Mike Elko’s Remarkable Transformation of Duke Football
When discussing remarkable transformations in college football, Mike Elko’s quick and dramatic change of Duke’s football program stands out. We won’t rehash the struggles of the Blue Devils’ 2021 season, but suffice to say it was a challenging time for the team.
New year ushered in new fortunes. The arrival of Elko seemed to bring a winning streak to Duke. With a string of victories, including an easy win against ACC competitor Virginia, Duke broke its conference losing streak. The Blue Devils, under Elko’s leadership, came within a whisker of an ACC championship, earning Elko the title of Conference Coach of the Year.
The Challenge of ACC’s Powerhouse, Clemson
Duke’s first major test in the new season comes in the form of ACC’s powerhouse, Clemson. The Tigers, who lead the preseason ACC poll, boast of five players named preseason All-ACC and are a force to be reckoned with. Duke’s confrontation with Clemson is set for Week 1.
Currently, top-tier teams No. 8 Florida State and Clemson dominate the ACC. The Tigers will be facing the Blue Devils on Labor Day, presenting an opportunity for Duke to show that its previous year’s performance was not a fluke.
Despite the successes of Elko’s first season and the significant changes made to the team, Duke had a relatively easy schedule. A key issue was late-game slumps and close losses, highlighted by their defeat to 5-7 Georgia Tech.
Uncertain Expectations and the Tigers’ Challenge
With such contrasting performances in the recent past, it is difficult to predict what to expect from Elko and his team. When Clemson sets foot on the field at Wallace Wade Stadium, all eyes will be on DeWayne Carter and the defense. Can they control Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik’s offense? Can Riley Leonard make his way through the secondary that held North Carolina’s quarterback, and Preseason ACC Player of the Year, Drake Maye, scoreless in the ACC championship?
Duke needs to put up a strong fight in its first game to have a shot at contending in the ACC. While beating Clemson may not be possible, this game is about much more. To rank in the AP top 25 and to compete in the conference, Duke must keep the game close till the final whistle.
Duke’s Core Returns
The Blue Devils welcome back a significant portion of their core from last season, including preseason All-ACC offensive lineman Graham Barton, receiver Jalon Calhoun, and Carter. With such talent on the field and Elko at the helm, Duke has no excuses. The team needs to prove that last year was not a one-off and make this clear from the first snap of the new season.
The Future of ACC College Football
Amid rumors of Clemson and Florida State leaving and conference realignment chaos, ACC college football is unsettled. Duke is no exception. Its future hangs in the balance with every game, every news article, and every poll. Duke faces a binary choice in Week 1: either lose the game and its status as a strong football program or show its might and position itself in the national spotlight. This crucial battle starts at 8 p.m. on Monday.
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