Date/Time: Friday, September 3rd, 7:00 PM ET
TV: CBS Sports Network (Chris Lewis, Corey Chavous, Justin Walters)
Location: Jerry Richardson Stadium (Charlotte, NC)
Odds per BetMGM Sportsbook: Blue Devils -6.5 (O/U: 60.5)
The talent level across the board could be at its apex since the hiring of head honcho Will Healy back in 2019, leaving ample room for optimism surrounding Charlotte’s growth heading into the season opener.
Retaining a healthy Chris Reynolds at quarterback gives the 49ers security in a backfield by committee that’ll see different looks with Iowa transfer Shadrick Byrd and redshirt senior Calvin Camp looking to prove their worth on the ground, combining for just 179 yards rushing in their prospective careers to this point with a shot to break out.
Pete Rossomando’s offensive line unit comes in looking to wipe the slate clean in the trenches, grading out ranked an abysmal 104th and 116th in both run & pass blocking out of 127 participating programs in 2020’s COVID-stricken campaign with nowhere to go but up.
The leading receiver every year he’s seen the field, Victor Tucker is back for his last stand at Charlotte with a shot to put on his best performance we’ve seen yet. One of the last remaining members of the 2017 recruiting class still on roster, hitting the gridiron with 2,021 career receiving yards just feels like a bad omen for anyone that left him off the Biletnikoff Award Preseason Watchlist.
Crunching down the numbers to an acceptable output on defense after surrendering an average of 419.5 yards per game last year seems extremely doable on paper with new faces in new places claiming several key spots on the two-deep depth chart released this week.
A mixture of size and speed make up the defensive front with Markees Watts serving purpose returning at his edge spot, joining 6’5’ 275-lb. colossus Bryan Wallace as names to watch for an otherwise largely inexperienced line unit.
Every-down strength will be available in the linebacking corps riding the massive shoulders of team captains Tyler Murray and Luke Martin. Looking to build off his Honorable Mention accolades in 2020, returning leading tackler Murray is a former scout team MVP that could easily play his way into bonafide All-CUSA honors come December.
Impact transfers loaded into every spot, the 49er secondary will find ways to prove their fortitude very early in the 2021 season. Texas natives Jon Alexander and Geo Howard move in from Kansas State and Purdue, respectively, with East Carolina transfer Tank Robinson carrying a name that was heard time and time again making plays during his tenure in Greenville.
It’s as if the entire college football world is beating a dead horse when bringing it up, but mentioning Duke’s turnover woes in respect to their prospects for 2021 is almost necessary when evaluating what needs to change.
Leading them in the charge to get over the hump will be newly minted signal-caller Gunnar Holmberg, the great nephew of 26-year NFL veteran George Blanda who’s seen little action since his season-ending setback in 2019. Several large targets are available at his disposal, hopefully allowing the passing game to be more of a factor under new co-offensive coordinators.
Jake Bobo led Duke with 358 yards on 32 receptions, with the team captain from Massachusetts having played over 1,100 career snaps. Jalon Calhoun led the team with 39 catches, and those two will be counted on to produce in the air when the team is not relying on their ground game. Eli Pancol is the third-most productive receiver returning on the depth chart, and the only pass catcher besides Bobo to average double digit yards per catch with at least 20 receptions in 2020.
Mataeo Durant carries the load as a lethal weapon at running back, with the Doak Walker watchlist candidate having topped the 100-yard mark on four separate occasions in 2020.
15.5 sacks worth of production is gone with Chris Rumph II and Victor Dimukeje having taken their talents to the National Football League. Tackle Ben Frye shifts outside to end leaving the remainder of the defensive line front manned by seldom-used sophomores DeWayne Carter and Gary Smith III.
The Blue Devil secondary could be the most effective position group within the program, cornerstoned by a pair of Reese’s Senior Bowl watchlist members in Josh Blackwell and Leonard Johnson. The athletic but often injured Blackwell also shoulders the load for punt returning duties on special teams, and hopes to gain traction back in the lineup after being forced out in early September last year with a season-ending knee injury.
Leading tackler Shaka Heyward holds down the fort inside at middle linebacker as arguably the most NFL-ready talent on the roster, a pivotal playmaker that ranked 12th in the ACC last season in tackles and tackles per game.
This matchup serves as an important piece to the puzzle for the Charlotte 49ers, hosting their first-ever home game against a Power Five opponent. Looking back on the 53-19 drubbing Duke delivered last season in Durham, the odds sitting around -6.5 should be a direct warning that Healy’s program remembers what happened on Halloween and seek to find retribution. All that being said, David Cutcliffe’s program is still of ACC caliber, and certainly possesses all the firepower needed to walk away with a victory. This one is bound to be close, but inevitably Duke should find a way to get it done.
FINAL SCORE: Duke 31, Charlotte 21