Duke, eager to put '16 in the past, opens against NC Central
Posted September 1
Updated September 2
DURHAM, N.C. — Defensive lineman Mike Ramsay is tired of feeling like he was part of the same old Duke program.
The Blue Devils look to put a rough 2016 in the past when they begin a new season Saturday night against North Carolina Central.
Duke took a step back last year , finishing under .500 after reaching four consecutive bowls from 2012-15.
"In years past, you kind of had a lot of success — a 10-win season, a nine-win season," Ramsay said. "Going back to 4-8 ... it's an awakener. We like to say that era at Duke is far gone. So kind of having that, living with that 4-8 season, brought a lot of hunger to the guys that have only seen Duke winning."
The Blue Devils probably won't be able to draw many firm conclusions after this one. They routed their crosstown neighbors in last year's opener , then went on to lose eight of their final 11 games.
Duke has won all five previous meetings by at least 35 points, and earned a 49-6 victory last year in quarterback Daniel Jones' first college start.
A year later, and the Blue Devils have added a few wrinkles to the playbook to take advantage of Jones' comfort and experience.
"We've definitely added some things," Jones said. "I feel like we're able to attack in different ways. What exactly those are, I guess will be easier to talk about next Monday (after the game) but I think we're in a good position with what we have in terms of offense."
Other things to know about what's known as the Bull City Gridiron Classic:
YOUNG D: Duke has five first-year freshmen on its defensive depth chart, including one — DE Victor Dimukeje — listed as a starter. Ramsay and CB Bryon Fields Jr. are the only fifth-year seniors scheduled to start. The strength of the defense is in the middle, where both linebackers — Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris — are arguably the unit's best players.
PLAYING HURT: Duke S Jeremy McDuffie is expected to play despite a fractured right thumb. Coach David Cutcliffe says McDuffie will play with a cast protecting his hand. "He can cover, he's out there doing every drill, full-speed," Cutcliffe said.
SPECIAL Ks: Duke had one of the worst field-goal units in the country last year, making only three field goals — tied for last in the FBS. Cutcliffe says redshirt sophomore Austin Parker will begin the year as the starting kicker and punter with redshirt senior Willy Holmquist as the backup kicker and backup quarterback Parker Boehme also will be the No. 2 punter. "I believe in my heart of hearts that we will be better" in the kicking game, Cutcliffe said.
NEW QB: North Carolina Central will debut a new starting quarterback. Sophomore Micah Zanders began his college career at Southern, spent last season at Hinds Community College in Mississippi and joined the Eagles after the spring game. "The biggest thing was his experience," coach Jerry Mack said. "He's got probably a lot more reps at the quarterback position."
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