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In age of instability, Blue Devils are an outlier

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DURHAM — Duke likely never catches Alabama, Clemson and other College Football Playoff regulars, but coach David Cutcliffe’s program features a statistic no other school in the nation can beat. The distinction dates to 2007, his first Durham season.

Number of undergraduate transfers: 0 (zero).

Such unusual stability has contributed to Duke’s continuity and depth, with prime examples fifth-year senior quarterback Quentin Harris and senior linebacker Koby Quansah. They were comfortable waiting their turns behind two future NFL players — New York Giants QB Daniel Jones and Jacksonville Jaguars LB Joe Giles-Harris.

In a smooth transition, other than the season-opening to Alabama, they have led the Blue Devils (3-1, 1-0 ACC Coastal) on a three-game winning streak as they host Pitt (3-2, 0-1 ACC Coastal) at 8 p.m. Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Of Harris, Cutcliffe said:

“You choose a program for the right reasons. And he did. Sometimes young people are pushed (to transfer) or they think they got immediate access to success. He chose Duke football, Duke University, his friends and the locker room for all the right reasons. He and Daniel were best friends. College is still part of growing up. It would be like leaving all your best friends from grade school, middle school and high school. Quentin Harris is that kind of loyal person. He saw a bigger picture.”

In the three wins, Harris is 74-of-96 passing (.771) for 745 yards with 10 touchdowns without an interception. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder leads the team for the season in rushing with 319 yards and two touchdowns.

Of Quansah, the 13th-year head coach said:

“He’s a lot like Quentin’s situation. You watch young people and you watch how they prepare. You’ll learna lot when a player is young; if he’s not a starter you watch how they prepare. You know whether you’ve got a winner or not. And that’s one of my jobs as I watch all of them.”

Despite Quansah having surgery on his right thumb before the opener, the 6-foot-1, 230-pounder is playing with his thumb wrapped in a cast while leading the team in tackles (37). He is second sacks (two) and tied for second intackles for a loss (3.5).


Duke’s transfer track record is especially significant in the second year of the NCAA’s four-game redshirt rule.

It was billed to benefit freshmen to gain up to four games experience without using a year of eligibility, but there has been a run of juniors and seniors using it after the fourth game. Another unintended example is Houston quarterback D’Eriq King, who opted after a disappointing 1-3 start to redshirt while intending to return to the Cougars in 2020 as a fifth-year senior.

“I don’t like seeing it misused,” said Cutcliffe of the four-game rule. “If a player opts out, they quit. That’s effectively what that is.”


Duke announced late Thursday afternoon Brittan Brown underwent shoulder surgery earlier in the day and that his season has ended. The redshirt junior had played in only three games, carrying 12 times for 56 yards without a touchdown.

Brown (6-1, 205) ran for 701 yards and seven touchdowns in 2017 but has been plagued by injuries since then.

Duke is down to two healthy backs with experience: junior Deon Jackson (6-0, 215), 54 carries for 232 yards and two touchdowns, and sophomore Mateo Durant (6-1, 195), 37 for 12 with five touchdowns, have shared the role.

The Blue Devils also counted on Marvin Hubbard III (5-9, 185) this year, but the redshirt sophomore has yet to recover from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon suffered Sept. 30 last season.

Tom Shanahan is freelance writer based in Cary andauthor of Raye of Light, a book featuring Fayetteville’s Jimmy Raye as apioneering black quarterback for College Football Hall of Fame coach DuffyDaugherty on Michigan State’s Underground Railroad football teams of the 1960s.