting efforts are not going unnoticed, and I am optimistic about the Blue Devils' chances in the coming seasons, but this won’t be their year. With an almost entirely new coaching staff and a different quarterback under center, the team is bound to have its ups and downs. The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t have the talent to compete in the ACC; the Blue Devils are coming off of a winless conference slate, and a new head coach alone is not enough to right that ship in just one year. 

Djidjeu: 4-8

The Blue Devils once again have a much lighter first half filled with out-of-conference foes compared to a daunting second half riddled with some of the ACC's most competitive teams. It is going to be a transition period for Duke as it becomes accustomed to a whole new coaching style and the loss of last year’s starting running back and quarterback. However, when you are at rock bottom, even a transition period can be a step up. With returning stars on both sides of the ball and Elko bringing high-level SEC experience, Duke should be able to handle the majority of its nonconference slate and potentially grab a sweet ACC win that it could not secure last year.

Offensive MVP

Levitan: Riley Leonard

Leonard may be the latest stop on Duke’s quarterback carousel—he is the team’s fifth starting passer in as many years—but there is plenty of reason to believe that he could amount to much more than that. As a sophomore with both athleticism and size under center, he should be versatile and adaptable enough to pick things up in the Blue Devils’ brand new system as the season goes on. Duke has more experienced players, and seniors Jalon Calhoun and Jacob Monk will be crucial to the offense, but Leonard has looked convincing to this point. If all goes well, he could end the carousel for the first time in years.

Hurewitz: Riley Leonard

As I pointed out above, Leonard and Jones have a lot in common. With about the same frame and each being handed the reins of the offense as a 19-year-old, maybe Leonard could replicate Jones’ success in his first year as a starter. It is more probable though, that with a running back room splitting carries across three players, Leonard is the de facto most important piece of the offensive attack.

Richie: Riley Leonard

There were spurts last season in which Leonard looked solid behind center in the waning minutes of blowouts, and Duke’s usually lethargic offense gained some life. Now, given the keys to the proverbial car, Leonard is poised to have a breakout year even in the midst of a full-throttle rebuild. If he can look confident as Elko builds his offensive system from the ground up, he’ll be the only correct pick for offensive MVP. 

Long: Jalon Calhoun

I’m going to throw Jalon Calhoun out there. The receiver led the Blue Devils in receiving touchdowns a season ago and played lights-out in April’s Blue-White game, forming a particularly fruitful connection with Leonard. Then again, since Jones left for the NFL, quarterback play has not been a strength for the Blue Devils and Calhoun will struggle if that trend continues. Duke needs a weapon from somewhere, though, and its senior pass-catcher seems a likely candidate.

Kaplan: Riley Leonard

I have high hopes for the sophomore. Leonard showed some flashes of potential in his limited time on the field last season, namely his 13-for-13 performance in the end of the Louisville game, even if it was in a blowout loss. Without Durant, Bobo and Holmberg, this offense will look vastly different from last year's: How good it is depends on how well Leonard can run it. 

Djidjeu: Jalon Calhoun

Considering the fact that the off-season battle for QB1 was so tight, I would not be surprised if backup quarterback Jordan Moore receives some important snaps throughout the season alongside Leonard. One thing that will be undoubtedly constant, however, is Calhoun as the primary wide receiver option. The senior has already shown that he is capable of being a WR1 and putting on explosive performances. Now, without as strong of a running game with the departure of Durant, Calhoun is going to have an even bigger role in the Duke offense. 

Defensive MVP

Levitan: DeWayne Carter

The 2021 season was a dark one on defense for the Blue Devils, who ranked last in the ACC in passing defense and second-to-last in rushing defense. For this year’s Duke team to improve on that side of the ball, it will need junior captain DeWayne Carter to anchor a strong defensive line unit. The 6-foot-3 Ohio native came into his own as a sophomore—he showed a knack for forced fumbles—and after establishing himself as a key contributor, should take on added importance as the Blue Devils look to force opponents away from the ground.

Hurewitz: Shaka Heyward

He has led the team in tackles in two straight seasons. He managed 11.5 tackles for loss in 2021 and is the toughest force on the Blue Devils' defensive side. Heyward, alongside Dorian Mausi, is a run stopper and backfield prowler, and as a captain, he will be tasked with using his voice to lead his squad. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith has expressed confidence in his development and natural instincts for the ball, so the junior looks to be primed for another step forward.

Richie: DeWayne Carter

The defensive line had a completely new look last season following the departures of Chris Rumph II and Victor Dimukeje for the NFL, and it was not an easy transition. Carter stepped up to the plate, though, logging the second-most tackles for loss and sacks on the team. As a captain as well, Carter will be relied upon not only for his skill but his leadership, and if he can lead the defensive line down the path of improvement, it’ll be hard to argue against his value to the defensive unit.

Long: DeWayne Carter

As the most experienced returner on Duke’s defensive line alongside Ja'Mion Franklin, Elko will be looking to the quiet reliability of the redshirt junior captain to carry the Blue Devil pass rush upward and onward. Given how leaky Duke’s secondary was in 2021—it surrendered 62 points to Louisville at home—it needs a rebrand, but Carter will remain. He’s a veteran, talented and physically imposing, and just the kind of guy any effective defense needs in its arsenal.

Kaplan: Shaka Heyward

There were only two possible answers here for me: Heyward and Carter. While I do think both will have strong seasons, Heyward’s usage makes him a little bit more attractive for the MVP prediction. He tallied the most snaps on the entire team last season, and in a year with such turnover, that consistency will be necessary this year. His versatility will be useful to patch the holes in what was a shaky defense last year. 

