Saturday, August 16, 2008

Duke Preview

2008 Schedule
Sept. 13NAVY
Oct. 4@Georgia Tech
Oct. 18MIAMI
Oct. 25@Vanderbilt
Nov. 1@Wake Forest
Nov. 8N.C. STATE
Nov. 15@Clemson
Nov. 22@Virginia Tech

2007 Results: 1-11 overall, 0-8 ACC (6th Coastal Division)

Offense: One thing is certain - the Devils will finish higher than their 2007 rank of 117th in total offense. The hiring of David Cutcliffe as head coach all but assures that, but the returns of QB Thaddeus Lewis, top rusher Re'quan Boyette, and top receiver Eron Riley make that a sure-fire lock. Cutcliffe has compared Lewis to his Tennessee pupil Tee Martin, but without a solid offensive line to block for him, Lewis might be closer to Steve Martin in terms of production and efficiency. Last year's line was sucktacular, allowing 45 sacks and just 2 yards per rush - and that was with a seasoned group. This year's OL is coming off an arduous conditioning program instituted by Cutcliffe in the spring and they should improve upon last year's numbers even by accident. As far as the running attack is concerned, Boyette averaged 4 yards per carry on his 104 rushes last season and the senior could be a darkhorse all-ACC candidate if the new Devil OL meshes quickly and if he doesn't lose playing time to any of Cutcliffe's RB recruits. The receiving corps is pretty green after Riley, but should be better as a whole given the assumed improvements on the OL and another year of seasoning (along with some better coaching this offseason) under Lewis' belt.

Defense: Good news - 10 starters are back. Bad news - those starters finished 92nd in total defense last year, against the anemic offenses of the ACC and the likes of Notre Dame. Sure, a lot the yardage and points were due to depth issues, but that's still a problem for 2008. Nonetheless, an extra year of experience for the starters and returning back-ups, combined with better offseason conditioning and coaching should yield much better results this season. The only loss among the full-time starters is safety Chris Davis (70 tackles, 1 pick last year). The front seven are as good as I've ever seen at Duke, led by LBs Vincent Rey and Michael Tauiliili, and DT Vince Oghobaase. With 15 of the top 17 tacklers from back, look for this unit to climb a few dozen spots in the national rankings this season.

Special Teams: This is one of those instances when returning much of last year's cogs may not be such a good thing. The Blue Devils attempted just 10 field goals last year, made only three of them, and that was with two kickers (Nick Maggio and Joe Surgan). Heralded (for Duke) recruit Paul Asack is likely to handle FG and extra point duties from game one. The Devils return punter Kevin Jones as well, along with his paltry 33.6yds per punt average; that's unacceptable given the enormous number of times he was called upon last season (75 if you're keeping score). The return game is just OK, but struggled as the '07 season wound down.

Coaching: David Cutcliffe (44-29 as head coach at Ole Miss from 1999-2004, along with being a heralded two-term OC at Tennessee) takes the reins in Durham and has reunited much of his Rebel staff. His co-offensive coordinators (Kurt Roper and Matt Luke) follow him from his second stint in Knoxville while his co-defensive coordinators (Mike MacIntyre and Marion Hobby) were position coaches in the NFL for the last few years. For a program like Duke, this is a home-run staff. I'm not wild about the "co-" OC and DC setups (too many chefs in the kitchen), but that will likely shake itself out over the season and beyond - if it works, someone will get hired away and if it doesn't work, someone will get demoted or canned. Recruiting will always be a challenge at Duke and while Cutcliffe is not exactly a walking recruit magnet, the last two Super Bowl MVPs have credited him with much of their development. That alone will get Duke coaches in the door with kids that wouldn't have picked up the phone for the Blue Devils in the past. The NFL seasoning among some of the coaching staff is also an obvious plus. If Cutcliffe and Co. can't get things turned around at Duke, then it likely won't ever happen for the Blue Devils in the current ACC & Division 1-A/FBS setup. And by "turned around", I merely mean about .500 overall over several seasons. Duke will never be a powerhouse - much less another Wake Forest - but being bowl-eligible every other year is not out of the question. And if Cutcliffe hangs around long enough, that should happen.

Odds & Ends: Duke has been a favorite just once in their last 66 games; they hold a 5-61 straight-up record in those contests.....the Blue Devils are just 1-17 against arch-rival North Carolina post-Steve Spurrier.....David Cutcliffe guided Ole Miss to five bowl games in his six seasons in Oxford; Duke has just two bowl appearances since the JFK administration

Schedule Analysis: A 3-1 record is a distinct possibility heading into October. The first four games are all at home and none of the opponents are likely to go bowling this season. In fact, the Devils don't face a sure-fire bowl team until November, and then schedule becomes a very dark place in which the season could go to hell (Wake, Clemson and Virginia Tech all on the road, with NC State and UNC at home - and no bye weeks). Still, that hypothetical 3-1 start could provide enough momentum to steal two or three more games down the line and then we could be talking bowl bid. But I'm not gutsy enough to call that, not this year, not with this program. But four wins is certainly do-able and anything less should be cause for major gloom among the Devil fanbase (both of them).
Projected Wins: James Madison, Navy
Projected Losses: Virginia, @Georgia Tech, Miami, @Wake Forest, @Clemson, @Virginia Tech, North Carolina
Toss-Ups: Northwestern, @Vanderbilt, N.C. State

Primo Blue Devil Blogs: DudeSpin (sort of)

Heartwarming You-Tubery:
You try finding something better under "Duke Football" on the You-Tube

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