As we gear up for the ACC opener in Durham on Saturday, Sports Channel 8 lead reporter and Duke football expert Ben Swain took some time to answer some questions for BSD. See what the ACC’s favorite Twitter wise-ass had to say about his Blue Devils:
BSD: Going into the season with another toss-up in the Coastal division, what is the Duke fanbase's expectation?
SC8: It’s funny, it honestly feels like fan expectations haven’t changed from year to year. Getting to a bowl game has essentially become the expectation, although with last year’s win in the Pinstripe Bowl, I think you could add "win the bowl game" to that standard. Wake fans probably relate better than anyone that winning the ACC title or playing in the Orange Bowl is definitely an exception to the norm and should be treated as such, and Duke fans still aren’t that far removed from 3-9 seasons, on a good year. If you look at single games, however, that’s where expectations have definitely changed. Virginia is an expected win. Georgia Tech is an expected win. Virginia Tech is starting to creep into that expected win territory, and Wake Forest is certainly right there on the top of that list. In terms of the Coastal, there’s certainly no expectation to win or to necessarily be within striking distance of the ACC Championship Game year in and year out, but those four games right there are definitely “expected” from Duke fans at this point because of the way things have gone in those series the last 3-5 years.
BSD: Cutcliffe's recruiting seems to have really benefited from Duke's recent success; which true freshmen can make an impact this season?
SC8: Cutcliffe recently said that two years ago is really when Duke was able to switch from recruiting students who can play football to recruiting football players who are also good students. This is the best freshman class he’s had at Duke, and I’m no recruiting expert but it might be the best class Duke has ever had under any coach. Stealing a page out of Grobe’s playbook, a lot of those guys are sitting this year which, like Grobe, is only something you can do when you have a few good classes under your belt. You’ll definitely see more out of the redshirt freshmen, including the starting quarterback, but if I had to pick one true freshman that will definitely make an impact this season, it’s kicker AJ Reed. He was 7 for 7 on his extra points against Central in the opener, and with so many close games in the ACC, he’s bound to win one or lose one at some point this year. Scott Bracey at wide receiver was expected to come in and play right away, but he’s got an injury that’s kept him out of practice so I’m not sure if the plan is to run him or redshirt him at this point.
BSD: From Duke's inexperience at QB and having Jela Duncan (still) around, do you expect a very run heavy offense this season?
SC8: Duke’s best two positions on offense are running back and tight end, so I’d definitely expect to see a lot of running and a lot of play action to get those tight ends into open space. From the first game, the only unit that seemed out of sorts was the offensive line, so that’s obviously going to dictate if Duke’s able to run the ball much, but Duncan and Shaun Wilson are as good of a one-two punch as you’ll find in the Coastal (but when you find Hood and Logan, let Fedora know where they are). But, man, I wouldn’t sleep on the quarterback. Duke LOVES Daniel Jones, who is still a mystery after only playing a little over a quarter against Central. All I know about Jones is that during that quarter, he was 10-15 for 189 yards and 2 touchdowns, ran for another touchdown, and wears #17 because he grew up idolizing Jake Delhomme. You tell me how you don’t let a guy that wears Delhomme’s number throw the ball 30 times a game.
BSD: Who are the playmakers on the defensive side of the ball that we'll hear a lot from Saturday?
SC8: For me, Joe Giles-Harris, a true freshman linebacker who I left out the previous question because I read ahead to this one, was the best player on the field. AJ Wolf had three sacks from his spot on the D-line, so that’s a name you’ll likely hear a few times. Then obviously the secondary, which is Duke’s deepest position group. With the way Wake used tight ends against Duke last year, I’d definitely go with Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys at the linebacker spot as the names you’ll hear most often on Saturday.
BSD: Who in the receiving corps can help ease the transition for freshman QB Daniel Jones?
SC8: Duke definitely doesn’t have a superstar at wideout like they saw with Donovan Varner or Conner Vernon or Jamison Crowder, so that’s really difficult to say. The receivers did get the majority of the targets last Saturday, which is a huge departure from Scottie Montgomery’s offense where Sirk used the running backs heavily in the passing game. TJ Rahming is the best of the bunch.
BSD: Due to Wake's gift of efficient game lengths, what are you going to do with all your extra free time on Saturday?
SC8: I would definitely suggest that fans spend the hour they’ll gain by watching Duke/Wake play a 3-hour football game either drinking one of the many excellent beers on tap from Trophy Brewing, or perhaps visiting a Smithfield’s Chicken ’n BBQ for an early dinner. And they should definitely visit SportsChannel8.com and follow us, I mean them, on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Or turn up the air conditioning in the house and stay warm with a stylish Duke or Wake Forest scarf from Tradition Scarves. Or even better, if you own a business and would like to be seamlessly mentioned in a Q&A from any of our fine staff members at SportsChannel8, please feel free to contact me directly.
BSD: Give us the Sports Channel 8 official prediction for Saturday
SC8: East Carolina by 12.
Thanks again to Ben for his usual entertaining and knowledgeable responses. And of course follow him on Twitter - when he’s not ripping Wake, he’s pretty funny.