clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2021 Duke college football preview: Is this the end of the line for David Cutcliffe in Durham?

Duke has trended down for the last few seasons. Does longtime head coach David Cutcliffe have one last run in him with the Blue Devils, or is the end of the line?

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Duke Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The COVID-19 shortened 2020 season wasn’t kind to several college football programs across the nation, and the Duke Blue Devils were certainly one of the ones that struggled mightily.

Leading the nation in turnovers, the 2020 Blue Devils failed to keep pace with their ACC counterparts last fall, losing six games by 18 points or more to finish with a grisly 2-9 record. Those struggles were amplified by the fact that they led the nation in turnovers with 39, uncharacteristic of the usually disciplined teams longtime head coach David Cutcliffe.

With a new starting quarterback taking snaps and minimal returning production heading into the 2021 season, the prospects of a successful season look bleak and one has to wonder if this will be the final season for Cutcliffe in Durham.

2020 Season Review

  • 2-9, 1-9 ACC, 15th in 15-team conference
  • QB Chase Brice failed to take the necessary step forward as a starter, completing only 54.8 percent of his passes for 2,170 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. He transferred to Appalachian State after the season.

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 57
ESPN Returning Production: 56% overall (104th): 51% offense (110th), 62% defense (92nd)
Returning Talent Index: Negative, 14th in ACC
Returning starters: 5/11 offense, 5/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: Gunnar Holmberg (Junior)

Holmberg takes over as the Blue Devils’ starting QB after sitting behind Brice. Missing the 2019 season with a knee injury, the signal-caller from Wake Forest saw limited action in 2020, completing 18 passes for 161 yards and throwing two interceptions.

Offense (non-QB): RB Mataeo Durant (Senior)

One of the bright spots of the Duke offense in 2020 was the emergence of running back Mataeo Durant as a starter. Averaging 6.8 yards per carry, he bulldozed his way to 817 yards and eight touchdowns throughout the season and factors to be Duke’s go-to weapon on offense this fall.

Defense: LB Shaka Heyward (Junior)

One of the consistent forces for the Duke defense for the past two seasons, Heyward returns to Blue Devil unit that is relatively experienced on the backend. He finished 2020 with 79 tackles, three sacks, and a fumble recovery.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 104th overall: 114th offense, 83rd defense, 21st special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 102nd overall: 113th offense, 71st defense

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

To win national title: +75000
To win ACC: +10000
Win total: 3.5 (Over -125, Under +100)

2020 Against The Spread: 4-7
2020 Point Total: Over 7-4

2021 Duke Schedule

2021 Duke Blue Devils Schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Friday, Sep. 3 at Charlotte 7:00 p.m./CBSSN
Friday, Sep. 10 vs. NC A&T 8:00 p.m./ACCN
Saturday, Sep. 18 vs. Northwestern 4:00 p.m./ACCN Duke +9.5
Saturday, Sep. 25 vs. Kansas TBA
Saturday, Oct. 2 at North Carolina TBA
Saturday, Oct. 9 vs. Georgia Tech TBA
Saturday, Oct. 16 at Virginia TBA
Saturday, Oct. 23 Open TBA
Saturday, Oct. 30 at Wake Forest TBA
Saturday, Nov. 6 vs. Pitt TBA
Saturday, Nov. 13 at Virginia Tech TBA
Thursday, Nov. 18 vs. Louisville 7:30 p.m./ESPN
Saturday. Nov. 27 vs. Miami TBA