With kickoff a mere twelve days away, Duke football is hard at work on the practice field making final preparations. The Blue Devils open the season against cross town rival North Carolina Central where they will be heavily favored.
While David Cutcliffe is not one to look too far ahead of that match up, he has aware of the most challenging opening schedule in his tenure lies ahead. In the weeks following the game with the Eagles, Duke will face Northwestern, Baylor, arch rival North Carolina on the road and then Miami.
Here is a look at how this staunch early challenge could play out.
September 2nd - NCCU at home
Firstly, one must respect the Eagles who went to a bowl game last year. There are a lot of questions here in how Duke will let this game play out. Do they get their starters lots of snaps or develop talent should they be fortunate enough to gain a comfortable lead? On one hand you need to develop depth but you also need to make sure the offense is clicking. Make no mistake, for Duke to go back to a bowl game this season it will be in part because the offense improves. The team needs to average no less than another touchdown per game in 2017 for that to happen.
September 9th - Northwestern at home
A David Cutcliffe coached Duke football team has yet to beat Northwestern and this may be a tough year to end that streak. The Wildcats chart in at 31st in the opening A.P. poll. They are picked 2nd in their division in the Big Ten pre season poll and they return 16 starters which includes a terrific and veteran offensive team. This is the kind of team you do not want to allow to score first, for when this happens they tend to win. This game will be a big jump in competition for Duke from week one and we'll have the first measuring stick on where the Blue Devils stand early in the season.
September 16th - Baylor at home
So Baylor has been in the news for all the wrong reasons of late, but they are still quite good. The Bears will be hard to prepare for in that they have a new coach and system. They have a physical and big defensive front and a stable of running backs listed as the 2nd best in the Big 12. As always, they can score in bunches. While they lost some recruits due to sanctions, the program was on solid footing before that meaning they are talented enough to be considered a possible Top 25 team. Duke will be coming off a physical game with Northwestern as they kick this game off around noon. The bottom line is anything less than a split with Northwestern and Baylor will create a losing record going into the game with...
September 23rd North Carolina in Chapel Hill
How is this for an ACC opener? The Tar Heels will want to get the victory bell back in this rare early season series draw. Duke is likely to be banged up a bit after facing very good Northwestern and Baylor teams. Nobody really knows what to expect from the UNC offense which will be a bit different, but there are a lot of returning starters on defense and a bolstered offensive front via the transfer route. You just don't want to lose your ACC opener to a division rival, so expect some early season haymakers to be thrown by both sides.
September 30th Miami in Durham
Okay. So Duke is now coming off their emotional match up with UNC only to face the team picked to win the Coastal Division in nationally ranked Miami. The fans and team will be challenged to catch their collective breath during this brutal September stretch. The Hurricanes are loaded with talent and is a team that has their swag back. Oh, and did I mention this game will be played on a Friday evening giving Duke a day less to heal and prepare?
We will sure know what Duke football is about after this incredible stretch of early season games. It will be a challenge to keep players healthy and fresh. It will be a challenge to put one week behind you in big time games and move on to the next.
It is not like the schedule gets that much easier past these games. Duke will travel to Virginia, play Florida State coming of their bye week, an always physical Pitt team and then Virginia Tech in Blacksburg before they get their bye week.
They will close the season out with Army on the road, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest in Winston Salem. The hope is that they can somehow survive the brutal early schedule to be in position to make a bowl game by finishing strong.
Oddly, the only game Duke plays this year less than five hours from campus is at Army. So that may be a small advantage in a schedule filled with oddities.
So early season success is a must in some ways in order to take the pressure off in later games. Duke is a better football team this season, but they are young in many areas as well. With a lot of the players on the roster returning for the 2018 season it would be nice to see the program get back to a bowl game in the 2017 season while building a bright future.
Duke football had been to four consecutive bowl games before a season ago. The talent is there to start another streak but the schedule is an obvious challenge. But that is why they play the games and it is time to kick it off.
Season and individual tickets and various other plans are available at the Duke ticket office or by visiting GoDuke.com. Duke football plays some big time opponents on Brooks Field in Wallace Wade Stadium this season and the team needs local support. See you at the games!