The Duke Blue Devils are at the top of the ACC, tied for 1st place with no conference losses. That statement may roll off the tongue almost every March, but this year the Blue Devils football team has won five of its first six games. The Blue Devils are off to the best start to a season since the 1994 team won its first seven games. With one more victory, the Blue Devils will be bowl-eligible for the first time in 17 years.
Since the football team’s last bowl appearance, against Wisconsin in the 1995 Hall of Fame Bowl, now known as the Outback Bowl, the Duke basketball team has won two national championships, 10 ACC championships, and been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament 10 times. Even basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski has become a household name. During that same stretch of time, the Blue Devils football program has had four winless seasons. Last year, the team went 3-9, and 1-7 in the ACC.
This year’s team is led by ACC career receptions record-holder Conner Vernon and senior quarterback Sean Renfree. Renfree missed the game against Virginia last week but has greatly improved his efficiency this season. In the five games he has played in, he has thrown for nine touchdowns, closing in on matching the 11 touchdowns he threw the entire season last year, while completing 72 percent of his passes.
He’ll need to continue to play well to lead Duke to a bowl game. Although the Blue Devils have opened the season strong, the second half of the schedule is brutal, and Duke may be the underdog in every game. The remainder of the season has the Blue Devils traveling to Virginia Tech, Florida State and Georgia Tech as well as hosting North Carolina, Clemson and Miami. Duke has not won at Virginia Tech in 33 years, and it has never won at Florida State. The last time a Blue Devil team beat Miami, Jimmy Carter was the president. It’s been at least eight years since the last North Carolina, Clemson and GTech defeat. But all Duke needs to do to become become bowl eligible is win one of these games. If it does, it will be the first time in 17 years that the Blue Devils will be make a bowl appearance. To put that in perspective, star receiver Vernon was just 4-years old the last time it happened.
While it is only the beginning of October, it’s not too early to dream. Football is a sport where any team can win week-in or week-out, and this year’s Duke team is proving just that. The Blue Devils are one of three teams in the ACC currently with a record of 5-1. The other two teams are No. 16 Clemson, who lost to Florida State, and No. 12 Florida State, who lost in upset fashion to North Carolina State last weekend. With a big match-up against a favored Virginia Tech team this weekend, Duke can catapult itself into a legitimate division title shot with an upset. If that happens, Duke could feed off the momentum, and if the Blue Devils run the table and win the ACC, it will be the school’s first conference title since 1989. It may be a stretch to predict that Duke can win out, but this has been a season of surprises. As Krzyzewski said, “Imagination has a great deal to do with winning.”
Duke Football Facts:
- Duke has appeared in the Rose Bowl twice, actually hosting the game in Durham, N. C., during 1942 in response to fears about potential Japanese attacks on the West Coast.
- Duke has also appeared in the Orange Bowl twice, the Sugar Bowl and the Cotton Bowl Classic, as well as the Hall of Fame Bowl and the All-American Bowl.