Thursday’s season opener for the Blue Devils is a rematch of last season’s 47-13 victory over the inexperienced and troubled Tulane Green Wave. Head coach David Cutcliffe, the man solely responsible for turning around the once downtrodden Duke program, has the team primed for yet another bowl appearance. An expected Week 1 victory over Tulane is Cutcliffe’s chance to show the rest of the ACC that his team is still riding the momentum of a 7-5 campaign last season that saw the Blue Devils win four straight games twice, including an overtime victory against Pittsburgh and a road victory against Georgia Tech.
Though Tulane couldn’t overcome early turnover struggles against the Blue Devils in last season’s matchup, they were able to put up nearly 400 yards of total offense, with 28 total first downs. Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson said of Lee’s performance against Duke last season, "[Lee] didn't know what he was doing half the time, and then the receivers didn't know what they were doing the other half.” But Johnson did add that Lee is, "[doing] so much better" heading into the 2015 season-opening rematch.
Duke at Tulane
Kickoff: 9:30 p.m. EST (Thursday)
TV Channel: CBSSN
Spread: Duke -7, o/u 51
Three Things To Watch For
1. Tulane’s Three-Headed Rushing Attack
Tulane returns speedster Sherman Badie, who rushed for 688 yards at 5.7 YPC last season, including three rushes of 70-yards or more. They also return power-back Lazedrick Thompson, who ran for 533 yards and four touchdowns. Dontrell Hilliard, arguably the most unheralded tailback in the entire conference, also returns to assist in blocking and receiving out of the backfield. With Duke only returning one lone starter from their front-six (base 4-2-5 defense) expect Tulane to use ground-and-pound early and often to set the tone for redshirt sophomore quarterback Tanner Lee to ensure he doesn’t endure the same struggles as last season, throwing three interceptions.
2. Duke’s Quarterback
When David Cutcliffe took over the Duke program in 2008, he inherited an awful team with little talent. He turned that roster into a team looking to make it to a second consecutive bowl game, and has had the likes of Sean Renfree (Atlanta Falcons) and Anthony Boone lead his team under center during his tenure.
The 2015 quarterback outlook is much more bleak than in recent history, with junior Thomas Sirk starting under center in Week 1. Sirk emerged as the Blue Devils’ best passer during spring camp, and has been heralded as being “physically gifted” with raw throwing ability. As Tulane expects to do, look for Duke to also use their ground game early to set the tone for their inexperienced quarterback. Sirk will be working with an offensive line that boasts three returning starters including seniors Lucas Patrick at left guard and Matt Skura at center. Shaquille Powell returns at running back as the team’s dual-threat back, with the ability to pound the ball between the tackles and bust it outside for big gains.
3. Tulane Quarterback Tanner Lee
As mentioned earlier, Lee struggled last season against Duke, throwing three interceptions. His outlook for Week 1’s game doesn’t look all too great, as Duke returns their entire secondary including senior safety Jeremy Cash. Lee went 14 of 35 for 160 yards and three picks last year, but with an entire offseason as the known starter and four returning offensive lineman, Lee could find the ability to move the ball thoroughly with a short and efficient passing game — a matchup that favors Tulane against an inexperienced duke front-six.
Duke has just too much defensive firepower for Tulane to overcome. With their entire starting secondary returning, and already having Lee’s number from last season’s matchup, Duke shouldn’t find much trouble against the redshirt sophomore who threw 14 total interceptions last season.
Prediction: Duke 31, Tulane 14
— Written by Chris Dougherty, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Dougherty also serves as a National Recruiting Analyst for 247Sports.com and has written for other sites, including FanSided.com and Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @warontheweekend.