On to Annapolis.
Duke has been selected to play UCF in the Military Bowl at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., Dec. 28 at 2 p.m. The Blue Devils, led by ACC Coach of the Year Mike Elko, are heading to their first bowl game since 2018 and will be going head-to-head against the Knights for the first time.
UCF is the runner-up in the American Athletic Conference with a 9-4 record after falling to Tulane in the conference championship game Saturday.
"It is an honor to be selected to participate in the Military Bowl and sincere appreciation goes to Steve Beck and the entire bowl staff for their dedication and commitment to providing a first-rate bowl experience for both programs," Elko said in a team release Sunday. "Our team has worked extremely hard over the past 11 months to achieve this goal, and we are excited for the opportunity to prepare and play against a terrific UCF squad."
"We're going to this bowl game to try to become the 2022 Military Bowl champions and to walk away with that trophy and put that as part of our program forever," Elko added during a press availability Sunday.
The Blue Devils hired Elko after a 3-9 2021 season in which they failed to win a conference game, and they quickly righted the ship come the 2022 season. Early-season dominance in the nonconference slate transitioned to a 5-3 ACC season in which Duke fell one game short of a Coastal Division title and a trip to the ACC championship game.
"We're excited to get up [to Annapolis] and kind of put our best foot forward to represent Duke football," Elko said. "... Just on the surface, I think it's a great matchup for our university and our football team."
The Blue Devils’ season was highlighted by sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard’s breakout performance, as he passed for 2,794 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions to go along with 636 rushing yards and 11 scores on the ground. The Blue Devils also enter bowl season with the second-best turnover margin in the nation.
With several players on the road back from injury, Elko said that wide receiver Eli Pancol, tight end Nicky Dalmolin and offensive lineman and captain Jacob Monk all have a "really good chance to play" with more than a month between games for the Blue Devils.
The Military Bowl bid is Duke’s 15th-ever bowl appearance and seventh since 2012. The Blue Devils’ all-time bowl record is 6-8, but they have won their last three in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
After being canceled twice in a row due to COVID-19-related matters, the Military Bowl will be played for the first time since North Carolina won it in 2019.
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Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.