David Cutcliffe guided Duke to multiple bowl wins. That might not seem all that remarkable – teams qualify for bowl bids if they win six games in a regular season – but one has to realize a few things about Duke football before Cutcliffe took over the program in 2008. At that point in time, Duke had won just three bowl games in its history. The Blue Devils had not won a bowl game since the 1960 season. Cutcliffe not only won one bowl game; he won three, matching the program’s all-time total of bowl wins in his tenure alone. Cutcliffe is one of the most successful coaches in Duke history.
However, he ran out of steam the past few years, as Duke’s record tumbled well below .500 in his final seasons on the job. He retired from coaching, and the school needed a replacement. It will be fascinating to see how quickly, if at all, Duke can return to the Cutcliffe standard under a new leader.
How The Team Changed This Offseason
Mike Elko is the new head coach at Duke. He has experience in the ACC, having worked at Wake Forest as the Demon Deacons’ defensive coordinator before moving to Notre Dame and then Texas A&M. Elko will try to instill toughness into the Blue Devils, because strength up front is what diminished in Cutcliffe’s final seasons. It is asking a lot of Elko to turn around the program in only one season. What really matters in 2022 is being able to evaluate his players and measure them against ACC competition. Then Elko will have a much better idea of how to recruit and use the transfer portal for upcoming seasons, as he tries to assemble a roster which can compete vigorously in its conference.
Duke Will Be Successful If…
The Blue Devils can develop their offensive linemen and create some stories of overachievement at that position group. It is unlikely that Duke will receive high-end production from its skill-position players, but if the offensive line can excel and establish a physical identity, the offense can at least play ball control and keep the ball away from the more potent offenses Duke will face in the ACC, such as Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Miami.
Duke Will Disappoint If…
The defense fails to make adjustments over the course of the season. One thing Duke should be able to count on is that Elko, a defense-first head coach, will understand how to organize the defense and cover up its weaknesses. Elko is recognized as a good strategist. That was part of the appeal in hiring him as head coach. Duke’s defense is not going to be great because the Blue Devils don’t have many physically imposing players on defense. Elko’s ability to play chess is what the program is counting on this season and beyond.
The One Best Duke Blue Devils Bet Is…
Regular season win total: 3.5 wins
Duke is starting over with a new head coach. Mike Elko might be a very good head coach, but he is dealing with a bad hand of cards this year. It’s not his fault, but this team is not in a good position to succeed. Take the under.