In just a few days, Duke football’s 2022 season will be over. Head coach Mike Elko’s inaugural season was a smashing success. In just one year, he turned the 3-9 (0-8 in the ACC) Blue Devils into an 8-4, bowl-bound team. And that bowl game against UCF is rapidly approaching.
Since the program’s inception in 1888, Duke has made 14 bowl appearances, including six in the last decade. Before the Blue Devils take the field in Annapolis, Md., Wednesday, let’s take a look back at that bowl history.
The Iron Dukes
Though Duke football’s first season was in 1888, it didn’t see much success until the outgoing Alabama head coach, Wallace Wade, took over. Wade led the Blue Devils to the Rose Bowl in 1938 after securing a perfect regular-season record. Though they lost to USC 7-3, this crew put Duke on the college football map and earned the name “Iron Dukes,” as its incredible lockdown defense paved its path to the playoffs.
Just three years later, on the brink of World War II, Wade brought the Blue Devils right back to the event. After the December bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl was moved to Durham—the only time the legendary game has been played outside of its namesake stadium in Pasadena, Calif. However, Wade’s squad suffered a similar fate, falling 20-16 to Oregon State.
Duke reached four more bowls from 1944 to 1960 under head coaches Eddie Cameron and Bill Murray, and won three of the four.
From the 1960s to the 2010s, any Blue Devil success was an isolated occurrence. The program consistently struggled—that is, until former head coach David Cutcliffe stepped in in 2008. When Cutcliffe arrived in Durham, Duke had only won two games in its last three seasons combined, including an 0-12 record in 2006. And while the turnaround was not as drastic as Elko’s magic this season, it was effective.
In 2012, the Blue Devils went 6-6, earning themselves a Belk Bowl berth. While they lost to Cincinnati, they were undeterred. The crew returned in 2013 determined. After boasting a stellar 10-2 regular-season record, Duke won the ACC Coastal division and earned itself a second-straight bowl appearance.
The trend continued in 2014 and 2015. Cutcliffe’s first bowl win occurred in the latter, as the Blue Devils took down Indiana 44-41 in overtime in the Pinstripe Bowl. The 55-year bowl victory drought was finally broken.
The Daniel Jones era
In 2016, a redshirt freshman earned the starting quarterback role for the Blue Devils. Daniel Jones made his mark immediately. Though Duke’s 2016 season was subpar, the Charlotte native established himself as a top-tier signal-caller, earning numerous ACC and national accolades as a rookie. It was his sophomore and junior seasons, however, that etched his name into Blue Devil history books.
As Duke’s captain for his final two collegiate years, Jones continued the success streak Cutcliffe had started earlier that decade. The Blue Devils finished the 2017 regular season 6-6, just enough to be bowl eligible. Once they got there, they dominated. Jones threw for 252 yards, rushed for 86 yards and totaled three touchdowns in the 36-14 win against Northern Illinois in the Quick Lane Bowl. The following year, he made those numbers look subpar. Against Temple in the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl, Jones recorded 423 passing yards and five touchdowns en route to a 56-27 win.
Though brief, Jones’ success at Duke re-ignited the program. Cutcliffe’s three consecutive losing seasons that followed Jones’ departure for the NFL caused a shift in leadership. Now, Elko will look to return to those winning ways and continue the Blue Devils’ three-bowl win streak. If he can lead Duke to victory, he will etch his name into the history books as the first Blue Devil head coach to win a bowl game in their first season.
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Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity sophomore and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.