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Duke football is out to a 4-0 start, with three wins over Power 5 foes (Northwestern, Baylor and North Carolina), all by double digits. The team has now matched its win total from all of last year and looks like it will be a serious contender to return to the ACC championship game in Charlotte this December. How have they done it? In a change from your typical David Cutcliffe-coached Duke team, they’ve relied on a powerful run game on offense and a punishing run defense.
The defensive turnaround from last season has been keyed by a new-look defensive line that has held opponents to just 65.3 rushing yards per game (second in the country, first in the ACC) and are only allowing opposing offenses to convert on 14 percent of their third-down opportunities (first in the country). That combination of stifling defense and a powerful ground game (Duke’s 108 first downs on offense is eighth-best in the country) has allowed the team to control time of possession and tilted most of the scoring opportunities in their favor.
While the undefeated start to the season has been impressive, they’ve only played one team with a winning record, Northwestern, and the level of competition increases dramatically starting this Friday night when No. 14 Miami comes to town at 7 p.m. on ESPN. If the Blue Devils are able to pull off the upset (they’re currently six-point underdogs), it will give them two wins over ACC Coastal Division foes and put them in a very good spot to bring home the second Coastal title in the last four years.
REST OF THE WAY
After this Friday, Duke heads out of state for the first time on Oct. 7 against Virginia before returning home on the 14th to take on Florida State, which is reeling from a season-ending injury to their starting quarterback and disruptions to their schedule from Hurricane Irma. While the team would certainly not look past a tough, athletic and fast Miami team this weekend, the schedule is setting up for another bowl game appearance. With eight more tries to get two wins, the most likely chances are next weekend against Virginia, Oct. 21 versus Pittsburgh, on Nov. 11 at Army and in any of the last two games of the year (home on Nov. 18 against Georgia Tech or at Wake Forest on Nov. 25). Virginia Tech, ranked No. 12, will be a tough out inside Lane Stadium on Oct 28.
BASKETBALL RECRUITING PICKING UP STEAM
Duke hosted the No. 1 player in the country for an official visit two weekends ago, and RJ Barrett looks like he’s ready to make a decision soon. After his trip to Durham, Barrett and family back-to-back two-day trips to Arizona and Oregon before returning back to boarding school at nationally recognized Montverde Academy just outside of Orlando. And while he was expected to take an official visit to Michigan this weekend, news leaked out yesterday that he was dropping the Wolverines from his list of finalists and would not make the trip. Barrett also decided to remove the University of Arizona from his list of potential destinations after a federal bribing and corruption scandal rocked the college basketball world and ensnared Arizona assistant Book Richardson. Duke is the favorite to land Barrett, which would mark the second consecutive year the Blue Devils have signed the top player in the country (Marvin Bagley was last year).
HOOPS PRACTICE STARTS FRIDAY
Duke will get back on the basketball practice court this Friday, which is 45 days out from their first exhibition game. Heading in to the 2017-18 season, the Blue Devils are the odds-on favorite per Las Vegas to win the national championship next April in San Antonio, Texas. If anything, last year should have taught Duke fans to not count their chickens before they hatch, but if the injury gods exist they will bestow Mike Krzyzewski’s 38th team with good health.
MILESTONE WIN POTENTIAL EARLY
If Duke wins its first two regular season games (Elon on Nov. 10 and Utah Valley on Nov. 11), Coach K will become the first NCAA Div. I men’s basketball coach to tally 1,000 victories at one institution. He already has the career wins record at 1,071, but has a chance to pad those numbers with a talented group this year.
Adam Rowe covers Duke basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com. Check out more of his work at duke.247sports.com.