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2015 Duke Blue Devils Football Preview

 

Head Coach: David Cutcliffe (8th season; 40-48 overall, 20-36 ACC)

2014 Record: 9-4 overall, 5-3 ACC

Bowl Result: Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona State 36 - Duke 31

Over the last seven seasons, David Cutcliffe has laid a solid foundation in Durham and steadily built the Blue Devils into a consistent winner.

After winning the ACC Coastal Division and playing Florida State in the league’s title game in 2013, Duke nearly duplicated that accomplishment last season.



Duke apparelHowever, after an 8-1 start and placing themselves in the driver’s seat, the Blue Devils suffered consecutive home losses to Virginia Tech (17-16) and rival North Carolina (45-20) and eventually dropped three of their final four after a heartbreaking 36-31 loss to Arizona State in the Sun Bowl.
With 15 starters returning and solid recruiting classes the last few years, there is still plenty of talent within the program to produce a third straight winning season and fourth straight bowl berth.
However, Duke will have to successfully replace quarterback Anthony Boone and playmaking wide receivers Jamison Crowder and Isaac Blakeney—a duo that combined to amass more than 130 receptions for 1,600 yards.

Boone, although erratic at times through the air, could hurt opponents with his arm and legs. Last season, he threw for 2,700 yards and 19 touchdowns while only being picked off eight times. He also ran for 375 yards and four scores.

Crowder, who is one of best receivers in program history, hauled in 85 receptions for 1,044 yards and six scores in 2014. Blakeney, who led the team with seven touchdown receptions, caught 47 balls for 559 yards.

Redshirt junior Thomas Sirk saw action in 12 games during 2014, but attempted just 14 passes. He was primarily used in a reserve role and short yardage run packages. The 6’4”, 215-pounder, who has the inside track in the three-man race with Parker Boehme and Nico Pierre, averaged more than five yards per carry on 47 attempts.

Sirk or whoever wins the job will have a couple of proven options in the passing game with Max McCaffery (37-385-3) and Johnell Barnes (23-237-1).

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With an inexperienced quarterback, don’t be surprised if the Blue Devils rely on a run-first approach—particularly early. Duke returns three of its five starters along the offensive line and have a stable of talented running backs—which will include redshirt junior Jela Duncan who missed last season due to academics. He will join Shaquille Powell and Shaun Wilson—both of whom rushed for around 600 yards in 2014. Powell averaged 4.6 yards per carry while Wilson showed more big play potential with a 69 yard touchdown and 7.7 yard average to his credit.

Defensively, Duke returns several starters—including veteran defensive backs DeVon Edwards and Jeremy Cash. Edwards and Cash, who finished with 133 and 111 tackles, respectively, were ranked second and third on the team in stops a season ago. Edwards was tied for second on the team with 4.5.

The Blue Devil defense, which was of the “bend, but don’t break” variety last year as it allowed just 21.8 points despite surrendering 400 yards per contest, will also benefit from the return of redshirt senior middle linebacker Kelby Brown. Brown, who missed 2014 with a torn ACL, has been an All-ACC selection and Butkus Award Candidate in the past.

The kicking game should be a strength in most games as kicker Ross Martin and punter Will Monday return. Martin was of 19-of-21 last year and only had one miss inside 50 yards. Monday, who averaged 43 yards on 59 attempts, forced 20 fair catches and pinned the opposition inside its own 20 on 17 occasions.

After traveling to the Big Easy to take on Tulane in the season opener on Thursday, September 3, Duke will play its next four—North Carolina Central, Northwestern, Georgia Tech and Boston College—in Durham before traveling to Army on October 10th.

While it would be a bit surprising to see the Blue Devils contend for a third straight year in the ACC’s Coastal Division, Duke’s chances of winning at least six or seven games and going to a fourth straight bowl are very good.

 

By Thomas "Bubba" Rosenbaum
DFN Sports Senior College Football Correspondent

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