Duke contains Plumlee, beats UCF 30-13 in Military Bowl

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Duke brushed aside UCF with relative ease in the Military Bowl, capping an impressive turnaround this season.

Now quarterback Riley Leonard is talking about big hopes for the future.

“I’m kind of a guy that’s never really satisfied,” he said. “I look back at the season with nine wins, but I expect 12, 13, 14 going into the national championship. So my eyes will be set on next year, probably tomorrow or the next day.”

Coach Mike Elko was a little more willing to reflect on Duke’s remarkable rise in his first season at the helm. Leonard ran for two touchdowns and threw for 173 yards, and the Blue Devils handled UCF 30-13 on Wednesday.

Duke went winless in Atlantic Coast Conference play last year, but Elko turned the team around quickly, winning ACC coach of the year honors. The Blue Devils reached nine wins in a season for the seventh time and first since 2014.

“Couldn’t be more proud of this group,” Elko said. “From where this team was and this program was walking off the field at the end of the 2021 season, to walking off the field today as the 2022 Military Bowl champions.”

The Blue Devils (9-4) have won four consecutive bowl games, although this was their first appearance in one since 2018. Jordan Moore ran for a touchdown in the first quarter, and then Duke took control in the second.

UCF (9-5) lost three of its final four games this season. John Rhys Plumlee managed only 28 yards passing in the first half and 182 for the game.

“We only scored 13 points. It’s all of us,” Knights coach Gus Malzahn said. “We just didn’t get it done offensively.”

Moore opened the scoring with a 14-yard run, but Isaiah Bowser‘s 1-yard touchdown rush for the Knights tied the game at 7. Duke outscored UCF 13-0 in the second quarter.

After taking the lead on a short field goal, the Blue Devils recovered a fumble by Plumlee at their own 42. They went 58 yards in seven plays, and Leonard scored on 1-yard run.

A 48-yard field goal by Todd Pelino made it 20-7 at halftime.

Down 23-7, the Knights had a good chance to get back in the game after a profitable exchange of punts gave them the ball at the Duke 32, but UCF turned the ball over on downs.

“That was a key drive. Obviously we had the momentum,” Malzahn said. “You’ve got to score right there.”

The Knights finally scored again on 2-yard run by Bowser with 9:03 remaining, but a trick play on a 2-point conversion failed badly.

Leonard completed the scoring with a 3-yard run with 2:29 to play. He finished with a team-high 63 yards on the ground.

“This group is special and this program is special,” Elko said. “Couldn’t be more proud of this team.”


Duke: An excellent ending to a very encouraging season. The defense in particular was strong against a good quarterback. The Blue Devils had six sacks.

UCF: Plumlee was limited by hamstring problems when the Knights lost to Tulane in the AAC title game. It was hard to tell how much he was still feeling the effects Wednesday, but this was not a good performance by an offense that normally has little trouble moving the ball.

“When you struggle on offense, a lot of quarterbacks get a lot of the blame and a lot of the praise as well,” Plumlee said. “But tonight, there’s no other way to put it – just not good enough.”


There were only four penalties in the game – and only one against Duke.

“I think it shows that during the prep they were focused when they needed to be,” Elko said. “They’re a really mature group, and I think they had their sights set on what they wanted to accomplish all year.”


Duke: Elko and the Blue Devils clearly have a lot to build on. They didn’t lose a game all season by more than eight points.

UCF: It’s off to the Big 12 for the Knights, who move from the American Athletic Conference to their new league. It was somewhat fitting that they played their final game this season at the home stadium of Navy – an AAC team.

Farewell, Coastal, the ACC’s always unpredictable division

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Farewell, ACC Coastal. And good riddance.

Every summer, every league in the country has some sort of preseason media gathering, the Atlantic Coast Conference included. Those events always go the same way: Coaches downplay expectations, quarterbacks praise their offensive line and receivers, and savvy reporters leave with a notebook filled with ideas for the season.

There’s also a preseason poll, predicting how the season will go. And in the Coastal, such an exercise has been utterly futile, useless and often completely wrong.

North Carolina winning the Coastal Division this season – the final season of divisional play in the ACC – was a surprise to 89% of voters, which frankly shouldn’t have surprised anyone, since the only constant in America’s wackiest division over the last decade was that voters rarely knew what was going to happen. In the last 10 seasons of ACC divisional play, voters predicted the Coastal winner right exactly twice.

“The culture, whatever we call it, of this team has been, `We’re going to find ways to win and we’re going to make sure that we’re all in and we’re going to make sure that we play hard every week and we’re going to do the little things that we need to do to win,”‘ North Carolina coach Mack Brown said. “And for whatever reason, this team has done that.”

His team was picked third in the preseason poll, with 18 out of a possible 164 votes. Clemson was the winner in the Atlantic, as expected; the Tigers got 111 votes.

The Tar Heels’ path to this ACC title game followed the one that almost always got taken in the Coastal. Someone emerged, and it rarely was the team that most everyone expected.

Over the last decade, the only team that won the Coastal and got more than 50% of the preseason votes was Miami in 2017 – the first, and only, time the Hurricanes made the ACC championship game in the divisional era that started in 2005.

Duke went to the title game in 2013 from the Coastal, and Pitt represented the Coastal in 2018. Those teams got zero preseason first-place votes, combined. A year ago, Pitt won the Coastal again – with exactly one preseason first-place vote.

