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Preview: Duke (0-0) vs. NC Central (0-0)

Looking ahead and some of the top story lines from the season opener against North Carolina Central

Duke opens the 2016 regular season against the NC Central Eagles on Saturday afternoon in Wallace Wade Stadium in the annual Bull City Classic.

Game 1 v. NC Central

Where: Durham, N.C.  - Wallace Wade Stadium

When: Sept. 3, 2012 6:04 PM EST

TV: ESPN3

STARTING ON THE RIGHT FOOT:

After a somewhat turbulent off-season that saw starting quarterback Thomas Sirk lost for the season with another Achilles injury, the Blue Devils will begin the Daniel Jones era in Wallace Wade Stadium by welcoming their cross town opponents, the NC Central Eagles.  

With a much improved strength of schedule that includes tough road games at Notre Dame and Louisville, the drive for a fifth straight bowl game means Duke can ill-afford to drop any games they should win.  And, despite the terrific coaching job demonstrated by NCCU third-year head coach Jerry Mack (who has won conference titles in each of his first two seasons), there’s just no reason to think the Eagles are going to beat Duke on Saturday.   

Still, the Blue Devils will need to answer a lot of questions including how prepared new starting quarterback Daniel Jones is to mange the offense, but also lead it to improved production - especially when it comes to taking shots down field.  

Similarly, the defense will need to break in three new starters on the defensive line as well as a new set of linebackers while also compensating for the loss of ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Jeremy Cash.  Again, the talent is there, but there’s not a lot of experience in that front six. 

LAST TIME

Duke does return several key players from last season’s team which blew out the Eagles by a 55-0 margin.  And the game wasn’t that close.   The Blue Devils moved the ball up and down the field without issue - both in the air and on the ground.  Duke passed for 367 yards and added 288 yards on the ground while building a 24-0 lead at halftime and 41-0 through three quarters.  

What little offense produced by the Eagles was spearheaded by Bell who completed half of his 24 passes for 127 yards. Khalil Stinson had four catches for 54 yards, while Jalen Wilkes tallied four receptions for 27 yards. The NCCU defense stayed on the  eld for 34:11 of the contest.

HISTORY WILL BE MADE

With his next reception, senior WR Conner Vernon will become the ACC's all-time leader for pass receptions, passing former Clemson standout Aaron Kelly.  In 40 career games Vernon has 232 catches for 3,137 yards and 16 touchdowns.  Vernon needs just one catch and 381 yards to become the ACC’s all-time

leader in both receptions and yards.

In 2011, Vernon became the first player in ACC history to post back-to-back seasons with 70-plus receptions. He is one of only four players in Duke history to post three consecutive 50-reception

seasons.

He owns the longest receiving streak in FBS football, hauling in at least one pass in 40 consecutive games. Vernon and teammate Desmond Scott are two of only seven players nationally with a streak of at least 30 games.  

Vernon’s 40-game streak is the longest in school history, surpassing the previous record of 37 games held by Vernon’s high school and collegiate team- mate Donovan Varner (2008-11). The Miami (Fla.) product has caught a pass in every game in which he has played and has multiple receptions in 39 of those 40 games. He is currently on a streak of 20 straight games with multiple catches, which is the third longest streak in Duke history.

EAGLES STILL LEARNING TO FLY AGAINST FBS

The blow out loss to Duke was part of a trend for the Eagles and illustrates the difference between the two levels of college football.  The Eagles began coming to Wallace Wade in 2009 and returned in 2012, 2013, and 2015.  In each of those four contests the outcomes were never in doubt as Duke won by 35, 37, 45, and 55 points.   

Since leaving Division II for the FCS level, NC Central has faced FBS teams seven times.   In addition to the games against Duke the Eagles have fallen to Rutgers in 2011 (by 48), East Carolina in 2014 (by 45), and Florida International last year (by 25).  

PREDICTION

There could be some weather on Saturday and the Blue Devils may also have to deal with some rust and/or inconsistency from some new starters, but it’s simply unlikely that Duke will lose to NC Central.  The goals for Saturday will include (1) getting a win; (2) doing so without injury; and (3) not providing too much scouting footage to the coaches at Wake Forest, Duke’s Week 2 opponent.   We’d expect a wet, but fun afternoon in Durham.  The pick…

Duke - 52

NC Central - 7


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