Key stretch: Elon, at Wake Forest, Army, at Maryland (Sept. 4-Oct. 2)
Analysis: Long stretch, I know, and I intentionally left out the Alabama game because I don’t see the Blue Devils pulling any Appalachian State upsets. But the other four games are winnable, and if Duke can win four of its first five games, then the Blue Devils can get to a bowl game for the first time since 1994. Duke got a favorable cross-divisional schedule in that it doesn’t have to face Florida State or Clemson. The Blue Devils were able to defeat the Terps last year but will face Maryland in College Park this fall. Duke was also able to beat Army last year on the road, and rookie quarterback Sean Renfree, who will be taking over for Thaddeus Lewis, played a significant role. The series against Wake Forest has been close in recent years, with the Deacs winning by no more than five points in three of the past four meetings.
Prediction: Duke can come out on the winning end, but a 2-2 record seems more likely. If Duke pulls off a 3-2 record in this stretch, the biggest win will be at Wake Forest. The toughest game will be against the Terps, as Maryland can’t afford to flop at home to unheralded Duke team in the first ACC game of its schedule. Wins over Army and Elon should be expected by now under coach David Cutcliffe, but conference road wins are still uphill battles, even if they are against what’s expected to be two of the Atlantic Division’s lower-tier teams.
More key stretches: