ChronChat: Predicting the 2023 Duke football season

The Chronicle's beat writers forecast records from 7-5 to 9-3, with some marquee wins along the way.
The Chronicle's beat writers forecast records from 7-5 to 9-3, with some marquee wins along the way.

The Blue Devils get their highly anticipated 2023 season off to a bang Monday night against reigning ACC champions Clemson at Wallace Wade Stadium, hoping to build on a remarkable season and take another step forward. The Chronicle's beat writers are here to forecast everything Duke football, from records to MVP predictions and more.

What will Duke’s record be?

Andrew Long: 7-5

I’m torn. I’ve debated everywhere between going 9-3 and 6-6 for the Blue Devils, but at long last I’ve settled on a refrain I’ve said throughout the summer: Duke will be the best 7-5 team in the country, and by some distance. Do I think head coach Mike Elko is exactly who Duke needs to continue to grow and develop? Do I think Riley Leonard is a top-three quarterback in the ACC? Do I think a defensive line returning all its veterans and an offensive line returning three will keep the Blue Devils in every game, even against the conference’s best teams? Yes, yes and yes.

But is Duke’s schedule hard? Also yes. Ridiculously hard. And while I think the Blue Devils will improve by some distance this fall and will stay competitive in every game, 8-4 in a year facing the conference’s bottom half hardly translates to a similar record against its top half in the next. Elko will mastermind another hard-to-beat, fun-to-watch unit this fall, but there will be some growing pains as his team adjusts to the weight of expectation a season like 2022’s inevitably brings.

Rachael Kaplan: 7-5

I don’t quite know what to expect from this year’s team. After last season’s wild success — an 8-4 regular-season record — and most of its pieces back for another go around, I do think that Duke will repeat at least some of its victories from 2022. However, Elko is no longer brand new, the world has seen Leonard shine and the Blue Devils face a much harder schedule: the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill and home dates with both Clemson and Notre Dame loom large. Duke will do well, but will fall just short of the big dogs in the ACC in the final year before new additions arrive.

Ranjan Jindal: 8-4

There is no doubt that it will be extremely difficult to repeat last season’s regular-season record, but the two things that are important for this squad are experience and confidence. Duke has the most returning starters in the league, and in a time where a lot of teams across the country are going through transformational changes, the Blue Devil roster will look largely the same. This will be important throughout the season, and I think Leonard’s chemistry with his offense will be the difference in close contests. 

But No. 9 Clemson, No. 8 Florida State and No. 13 Notre Dame are some of the best teams in the country, and I think Duke will have trouble keeping up with their production. It will be difficult to win out against the rest of the schedule, and I have the Blue Devils tripping up at the end of a tough stretch of games on the road against Louisville. 

Dom Fenoglio: 8-4

Duke’s schedule this year is full of talented opponents and trap games against similarly skilled teams. If the Blue Devils are not careful, they could find themselves in a losing skid in the middle of their conference run. In particular, I look at a meeting with N.C. State in between matchups with Notre Dame and Florida State as a moment where Elko and company can find themselves in a sticky spot. While I predict that three-game stretch to be a major rough patch for Duke, I am confident that it can bounce back and control the rest of its schedule. The Blue Devils showed they could rebound well from tough losses last year after taking down Miami by 24 after two tough losses to Georgia Tech and North Carolina. They will need this resilience if they hope to match last year’s regular-season win total.

Caleb Dudley: 9-3

Duke had a surprise turnaround last year, and I don’t think it was a fluke. The Blue Devils should be just as good, if not better, than they were a year ago. Any time a team can bring back multiple starting units after winning nine games, it’s in a good spot. The biggest hurdle to Duke repeating its success from a year ago is its schedule, one that matches them up with all of the ACC’s premier teams. However, I think Elko’s squad rises to the challenge, riding Leonard’s arm and its veteran-laden defense to a nine-win regular season. 

Micah Hurewitz: 8-4

The Blue Devils’ schedule is quite a bit tougher than it was last year, and ACC pains mixed with dominant performances to close the first season of the “Elko Era” in Durham. With a year under his belt and a proven offense returning just about every starter from a year ago, the machine that ranked 31st in scoring a year ago could be ready to step up a notch. A season-opening matchup against Clemson could surely set the tone for the season and provide some valuable insights for the rest of the conference’s best. This projection feels a bit optimistic, however it is still in the realm of possibility and if everything we saw from Leonard and the quietly dominant Duke defense last fall was not a fluke, we could be in for another impressive season in the wins column for the Blue Devils.

