Last season was an amazing run for the Duke Blue Devils. After winning a total of nine games the previous two years, coach David Cutcliffe rallied his troops to finish first in the ACC‘s Coastal Division with a 10-2 record and come one win away from representing the conference in a BCS bowl game.
Duke rode a very efficient offense that featured two very capable quarterbacks in Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette, and though the defense wasn’t anything special, teams had a hard time breaking it open because of stellar play in the secondary. Despite such a good run with high-volume performers, Duke could not cap it all off with a bowl win, which means the Blue Devils still haven’t won a bowl game since the 1960 Cotton Bowl against Arkansas. That elusive postseason victory has to be on the radar in 2014.
This season, Boone will be on his own, as Connette transferred to Fresno State in order to be closer to his mother who is battling cancer. That means a lot of pressure will be placed on Boone, especially when things start to fall apart. It doesn’t appear anyone will be able to step in and clean it up.
Cutcliffe coached both the Manning brothers, so Boone is in good hands as he prepares to take the job for himself. It’ll be interesting to see if Cutcliffe lets Boone use his speed this season in an up-tempo offense. An efficient runner, he rushed for 275 yards last season.
Senior Josh Snead led the Blue Devils a season ago with 651 yards on the ground. Averaging 6.1 yards per carry, he made the most of every attempt and is guaranteed to be placed in an increased role this season because of the losses of Connette and fellow running back Jela Duncan, who rushed for 562 yards in 2013. Because Connette took care of Duke’s offense in the red zone, Snead never was relied upon to be a finisher. That will likely change this season.
If Boone is going to break out this season and become a more consistent quarterback, it’s going to be because of an experienced and talented receiving corps. All kinds of options exist out wide, including 2013 leaders Jamison Crowder and Braxton Deaver, who combined for 1,960 yards. The offensive line lost a couple horses in tackle Perry Simmons and guard Dave Harding, but there isn’t a lack of size and young talent.
Duke’s defensive line likely won’t be getting any better this season. Defensive ends Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx were a decent one-two punch for Duke, but both are gone, leaving many questions and few answers. The Blue Devils will likely have the same problems on defense this season because of the lack of production from the defensive line.
What could help is a load of returning talent at linebacker and in the secondary. David Helton and Kelby Brown both return as big producers at linebacker, while Jeremy Cash, Deondre Singleton and DeVon Edwards all return at safety. The secondary as a whole looks like it will be putting up a great test for any quarterback this season. If the linebackers can get involved in stopping the ground game, there’s some serious potential for this defense in 2014.
After four pushover non-conference games to start the season, things will begin to heat up for Duke in the ACC, especially on the road. Games at Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Syracuse are going to be challenging, so Duke may be forced to win out at home in order to make the ACC Championship Game.
Getting to a third consecutive bowl game really shouldn’t be a problem. The Blue Devils get three of their toughest games at home this season and avoid Florida State and Clemson from the Atlantic Division. A vital stretch of games to watch this season will be from Nov. 8 to Nov. 20 when the Blue Devils take on Syracuse, Virginia Tech and North Carolina.
Another 10-2 season doesn’t seem too ambitious for this Duke team in 2014.