Djidjeu: DeWayne Carter

A returning captain and the heart of the defensive front, Carter is set to have an even bigger season. Every bit of his presence will be imperative to reshaping Duke’s defensive identity at the line. The Blue Devils struggled mightily last season to rack up sacks and stop the run, giving up 26 rushing touchdowns—the most in the ACC. Changing that will start with Carter. He’ll be quick to adopt the mindset that Elko brings and set the tone for the rest of the defense to feed off of.

Best win

Levitan: Kansas

Even if the Blue Devils pick up an upset win late in the ACC schedule, a win in Lawrence, Kan., against the budding Jayhawks and second-year head coach Lance Leipold would be a strong way to enter conference play. Kansas is not a strong program, to be sure, but should Duke falter at Northwestern, this would be the team’s first Power Five win with Elko at the helm and Leonard under center. With the Blue Devils set to be underdogs for most—if not all—of October and November, a win here is crucial for Duke. The Blue Devils should deliver.

Hurewitz: Northwestern

They did it last year, they can do it again. This time on the road will be a bit tougher, but as far as nonconference schedules go, Duke’s is not too challenging. My take is that Duke is going to win one—but not both—of its road trips to Evanston, Ill., and Lawrence, Kan., and I think we’ll be surprised when Duke starts off its season with a 3-0 record.

Richie: North Carolina A&T

I think there will be wins that will be harder for Duke to earn, like pulling out a victory against Northwestern or Kansas. But if last year’s 45-17 matchup is anything to go by, the Blue Devils are set for a decisive win on their home turf in a season that’s all about setting the tone for the future. Few things feel sweeter than firing on all cylinders in front of loyal fans, and Duke can gain some much-needed momentum and confidence in the process against the Aggies.

Long: Northwestern

Aside from the Temple and NC A&T games, there aren’t many—if any—contests Duke is favored in this fall. If it wants to improve on its 2021 record, however, it has to win two extra games, and I see those coming against Kansas and Northwestern. Kansas seems a slightly safer bet, but I think an upset against the Wildcats could be the Blue Devils’ marquee win this year and the first big victory of the Elko era. 

Kaplan: North Carolina A&T

I think this game might be Duke’s only convincing win of the season. It beat down on the Aggies last year after a tough loss to Charlotte in the season opener, and should easily do so again. The game, which will be played at home in Wallace Wade, is sandwiched between road trips to Northwestern and Kansas—I think that the Blue Devils will use the North Carolina A&T matchup to regroup and reset. 

Djidjeu: Georgia Tech

If there is a team in the ACC that the Blue Devils are going to pick up a marquee win against, it is the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech also had a 3-9 overall record last year and found itself at the bottom with Duke. Now, coming into this season, the Yellow Jackets no longer have star running back Jahmyr Gibbs and lost nearly their entire starting defense. Not to mention, Duke’s bout against Georgia Tech was the closest it came to an ACC win last season. Despite being on the road, the Blue Devils will seal the deal this time around, giving them confidence for an upward trajectory in the Elko era. 

Worst loss

Levitan: Georgia Tech

A season ago, Duke lost a particularly painful game to the Yellow Jackets, falling 31-27 in the Blue Devils’ last best chance for an ACC win. This time around, Georgia Tech presents another opportunity for Duke to pick up an important victory in its own conference at the season’s halfway point. Should this one slip away in Atlanta, Duke may have to wait until November for another true shot at an ACC opponent.

Hurewitz: Boston College

Duke is not favored to win any conference games at this point, so it's anyone’s guess which will just be the biggest disappointment or most shocking defeat. I’m taking the November battle in Chestnut Hill, Mass., as the one that sinks hopes of a strong finish to the season. Quarterback Phil Jurkovec will be one of the top passers in the conference—and thus could tear up a mediocre Blue Devil pass defense.

Richie: Georgia Tech

I don’t think Duke is at the point where it can win a conference game, but Georgia Tech isn’t far off as far as prospective success goes. However, starting quarterback Jeff Sims will be able to lead the Yellow Jackets past Duke, but not without the Blue Devils getting within striking distance—which is why this will be their worst loss. Sure, it will be tough to take a blowout loss to crosstown rival North Carolina, but it will hurt more to have a chance at a conference win only to come up short. 

Long: Virginia

Virginia is a better team than Georgia Tech or Boston College, but a thumping on homecoming weekend in their first conference game will be a reality check for the Blue Devils. If Duke wins its first four games—as I think it can—it will head into its opening ACC contest on a high. Last year’s high-flying passing offense will likely rip Elko’s secondary apart—just as it did in its 48-0 demolition of Duke last year—and possibly spell the end to an optimistic, unbeaten start.

Kaplan: North Carolina

Elko is working very hard to change the culture around Duke's football program, and I am sure that will come with attempting to reignite the Tobacco Road rivalry. However, the Blue Devils are just not good enough to compete with the Tar Heels. I think the worst part about the loss will be the hit to this season's expectations and build-up; while a rivalry win in Elko's first season as head coach would be the perfect start to his Duke career, it doesn’t seem like an attainable goal. 

Djidjeu: Miami

The Hurricanes crushed Duke 47-10 last season in Wallace Wade Stadium. Now, the Blue Devils must go down to Florida against a potentially even better team. Miami is returning its ACC Rookie of the Year quarterback Tyler Van Dyke and a new offensive coordinator with college football playoff experience. The signs point to the gap between the two teams only widening. Which, considering how wide it already was, is concerning. 

For the rest of our Duke football preseason coverage, click here.


Sasha Richie | Sports Managing Editor

Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


Micah Hurewitz | Sports Managing Editor

Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.



Jonathan Levitan | Sports Editor

Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


Rachael Kaplan | Assistant Blue Zone Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.


Andrew Long | Blue Zone editor

Andrew Long is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

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