It has been an up and down 11 years under head coach David Cutcliffe, but averaging six or so wins is about as good as you can get at a program where football is a clear #2 priority, the previous two head coaches averaged 1.4 together. QB Daniel Jones is gone and the schedule is tough, so after an 8-5 year in 2018 the Blue Devils might see a steep drop and miss a bowl for just the second time since 2011.
Daniel Jones was a solid ACC quarterback, averaging 6.8 yards a throw with a 61% completion percentage. He will be missed, but what will probably be an even bigger problem is the receiving corps, where the top four are all gone.
The projected starter at QB is last year’s backup, Quentin Harris, last year he threw for seven touchdowns and just one interception, but was hardly efficient, averaging 6.4 yards a throw and just a 50% completion rate. Harris should grow after spending time with the ones in the offseason, and he’s a much better runner than Jones was. Where he’ll run into problems may be who he’s throwing to. The top returning wideout is Jake Bobo, who caught ten passes for 167 yards and a score last year as a freshman. Tight end Noah Gray was solid last year too and senior Aaron Young was a good big-play threat, but someone else will likely need to step up.
The line should be solid with three starters returning and the other two with at least some starting experience. The top two backs return where Deon Jackson (868 yards, seven touchdowns, 5.3 average) is the projected starter. I expect the offense to take a step back with the change in personnel at QB and WR, and I also would think Cutcliffe modifies his scheme a little to better fit Harris’ play style.
Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys are two big losses at linebacker, that has to be said, but other than them the top nine tacklers return from last year’s group return, including junior safety Marquis Water. 2017 1st Team All-ACC corner Mark Gilbert is back from injury, and a loaded defensive line brings everybody back.
I’m a little worried about the middle linebacker spot where freshman Shaka Hayward may have to step into a starting role, but with almost the entire starting lineup returning and some key guys back from injuries in Gilbert and DT Edgar Cernord, this defense should improve.
Alabama and Notre Dame in the non-conference hurts, and Duke will also have to travel to play a really good Middle Tennessee team as well as Virginia Tech and Virginia in the Coastal.
This is still a young team, and they only return 12 starters, so I figure that a bowl run may be unrealistic in year one post-Jones due to the tough schedule, but David Cutcliffe seems to always defy the odds in the face of low expectations, so I guess we’ll see what happens.
|Date||Opponent||opp. rank||Proj. Margin|
|31-Aug||vs. Alabama (atlanta, ga)||1||-32.9|
|7-Sep||North carolina A&T||NR||n/a|
|14-Sep||at Middle Tennessee||94||0.2|
|27-Sep||at Virginia Tech||37||-7.8|
|26-Oct||at North Carolina||62||-4.0|
|23-Nov||at Wake Forest||55||-5.1|
Average Projected Record: 4.2 wins, 7.8 losses (2.8 wins, 5.2 losses)