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Duke? I Hate Freeloaders

Duke has picked the ACC’s pocket for decades. Clemson is coming to collect on Monday night.

Duke v Pittsburgh Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Our long, hot, humid, sweltering, swamp-assy summer is in its death throes. Football season is upon us, and life is almost good again. I’m not going to lie folks, it’s been a tough off-season for me. My wife grew up in Knoxville, and truth be told, has a Vet degree from Tennessee. Don’t get it twisted, she’s Clemson through and through, but man, her family is chock full of Vols. Every time I venture over the mountain and into that God forsaken river valley I have to hear about the Orange Bowl. I get it. Winners get to talk, but modern dental practices have yet to fully penetrate the area. If you get those bubbas too excited they turn normal trash talk into the front row of a Gallagher (R.I.P.) show, except instead of getting covered in watermelon juice , you get covered in Skoal spittle. It’s not a pleasant, and I’d prefer to never experience this indignity again.

Dabo must know the same people I know, because he woke up from his National Championship slumber and turned back into the killer that got us to the top of the mountain. The most frustrating offense in the nation is out the door with Brandon Streeter and DJ. No offense to either, but this is a results business, and if you don’t get the results, you get shown the door. Football matters at Clemson. If you want to coach or play somewhere without the pressure of production, Duke is always an option.

David Cutcliffe turned Duke into his own personal retirement home. His health precluded him from taking a major college football job, too much stress, but he was free to tinker away in anonymity for the Blue Devils. There’s no pressure to win. You can walk around campus in total anonymity and make friends with the one reporter that occasionally shows up for a Duke football “press conference” when he’s not busy covering the local fall 4-H fair scene. If you want to coach college football, but don’t want to deal with things like recruiting, expectations, or winning, maybe Duke isn’t that bad. You still get paid well, and as long as you don’t distract anyone from basketball, you’re golden. If another team tosses Coach Elko a life preserver after this season, I’m considering putting my name in the ring for the Duke job. I’m more than capable of finishing the season outside the top 25.

The Blue Devils happen to be the first victim on Dabo’s revenge rampage. Some people find it hard to hate Duke football. It’s hard to generate hate for something that no one loves.

I don’t have that problem.

The freeloaders in Durham are one of the main reasons offseason football discourse centered around realignment and the possible dissolution of the ACC instead of actual football. College athletics revolve around football. Love it or hate it, that’s reality. It’s a reality the folks in New, New Jersey haven’t managed to wrap their big heads around since Bill Murray and the Blue Devils finished the season ranked 10th in 1960.

It’s weird. You would think a school as conceited as Duke would try to avoid being the door mat of the most visible sport in the college sports universe, but you would be wrong. Duke considers football below them. Duke grads are like vegans. Want to know about Duke? It doesn’t matter. They’re going to tell you about Duke and do so in the most condescending manner possible, in order to emphasize how much better they are than a common state school graduate.

“Oh, I graduated from a little school called Duke. Have you head of it? I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t, I wouldn’t expect someone who attended a state school to know anything about an elite school like Duke.”

Seriously, my aforementioned wife sat through an entire presentation from the Duke folks in high school. According to her, their representatives spent the entire time telling everyone they weren’t getting into a school as prestigious as Duke. Dr. Sarah, being the person she is, made it a point to apply to Duke. She’s an actual genius (despite having questionable taste in men) with the academic resume to back up her big brain. She didn’t want to go to Duke, she wanted and received the satisfaction of getting into Duke with a full academic scholarship and turning them down for Clemson. She said putting the “thanks for the offer, I’ll be taking my talents elsewhere” letter in the mail was one of the most satisfying moments of her life...but I digress, back to Duke football...

In the last 60 years, Duke has finished the season with a ranked team once. My dad, born in 1959, is retiring next year. He’s experienced two ranked (in the final AP poll) Duke squads in his tenure on earth. Hell, Steve Spurrier couldn’t get them in the final rankings despite winning the ACC Championship in 1989 with an 8-4 squad. In a way, Duke helped make Spurrier a National Championship winning coach. He had to figure out how to win at school that only plays football because they are contractually obligated to field a team. Coaching at Duke is like running in sand; once you’re back on the asphalt (in this case Florida) it feels like you’re flying.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Duke could invest in football. Imagine the facilities they could have built over the years if they invested a quarter of money they spent buying basketball players for Coach K. You could build a new football locker room with the money they (allegedly) invested for one injured season of Zion Williamson. I get that Duke isn’t a big school, but they could at least try. I won’t get too far into the realignment and media rights morass, but Florida State makes an excellent point. Why are they forced to subsidize Duke basketball with the money they bring into the conference through football? Where does the 40 million dollar yearly payout from the ACC to Duke go? They certainly don’t spend it on football. Clemson and Florida State should each get a patch on Duke’s basketball jerseys, because they’re the biggest financial backers of Duke basketball.

