Duke opens its season Monday in a Labor Day matchup under the lights against Clemson. Before the 8 p.m. kickoff in Durham, the Blue Zone has some can’t-miss prop bets:
Duke (+13) vs Clemson
After a successful first season under head coach Mike Elko, the Blue Devils find themselves in a primetime Monday night showdown against the fearsome preseason No. 9 Clemson. Although such a battle in years past would spell doom for Duke, there seems to be a different energy surrounding the program heading into the biggest test of the new era. Riding the momentum from their impressive 30-13 Military Bowl victory over UCF in December 2022, the Blue Devils retained all their key offensive starters, including dual-threat quarterback Riley Leonard, reception and yards leader Jalon Calhoun, first team All-ACC guard Graham Barton and the entire running back room. On the defensive side of the ball, Duke returned NFL-level prospect DeWayne Carter, who contributed 5.5 sacks along with his impressive work gobbling up running lanes.
The Tigers arrive in Durham hoping to start afresh after a disappointing loss at the hands of archrivals South Carolina doomed their College Football Playoff bid last year. They do so with a new face at the helm of the offense: Cade Klubnik. After battling for playing time with DJ Uiagalelei all season long in 2022, the sophomore from Austin, Texas finally gets his chance to prove his mettle and five-star ranking. His partner-in-crime will be running back Will Shipley, who seems poised to wreak havoc across the college football landscape. The junior already rushed for 1,182 yards and 15 touchdowns last year and will likely see more action as Klubnik adjusts to the QB1 position. Defensively, Clemson may have the best line in the country, with the combination of the hulking Ruke Orhorhoro and Tyler Davis bound to create matchup nightmares. On the back end, Nate Wiggins and Sheridan Jones are talented enough to run with any receiver on a good day.
With no classes scheduled for the federal holiday, the excitement around the program and the Tigers’ high ranking, Wallace Wade Stadium is bound to be at capacity come kickoff. Expect the less experienced Clemson to start slow in the hostile atmosphere, which will allow the crowd to keep Duke in the game long enough to cover the roughly two-touchdown spread.
Pick: Duke +13
Over/Under 55.5 Total Points
Although 55.5 points seems steep for a college football season opener that is sure to feature offensive missteps for both teams, the Blue Devils and the Tigers have all the makings of teams ready to rack up the scoring and exploit the other’s defensive weaknesses.
For Duke, its biggest hole is the loss of linebacker Shaka Heyward, who flawlessly used his speed to create 94 tackles and halt runs on early downs last year. With the Dacula, Ga., native gone to the NFL, the Blue Devils must turn to graduate transfer Cam Dillon, who made 61 tackles and earned three sacks in the 2022 campaign after coming to Durham from Columbia. Clemson star Shipley could have an extremely productive day if he can beat Dillon at the second level, which may very well turn into repeated trips to the endzone for the Tigers.
For Clemson, their biggest question mark remains in the secondary. For all the talent and hype surrounding Wiggins and Jones, they have yet to make an impact on the stat sheet in their respective college tenures. Wiggins only had one interception last season, while Jones only has two interceptions and four passes defended from his first four years of college ball. Look for the shifty Calhoun and the talented Jordan Moore to find space and create chunk plays for the Duke offense.
Pick: Over 55.5
Riley Leonard over/under 29.5 rushing yards
The Blue Devils’ offense thrived last season thanks to the sheer athleticism of Leonard on the ground. The Fairhope, Ala., native rushed for 699 yards, a team high, averaging 5.6 per carry. He also scampered for 13 touchdowns, including an impressive 60-yard RPO score that left some Boston College defenders on the turf in Duke’s matchup against the Eagles in November 2022. With the talent on the defensive line for the Tigers, expect the Blue Devils to roll Leonard out of the pocket often, leading to many situations where the quarterback may find it best to just tuck it and run.
Pick: Over 29.5
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