Duke is bowl-eligible for the first time since 2018. To cap off Mike Elko’s first season at the helm, the Blue Devils draw UCF in Annapolis, Md. at the Military Bowl on Wednesday.
Should Duke (8-4) beat the Knights (9-4), it will give the Blue Devils just their seventh season of nine or more wins in program history.
Duke has only had two seasons with that many wins since it joined the ACC in 1953. Both of those campaigns came under the previous coach, David Cutcliffe.
But Cutcliffe’s Duke teams floundered near the end of his tenure, and the Blue Devils went a combined 10-25 from 2019 to 2021.
Elko quickly got the program back on the right track in his first season. Duke had a winning record in ACC play (5-3) for the first time since 2014. Elko was named ACC Coach of the Year and is a semifinalist for the George Munger Coach of the Year award.
The Blue Devils improved on both sides of the ball under Elko, who had previously been a defensive coordinator at Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Wake Forest.
From 2021 to 2022, Duke went from 102nd nationally to 34th in scoring offense, and 127th to 36th in scoring defense. Duke ranks 11th nationally in takeaways, averaging two per game, and sixth nationally in offensive giveaways, only turning the ball over 0.6 times per game.
“We haven’t had the opportunity to be in a bowl the last few years, so our guys are excited to go through this experience,” Elko told the Orlando Sentinel. “They’re excited to go out and play one more game together. We’ve talked a lot this year about his close this group is.”
UCF is preparing to play its last game as a team from the American Athletic Conference. Next season, the Knights jump to the Big 12. They’re bowling for the seventh straight season – a stretch that spans three head coaching tenures.
The Knights are armed with the nation’s seventh-best rushing offense, averaging 236 yards per game on the ground. It’s a three-headed rushing attack that powers UCF; quarterback John Rhys Plumlee has 840 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, tailback Isaiah Bowser has 760 yards and 14 scores, and RJ Harvey has 767 yards and five TDs.
Duke hasn’t reported any opt-outs, but UCF will be without wideout Ryan O’Keefe, linebacker Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste and defensive back Davonte Brown as the trio has transferred. UCF will also be adjusting to new defensive play caller Addison Williams, who was promoted after defensive coordinator Travis Williams left for Arkansas.
“To be a great defensive coordinator, I believe you’ve got to understand the offenses inside and out and vice versa with that,” UCF coach Gus Malzahn told the Orlando Sentinel. “(Addison) was with me in 2019. I was a play caller. He really helped me. We kind of worked together about defenses and offense. That really stood out to me.”
Duke and UCF have never played each other before. UCF is 1-1 all-time in Annapolis, while Duke is 6-9, but has played there since 2010.
–Field Level Media