Now I’m seeing online gas huffers put Clemson on upset watch because Duke has Mike “F’ing” Elko and a functional quarterback?

“But Drew, they went 8-4 last season!”

I respect no team that loses to Kansas in football. That’s an easy measuring stick. If you lose to Kansas in football, you’re not good. I don’t care what your record says. The fact that the rest of the ACC was brutal last season doesn’t mean Duke was good. It means they were the scum on top of the retention pond instead of the muck at the bottom. They played a J.V. schedule, avoiding both Clemson and Florida State and I’m supposed to be worried because they won 9 whole football games including wins over such football luminaries as Temple, Northwestern, and North Carolina A&T?

Couldn’t be me.

I get it. Everyone is strung a little tight after the last two seasons. Losing to a school like NC State can humble a person (certainly not me, some people), but folks, this is still Duke. Mike Elko won the ACC Coach of the Year in 2022 because the bar is set so low at Duke, it looked like he was outjumping everyone else. It was nothing but an optical illusion.

Clemson has faced the mighty Mike Elko defense several times. It hasn’t gone well for him.


Clemson 34 - Wake 20


Clemson 33 - Wake 13


Clemson 35 - Wake 13


Clemson 28 - Texas A&M 26


Clemson 24 - Texas A&M 10

NCAA Football: Kent State at Texas A&M Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, he didn’t have the talent at Wake, but even at Texas A&M, with the best players oil money can buy, he couldn’t get the job done. Let me assure you, the talent he lost to Clemson with at Texas A&M is light years ahead of the talent he has at Duke. You see those Wake scores, that’s the talent he’s working with at Duke....and I’m supposed to be concerned? I know people get paid to say and write dumb stuff all the time. Being a college football hot take merchant has turned into a lucrative grift, but some folks are trying way too hard.

I almost feel bad for Elko. He should fire his agent. Steve Spurrier parlayed 8 wins at Duke into the Florida job but Elko couldn’t exchange 9 wins at Duke for a decent head coaching job. When you’re at a school like Duke, you’ve got to strike while the iron is hot, because it cools off real quick. Cincinnati hired Scott Satterfield after he managed a 7-5 season at Louisville. Elko’s 9 wins at Duke, despite being inflated, should at least be worth the Cincinnati job. His only hope is a Gene Chizik career arc where a school is willing to pull him out of college football purgatory despite a losing season. Water always finds its level, and the water level for Duke is closer to 4 wins than 9.

Mike fumbled the bag folks.

In Conclusion

I could drag Duke football for another 10,000 words, but sadly, I’ve got other things on my agenda today. I’ll try to distill those words down to these final paragraphs. There is no better example of college football corporate welfare than Duke. They pull up to the ACC offices in their Bentley, demand money they didn’t earn, and invest it in basketball and lacrosse. When it comes down to it, they’re a historically bad football program because they don’t care about football. Granted, that’s better than South Carolina, a historically bad football program that cares about football, but not much.

They’re nominally a southern school, but would rather occupy some swamp land in New Jersey. They think they’re better than me, and they think they’re better than you. I would say Clemson is going to teach them a lesson about hubris on Monday night, but they won’t. Before you get excited, Clemson is going to rip out their heart and show it to them on Labor Day, but Duke won’t learn anything because it doesn’t matter to them. You can’t shame Duke into caring about football. If you could, they would have turned things around a long time ago.

People talk about conference expansion, but it’s time to talk about conference contraction. If I were in charge, Duke would be the first team out the ACC door. Let them raise the money to buy a new point guard for the basketball team without the help of Clemson football. They can hang out in limbo with their friends from Cal and Stanford. It’s time for Duke to stand on their own two feet instead of picking everyone else in the conferences pocket.

They think they’re better than everyone else. I say we let them prove it somewhere else.

Come Monday night, Clemson is going to make a statement to the college football world. I can’t think of a team I’d rather see sacrificed to the Tigers than Duke. After the last two seasons, Dabo’s got some frustration he needs to work out, and there is no better punching bag than Duke football.

Hope y’all have a nice, long weekend. See ya’ next week.