The Duke Blue Devils are back in a bowl game for a second straight season, marking the first time the program’s reached the sport’s postseason in consecutive years since 2017-18. Despite the program’s head coach (Mike Elko) departing Durham for greener pastures in College Station and Texas A&M, Duke has a shot to finish the season on a high note and build on the good fortune that’s blossomed of late around the program.
This bowl season, Duke will head to Birmingham to play in the 76 Birmingham Bowl against the Troy Trojans of the Sun Belt, in a game that will take place inside Protective Stadium on Dec. 23. Right now, oddsmakers from ESPN BET North Carolina see Duke as a heavy underdog against their Sun Belt opponents, with the Blue Devils currently staring down a +7 spread and a +240 moneyline against the Trojans.
Ahead of that Dec. 23 contest, BetCarolina.com broke down how Duke got here and where the program might go now that Elko is leaving.
With the team’s head coach off to Texas A&M and little information about who might replace Elko in Durham, it seems like Dec. 23 could very well be a formative point in Duke football history. That’s because the Blue Devils have an opportunity to finish the year with consecutive wins, having previously beaten Pitt (30-19) in their regular-season finale. It also represents an opportunity for Trooper Taylor, who is currently Duke’s interim head coach in the team’s bowl game, to earn the job on a full-time basis in 2024 and beyond.
That’s assuming that Duke AD Nina White doesn’t go with an outside candidate, such as any of the ones that BetCarolina.com, your home for NC sports betting news, mentioned last month. For now, Taylor and the Blue Devils have a shot to pull off an upset over an 11-2 Troy team in the Trojans’ backyard, giving Blue Devils fans reason for optimism in the year ahead.
Outside of Duke’s ongoing head coaching search, the other question surrounding Blue Devils football is how Elko’s successor plans to replace outgoing quarterback Riley Leonard. Leonard, who entered the NCAA’s transfer portal officially this week, battled through his fair share of injuries this year but was electric when healthy for the Blue Devils. In his absence, Taylor and the Duke staff will likely have to rely heavily on running back Jordan Waters, who rushed for 753 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior this fall.
Leading receiver Jordan Moore should play a big role in Duke’s bowl game against Troy, as well as during the team’s 2024 campaign, as he hauled in 59 catches for 794 yards and eight scores this year. Right now, whoever takes over for Elko inherits the ACC’s seventh-ranked recruiting class, per 247 Sports, assuming no other players enter the transfer portal.
Throw in a soft 2024 schedule that includes winnable non-conference games against Northwestern, UConn, and Middle Tennessee State and you have the potential for the Blue Devils to win at least as many games as they did this fall when Duke takes the field again in the fall.
For now, the Durham-based collective will need to keep their heads on a swivel against Troy to avoid a bowl game blunder, allowing the Blue Devils to enter the offseason on a high note under whichever coach replaces Elko at the North Carolina University.
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