2014 College Football Preview: Duke Blue Devils

Coach Cutcliffe

Wait, Duke plays football? For a school that is known for their basketball program, and their basketball program only, the past two football seasons David Cutcliffe and his team has produced is starting to cement in Cameron Crazy nation, the possibility of Duke turning into a basketball and football school. When coach Cutcliffe accepted the position to become the Blue Devils new head coach in 2008, he said it was the slowest football he has ever inherited throughout his career. Since 2008, Cutcliffe has managed to progressively improve his team from a laughing stock to an ACC Coastal Champion. Let’s take a look back at how the Blue Devils fared in the 2013 season.

2013 Duke Blue Devils Season

If one had to describe in one word the 2013 Duke football season, historic would be used most frequently. School records were broken left-and-right by the 2013 Blue Devils, and by the end of the season, Wallace Wade Stadium was packed with Cameron Crazies supporting the team on their run. David Cutcliffe and company finished the regular season 10-2, clinching a berth in the ACC Championship game by winning the ACC Coastal Division. As predicted, Duke got trounced by the eventual National Champion Florida State Seminoles in the ACC Championship game 45-7, but the Blue Devils were still invited to their second consecutive bowl game for the first time in school history. They would take a crushing loss to Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, losing 52-48 after having control of the lead for a majority of the game. In 2013, Duke won 10 games for the first time in school history, went to their second consecutive bowl game, were ranked in the Final Coaches and AP Polls for the first time since 1960, and ranked 24th in the final BCS standings, which was also a first in school history.

Offense

Duke took a hit in April when former quarterback Brandon Connette, who was responsible for 27 touchdowns in 2013, transferred to Fresno State in order to be closer to his mother in California, who is battling cancer. Despite the loss of Connette, the Blue Devils still return starting quarterback Anthony Boone, All-ACC wide receiver Jamison Crowder, the running back tandem in Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell along with wide receiver Max McCaffrey and tight end Braxton Deaver.

Balance is a key aspect of Duke’s high-powered offense that puts up points at a tremendous rate. The Blue Devils scored 28 points or more in 10 of their 14 games in 2013 which was a reflection of how they effectively threw and ran the football. Anthony Boone must do a better job of taking care of the football in 2014 in order for Duke to sustain their offensive success. Despite completing 64 percent of his passes in 2013, Boone threw 13 interceptions to go along with his 13 touchdowns. Boone cannot be sloppy with the football this season, and must make smarter decisions to keep the football in Duke’s hands.

The running game was superb in 2013 for Duke as they averaged 4.6 yards per carry, scoring 28 touchdowns while having five players rush for over 300 yards. By returning Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell, Duke will have no issue picking up from where they left off with their running game. Both Snead and Powell were efficient with their carries last season, picking up at least five yards per attempt. With a veteran offensive line containing four returning starters in Takoby Cofield, Lucas Patrick, Matt Skura, and Laken Tomlinson along with Sam Marshall,¬†Snead and Powell will be able to get into open space and continue Duke’s monster running game.

Jamison Crowder, Max McCaffrey, and Braxton Deaver round out the weapons in the Blue Devils’ offense as targets for Anthony Boone to hit with his arm. Crowder will once again have a first team All-ACC like season in 2014, while McCaffrey and Deaver will improve their production from 2013 to help maintain the balance Duke has established with their offense. If Crowder, McCaffrey, and Deaver be themselves, Anthony Boone and the Duke passing game should have another efficient year in the air.

Defense

Losing first team All-ACC defensive back Ross Cockrell to the NFL Draft along with first team All-ACC linebacker Kelby Brown, who suffered¬†a torn left anterior cruciate ligament during a team scrimmage on Monday, will certainly be tremendous blows to the Duke defense that is only returning five starters. In 2013, the Blue Devils gave up 418 yards and 26.6 points per game. Losing defensive ends Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx along with defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento up front will hurt Duke’s rush defense which was sub-par even with the three veterans last year. If Dezmond Johnson, Jonathan Jones, and Carlos Wray can come in and solidify the front line with returning nose tackle Jamal Bruce, the Blue Devils rush defense should not drop off and allow more than the 174.1 yards per game they allowed last year.

Kelby Brown being out for the entire 2014 season is a huge hit to the Duke line backing core. Although all of Duke’s linebackers on the 2014 roster were on the team in 2013, only starter David Helton saw sufficient playing time alongside Brown. Junior Deion Williams will have huge steps to fill replacing the injured Brown for the 2014 season to help the young front six.

The defensive backfield is returning three out of the five starters on the Blue Devils defense, all three of which occupy the Bandit, Rover, and Strike safety positions in Deondre Singleton, DeVon Edwards, and Jeremy Cash. However, Duke lost their two starting corners, Ross Cockrell and Garett Patterson, who will be replaced by sophomores Breon Borders and Byron Fields. Despite the losses of Cockrell and Patterson on the outside, the Duke defensive backfield should improve in the aspects of commanding the middle of the field and not giving up as many big passing plays like they did in 2013.

Special Teams

Duke’s special teams will not have any issues in 2014 as their starting kicker, punter, kick returner, and punt returner have all returned. Ross Martin will hold down the kicking duties and will have another exceptional year for the Blue Devils while Will Monday handles the punting duties. Jamison Crowder will once again be the punt returner as DaVon Edwards heads back deep on kickoffs to be the kick returner.

2014 Season Outlook

David Cutcliffe has a solid group of 13 starters on the offensive and defensive sides of the football returning in 2014 to continue the success they had in 2013. The ACC Coastal is wide open this year, and Duke has a favorable schedule to repeat as division champs.

Duke’s toughest games will be on the road against Miami and Pittsburgh, and at home against Virginia Tech and North Carolina. If Duke starts off 4-0, beating Elon, Troy, Kansas, and Tulane, and manages to finish 3-1 against Miami, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina, the Blue Devils will be heading to their second straight ACC Championship game. Georgia Tech and Syracuse on the road, and Virginia along with Wake Forest at home should not be difficult games for Duke to win. If Duke can maintain their offensive fire power while being good enough on defense to get key stops in order to get the football back into the offense’s hands, the Blue Devils have a very good shot at winning 10 games once again in 2014.

Image Source: Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports

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