Can Duke Football Make a Bowl Game in Mike Elko’s Year One?

Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Elko pays tribute to his team during the second half of the Dukes' game against North Carolina A&T at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina on Saturday, September 17, 2022.

Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Elko pays tribute to his team during the second half of the Dukes’ game against North Carolina A&T at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina on Saturday, September 17, 2022.

Five wins in the last two seasons and no ball games in the past three are reasons why Mike Elko is Duke’s coach and David Cutcliffe isn’t.

The move was made with the goal of getting back to where Duke had been for the past decade, when Cutcliffe led the Blue Devils to six games over the pot in seven seasons from 2012-18.

Well, Elko has Dukes (3-0) halfway to give eligibility just three games in his first major coaching job.

It’s a great start but, of course, Duke’s competition should temper it so far. Temple, Northwestern and NC A&T combined 1-8. So the timetable gets stricter from here.

A year ago, Duke started 3-1 before losing all eight ACC games.

However, the outlook is better this season. ESPN’s Football Strength Index puts Duke’s chances of achieving ball eligibility at 79%. Pro Football Focus ratings have a 76% chance of the Blue Devils expecting a season of seven wins.

For comparison, three ACC teams on Duke’s schedule — Virginia Tech (39%), Virginia (38%) and Boston College (4%) — have significantly worse prognosis according to ESPN’s FPI.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the rest of Duke’s schedule with a look at how the opponents have performed so far and the likely Blue Devils to win.

Saturday, in Kansas

register: 3-0

Until now: The Jayhawks, who are chasing the program’s first winning record since 2008, appear to be headed toward a historic season. They have already won road games in West Virginia and Houston thanks to a strong attack.

Duke’s Success Scale: is unlikely. Duke’s defense, although better than the last two years, still showed some holes as he beat Northwestern. KS is equipped to put points on the board. The Blue Devils will find it hard to keep up.

October. 1, Virginia

register: 2-1

Until now: Both schools interviewed Tony Elliott, the offensive coordinator at Clemson, to be their head coach last December. Elliot headed to Virginia and hired Duke Elko. But despite having a talented midfielder in Brennan Armstrong, the Cavaliers don’t play like a team coached by someone with a solid background in attack. The Cavaliers average just 17.7 points per game. They flipped it eight times in three games.

Duke’s Success Scale: A win looks more likely now than it was a month ago. Duke lost seven consecutive games to Virginia. Bronco Mendenhall had a number as an assignment. But both coaches left after last season.


register: 1-2, 0-1 ACC

Until now: It seems that Jeff Collins’ era at Georgia Institute of Technology is coming to an end. Yes, the Yellow Jackets’ loss was to both ranked teams, but they lost both times – 41-10 by Clemson, 42-0 by Mississippi. Georgia Tech’s third-place transfer success (28.9%) is a big reason why he was the last ACC to score (15 points per game).

Duke’s Success Scale: Although this game is in Atlanta, it is a game that Duke must win to gain pot eligibility. The Blue Devils are in a position to get this for sure.

October. 15, North Carolina

register: 3-0

Until now: Drake Maye proved to be an over-the-top quarterback for Sam Howell, who led the Tar Heels to victory the last three times they played Duke. It would be difficult for the blue demons to deal with Maye. UNC defense is giving up yards and points in large chunks, something that Defense Coordinator Gene Chasik has to address. But the Tar Heels score a lot with two freshmen – running back Omion Hampton and wide receiver Kobe Paysour.

Duke’s Success Scale: Seems like a loss. Yes, Duke has to move the ball and score in the UNC defense. But the Tar Heels have so much talent in attack that they must get out of Wallace Wade to retain the Victory Bell Cup.

October. 22, in Miami

register: 2-1

Until now: New coach Mario Cristobal has reinvigorated the Hurricanes, spawning much of “The U is Back” work. 17-9 at Texas A&M lost this one. Still, Miami has a strong quarterback in Tyler Van Dyck and a more capable running game with Henry Parrish. Miami’s defense has looked good so far as well, awarding only 12.3 points per game.

Duke’s Success Scale: A difficult road game for blue devils is here. Duke won Miami in 2018 to clinch pot eligibility that season, so there are good feelings for the Blue Devils. But Miami will be a huge favourite this year.

November. 4, at Boston College

register: 1-2, 0-1 ACC

Until now: The Eagles stumbled out of the gate this season, losing 22-21 at home to Rutgers before losing a game 27-10 at Virginia Tech. Whipping Maine, 38-17, last Saturday did not improve Boston College’s expectations. With three interceptions already plus a 59.4% completion rate, number one quarterback Phil Jurkovec doesn’t seem to be part of the experienced captain. Offensive Kevin Klein and Christian Mahogany are missing this season with ACL tears. The Eagles started a favored gait into the left tackle against Maine.

Duke’s Success Scale: It seems likely. Late fall on a Friday night in the Boston suburbs can be chilly. The Blue Devils need to win here to boost their running chances.

November. 12, Virginia Tech

register: 2-1, 1-0 ACC

Until now: Hockey inflicted pain on themselves in their 20-17 loss at Old Dominion on September 2 by fumbling and fouling with penalty kicks and turnovers. They recovered by beating Boston College and Wofford. However, there are still many questions about Brent Bray’s coaching era. That’s not good in the next five games against West Virginia, UNC, Pittsburgh, Miami, NC State.

Duke’s Success Scale: There is nothing wrong. Virginia Tech’s season could be in the garbage by the time the flight comes to Durham in November. Or the Hokies could improve quickly and need a Duke win for pot eligibility. Very soon to find out.

new Moon. 19, in Pittsburgh

register: 2-1

Until now: The ACC title-holders Panthers remain among the top 25 in the national rankings as they only lost a 34-27 setback in overtime to Tennessee State. This is despite the unstable quarterback situation due to injuries to Kevin Sloves and Nick Batty. However, Pete is averaging 33 points per game thanks to running back Israel Abanikanda (100.6 yards per game) and a strong offensive streak. Pete’s defense allowed 26 points per game and forced seven independents to aid in attack.

Duke’s Success Scale: not good. Like Virginia, the Pittsburgh Duke has not been defeated since 2014. The Blue Devils are 1-7 against the Panthers in the ACC play. The Duke’s house paid mostly.

November. 26, awakening the forest

register: 3-0

Until now: Damon Deacons struggled with a frightening health condition involving Sam Hartmann (thrombosis) and the season is starting to look like a contender from the Atlantic once again. Wake’s attack yields 434 yards and 42 points a game with Hartmann’s throw for big game receivers AT Perry, Donavon Greene and Jahmal Banks. Wake’s defense only allowed 23.7 points per game.

Duke’s Success Scale: I can’t see a win coming from this. Wake has a winning streak of three straight games with wins in four of his last five games. Elko is building the Duke towards this level but the Blue Devils are not there yet.

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Steve Wiseman has covered Duke Athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald Sun and Rally News & Observer. He placed second in both news writing and breaking news in the 2019 National Associated Press Sports Editors Competition. Steve has previously worked for The State (Columbia, SC), Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, SC), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), Charlotte Observer and Hickory (NC) Daily Record covering tunes including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina Athletics and Supreme Committee General Assembly. He has won several statewide press union awards. Steve graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.