Who will be Duke’s offensive MVP?

Riley Leonard: This is Leonard’s offense. The junior runs this unit, and with that its failures and successes start and end with him. With Barton protecting him at left tackle and his strong returning receiver core, it is up to Leonard to continue his growth from last season and keep this offense firing. The quarterback is already earning high praise from analysts and NFL scouts alike for his dual-threat ability and level-headed decision-making. Entering his second full season as a starter, look for Leonard to take another step forward and keep Duke in the national spotlight. -Kaplan

Jalon Calhoun: One of the few consistencies over the past four years of Duke football has been wide receiver Jalon Calhoun. His work ethic, playmaking and route running are all extremely important for the Blue Devils’ success moving forward. The coaching staff raves about his ability to get open and offensive coordinator Kevin Johns called him the ”hardest working player” on the field. The Greenville, S.C., native was named to the preseason All-ACC team and has solidified himself as one of the premier wideouts in the league. With the improved defenses that Duke will play this year, Calhoun’s reliability is that much more important, and he will be an outlet for Leonard in times of distress. I think he will have another incredible season and receive deserved national attention. -Jindal

Jordan Moore: While Leonard was the obvious pick, I believe he will replicate very similar stats to last season. With that said, I chose to go with a player who I think is nowhere close to his full potential in wide receiver Jordan Moore. After spending the entire 2022 summer in a quarterback battle with Leonard, the now-junior switched to wideout right before the season opener. In his first year playing the position, Moore hauled in 60 receptions for 656 yards and provided Duke fans with several highlight reel grabs. Now with a full summer and fall camp to hone his craft, Moore is primed to break out, especially in a wide receiver room that recently lost Eli Pancol to injury. -Dudley

Graham Barton: After getting the chance to talk with Barton and learning more about his role on the team, I am fully sold on him as the most talented player on the Blue Devils’ roster. If Leonard and Duke’s running back room hope to repeat their offensive success both in the air and on the ground, Barton will be the one to set the stage. I believe that the senior will thrive in year two under Elko, growing into a role of leader on the O-line and opening paths for his teammates to succeed. His stats may not reflect any touches, but every yard of total offense for the Blue Devils can be traced back to the big man at left tackle. -Fenoglio

Who will be Duke’s defensive MVP?

DeWayne Carter: The three-time captain is the definitive leader of the Blue Devil defense and will be a big part of Duke’s success this year. The defensive line is one of the most experienced position groups on this team, and its four returning starters are key to wreaking havoc in the trenches. Carter’s stats were incredible last season, with a team-high 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. He was also named a preseason All-ACC selection and is a serious force to be reckoned with for any offensive lineman. He is very popular in this spot for a reason, and is probably the first name on many opposing offense’s scouting reports. The Pickerington, Ohio, native was part of the Blue Devils’ very successful plus-16 turnover rate last fall, forcing three fumbles and recovering three as well.  -Jindal

Brandon Johnson: Someone had to stray away from Carter, and I’ll be the one to do so. With the high-caliber offenses Duke is slated to face in 2023, the most important objective for new defensive coordinator Tyler Santucci will be finding creative ways to get stops. Brandon Johnson should be Santucci’s top asset in that department, as the junior nickel is the most versatile athlete on Duke’s defense. In 2022, the Newton, N.C., native exploded onto the scene, finishing the season with 55 tackles and 5.5 sacks. If the Blue Devils can continue to scheme up high-leverage one-on-one situations for Johnson, he should be Duke’s best weapon on the defensive side of the ball. -Dudley

What will Duke’s worst loss be?

Louisville: A year ago, Duke dropped tight games against teams it should have beat, chief among them Georgia Tech and Kansas. I can see Louisville — led by an able head coach in Jeff Brohm and a scary quarterback in Jack Plummer, who slung 247 yards in the air for three touchdowns in Week 1 — being similar. Don’t get me wrong. I think Duke is a far more talented team than Louisville is. But that’s exactly why a bogey loss to the Cardinals, in Kentucky, will go down as the Blue Devils’ worst this season. -Long 

Pittsburgh: I have Duke going on a roll after losing to Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., but I think its momentum comes to a halt in the season finale. Senior night will be an emotional one for the Blue Devils, as it will signal the last game at Wallace Wade Stadium for many of their star players. This added pressure, compounded with the stellar coaching of the Panthers’ Pat Narduzzi, I think will send Duke into bowl season with a bad taste in its mouth. -Dudley

