Duke football saw its run of four consecutive bowl appearances end last season with an injury-plagued 4-8 season.
The Blue Devils have all intentions of returning to the postseason this fall. Coach David Cutcliffe, entering his 10th season as Duke’s coach, believes he has the program in position to be a perennial bowl team.
Two outside sets of observers say the Blue Devils will be on the cusp of doing that — but no better — in 2017.
From Las Vegas, Bovada set Duke’s over-under wins total at 5.5 for the season. ESPN is taking the under, predicting a 5-7 season for the Blue Devils.
That sounds like Duke is unlikely to make a bowl again this season. But, in this day and age, 5-7 will probably be good enough.
The increased number of bowls over the last 10 years means 5-7 teams have been needed in each of the last two years to fill all the bowl slots. Had Duke won one more game last season, the Blue Devils would have played in a bowl because the team had the best Academic Progress Rate among FBS teams.
Of course, the Blue Devils can remove all doubt by securing that magical sixth win.
Duke is building its hope around redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones. Starting 12 games as a redshirt freshman last season, Jones struggled early with turnovers but improved as the season progressed. The hope is that, as the established starter, Jones will make strides working under Cutcliffe’s tutelage in the offseason to get even better.
Duke’s schedule, front-loaded with home games, sets up for it to bank wins early. The Blue Devils don’t leave the Triangle until an Oct. 7 trip to Charlottesville to play Virginia.
Duke starts the season with home games versus NC Central, Northwestern and Baylor before a short trip to North Carolina. The Devils then return home the following weekend to play Miami on Sept. 29, a Friday night.
A win over the crosstown Eagles in the season-opener is a must. Duke has lost to Northwestern twice the last two seasons, and that streak probably needs to end if the Blue Devils want to get to six wins.
Baylor will be an interesting opponent given that program’s upheaval and new head coach. UNC will likely take a step back this season due to offseason personnel losses. Duke beat the Tar Heels last November at Wallace Wade Stadium.
After playing Miami, which Duke has only defeated once since the Hurricanes entered the ACC, the Blue Devils face a tough October. In addition to the trip to Virginia, Duke has home games against Florida State and Pittsburgh plus a trip to Blacksburg to play reigning Coastal Division champion Virginia Tech.
Duke has an open date the first weekend in November. After that: a road trip to Army, a home game with Georgia Tech and a road game at Wake Forest.
Basically, Duke missed a bowl trip last season because it lost to both UVA and Wake Forest; that previously hadn’t happened since 2011.
Wins in those games would go a long way toward Duke getting to six this season.