“Rankings don’t mean anything,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said late last season. “They matter at the end of the year. If you say at the end of the year you’re in the top 20 or top 10 or top 5, whatever it is, that means something. Until the end of the year, it really doesn’t mean anything.”

Oh, how the Coastal has proven that.

Duke was picked last in the Coastal in 2013. Last. The Blue Devils started that season 0-2 in ACC play. They went 6-0 the rest of the way to win the Coastal.

“Who knows what’s going to happen?” then-Duke coach David Cutcliffe asked toward the end of that season.

The answer was pretty much nobody.

The Atlantic Division made voters look smart. Thanks to almost-annual dominance by either Florida State or Clemson, the team that represented the Atlantic in the ACC title game finished first or second in the preseason poll 14 out of 17 times in the two-division era. (The ACC didn’t have divisional play in 2020, a season where the format changed temporarily because of the pandemic.)

The Coastal Division made voters look … well, not smart.

Out of the final 10 years of two-division play, voters got the Atlantic champion right 61% of the time in preseason balloting. Over that same span, voters got the Coastal champion right 15% of the time. Take Miami’s win in 2017 away, and that figure falls to 9%.

And Miami’s success, or lack thereof, since joining the ACC is a big part of the reason why Coastal voters haven’t had a great track record. The Hurricanes were picked to win the Coastal six times in the divisional era. They got to the ACC title game once; they would have gone one other time if not for self-imposed postseason sanctions related to the scandal surrounding rogue former booster Nevin Shapiro in the early 2010s.

In his defense, first-year Miami coach Mario Cristobal cringed from the outset about there being high expectations for the Hurricanes this season.

“We have, from day one, made it very clear what we’re here to do and what we’re here to build,” Cristobal said. “Our history has shown that we don’t sell a dream. We don’t sell any false hope. We sell the reality of a track record in what we’ve done, where we’ve been, and how we’ve done it.”

Year 2 of the Cristobal era will come in 2023 without divisions in the ACC.

The new plan, adopted by the league’s athletic directors and faculty athletic representatives over the summer, will be what the league calls a 3-5-5 model and goes into effect with the 2023 season.

All 14 of the ACC’s football members will have three permanent scheduling partners and play those schools each year. They’ll face the other 10 schools once every two years; five one year, five the next. It means that every ACC team will play all conference opponents home and away at least once every four years.

The ACC is keeping its championship game. Instead of pitting division champions, the top two teams based on conference winning percentage will make the title game.

And there will be a poll next summer. Maybe it’ll be easier to predict the future.

Duke becomes bowl eligible with win over short-handed BC

Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Riley Leonard threw for 158 yards and a touchdown, and he ran for 96 yards and another score to help Duke beat short-handed Boston College 38-31.

Duke (6-3, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) became bowl eligible for the first time since 2018 under first-year coach Mike Elko. The Blue Devils notched just three victories last season.

“Just a really monumental night for our program,” Elko said. “For us to come from where we were 10 months ago to here, bowl eligible with three games to go. Just a testament to everybody in our program and our university from the top down.”

Boston College (2-7, 1-5) was without quarterback Phil Jurkovec due to a right knee injury, but freshman Emmett Morehead shined in his first career start, throwing for four touchdowns with no interceptions.

“It’s the first game Emmett’s started since his junior year of high school. … We put him in some really tough situations, but he showed leadership, he showed poise,” said BC coach Jeff Hafley.

Duke forced a three-and-out to begin the second half and Jaquez Moore scored on a 24-yard run to extend its lead to 31-14. Boston College cut its deficit to 10 points but opted for an onside kick with 3:31 left in the third quarter and Duke recovered it before another score by Moore.

“At halftime we kind of got chewed into a little bit because like we weren’t playing very well,” Duke defensive tackle DeWayne Carter said. “You look at the third quarter, we’ve struggled a lot there this year. It’s no secret. So we came out and just had to set the tone for the half.”

Boston College got within 10 points again after a 75-yard drive ended in Morehead’s 26-yard pass to fellow freshman Joseph Griffin Jr. with 12:07 remaining.

“He’s (Griffin) six-foot four, so that’s rare.” Morehead said about his connections with Griffin. “He’s just a freak athlete, and with a basketball background, he’s really good at tracking the ball.”

The Eagles added a 34-yard field goal with 17 seconds left, but Duke recovered another onside kick to seal it.

Moore finished with 82 yards rushing in his first multi-touchdown game for Duke. Leonard went untouched on a 60-yard touchdown on the sixth play of the game, and his 8-yard scoring pass to Sahmir Hagans made it 24-7.

Morehead was 27 of 45 for 330 yards passing for Boston College, which lost its fourth straight game. Joseph Griffin Jr. had 103 yards receiving and two touchdowns, and Zay Flowers added 65 yards and two scores.

“His (Morehead’s) leadership was really impressive today,” Hafley said.


Morehead made a statement, becoming the first Boston College QB with four passing TDs since Dennis Grosel in 2020. Boston College played mistake-free football against a Duke team that was coming off a program-high eight turnovers in its 45-21 win over Miami.

Duke continued its dominance on the ground, securing its sixth game with 200-plus rushing yards this season. Four rushers combined for 232 yards after Duke entered ranked second in the ACC and 21st nationally with 205.1 yards per game.


Duke hosts Virginia Tech on Saturday, Nov. 12.

Boston College plays at No. 21 North Carolina State on Nov. 12.