Notre Dame: The Blue Devils have shown they struggle against quarterbacks who sling the ball downfield consistently, and Notre Dame has a familiar face in its backfield willing to do just that to rack up scores in quarterback Sam Hartman. The 24-year-old is as experienced as anyone and has a plethora of weapons at his disposal, and the Hartman-Leonard duel last fall did not disappoint. The Fighting Irish defense has also looked phenomenal through its first two games of the 2023 season, and it could hence give Leonard and company some trouble as the season gets in stride. Plus, Notre Dame will bring plenty of rowdy fans to Wallace Wade Stadium, where Duke has not defeated the Irish in 62 years. -Hurewitz

North Carolina: Any Duke fan can tell you how painful it is to lose to that school down the road in Chapel Hill. Last season, in front of a sellout crowd at Wallace Wade, North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye led his squad down the field to score a heartbreaking, go-ahead touchdown with just 16 seconds left. This year, the Blue Devils will have to travel to Chapel Hill, and Maye enters the season touted as a top contender for the Heisman trophy. No matter how each team’s season has gone up until they meet in Week 10, the matchup will be intense. However, I feel that Maye’s confidence in a home environment will prove too much for Duke, and Blue Devils fans will have to wait until basketball season to defend the darker shade of blue. -Fenoglio

What will Duke’s best win be?

N.C. State: After tough — but close — losses against Clemson and Notre Dame, the Blue Devils notch their first marquee home win of the year against the Wolfpack. While N.C. State has improved significantly by bringing in former Virginia gunslinger Brennan Armstrong and seems to give any team it plays some trouble, Leonard’s arm talent and the explosiveness of Duke’s receivers have to unleash eventually. A back-and-forth contest full of plenty of touchdowns later, the Wolfpack's half-hour trek across the Triangle will end in heartbreak as the Wallace Wade Stadium crowd waves them off. -Long

Pittsburgh: After last season’s Nov. 19 heartbreaker in Pittsburgh, I don’t think Duke lets this one get away from them. It’s the regular-season finale and Senior Day for a plethora of the Blue Devils’ core (and maybe Leonard’s last time in Wallace Wade), and with the passion and determination the program has shown over the past year, this is a must-win in my mind. According to preseason ACC and AP voters, the two programs are neck-and-neck, just as they finished last year. While the physical victory is definitely attainable after last year’s failed 2-point conversion, the emotional win would be what means the most to Duke. -Kaplan

North Carolina: This was arguably Duke’s most heartbreaking loss a season ago, holding the lead for a good portion of the game. Therefore, in addition to the hype surrounding the rivalry matchup, there is a large aspect of revenge in this year’s contest. North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye is one of the best in not just the league, but the country. However, I think the Blue Devils match up well with the Tar Heels because the methodical drives that Duke runs keeps Maye off the field and wears out North Carolina’s defense. This is the same defense that ranked last in the conference a season ago, and while there may be some small improvements, I think Duke edges out North Carolina in a shootout on the road. -Jindal

Clemson: This is a bold one, but one that I think is within the realm of possibility. While Clemson has been the gold standard in the ACC for the last decade, they still have some chinks in their armor. Most notably for the Tigers is an inexperience on offense, as quarterback Cade Klubnik has only started one game. Clemson is also bringing in a new offensive coordinator in Garrett Riley, providing some opportunities for early miscommunications. Duke catches them at the perfect time, having all offseason to prepare to host the Tigers in the opener before they can work out the kinks. Duke’s boatloads of experience will prove the deciding factor, and the Blue Devils will shock the world on Labor Day. -Dudley

Who will win in Week 1?

Andrew Long: Clemson 31-17

Rachael Kaplan: Clemson 30-18

Ranjan Jindal: Clemson 34-23

Dom Fenoglio: Duke 31-28

Caleb Dudley: Duke 27-24

Micah Hurewitz: Clemson 34-20

Editor's note: This piece is one of many in The Chronicle's 2023 Duke football preseason supplement. For the rest, click here.

Micah Hurewitz

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

Rachael Kaplan profile
Rachael Kaplan | Sports Managing Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Dom Fenoglio | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Assistant Blue Zone editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Andrew Long profile
Andrew Long | Sports Editor

Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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