The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 38 Duke.
Previewing Duke's Offense:
Quarterback Anthony Boone was at the controls of a highly productive offense in 2013 (32.8 ppg), but his performance last season was actually quite uneven. There were times, such as the historic win at Virginia Tech, in which the Blue Devils won in spite of Boone. There was talk of a legitimate QB competition in the spring, but that all changed in April, when Brandon Connette — who has been used in more of a Swiss Army knife role in previous seasons — announced his plans to transfer to a school in California to be near his mother, who has brain cancer.
Duke flourished despite erratic play at quarterback because it developed into a highly balanced offense. The Blue Devils ran for 178.0 yards per game in 2013, their highest average since 1977. The four-back rotation that Duke used to pile up those yards took a hit when Jela Duncan was dismissed from school for violating academic policy, but the Blue Devils still have productive options in Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell.
Two starters must be replaced on an offensive line that opened holes and still pass-blocked at the usual high levels (just 17 sacks allowed), but the three most vital parts — left tackle Takoby Cofield, right guard Laken Tomlinson and center Matt Skura — all return.
Duke also gets one more season from arguably its most valuable player, explosive wideout/returner Jamison Crowder, who enjoyed a record-setting season in 2013.
Previewing Duke's Defense:
The Duke defense still had its struggles in 2013 (58 points against Pitt?) but it made up for its tendency to give up yards (418.0 per game) with a timely knack for making big plays. The Blue Devils forced the fourth-most turnovers in the ACC (26), led by a ball-hawking secondary that was responsible for 16 of the team’s 18 interceptions.
That will have to be the formula again this fall, because Duke still has issues on the defensive line. The Blue Devils had loads of experience there last season, but still not much in the way of production. Now all but one starter on that unit is gone, leaving just defensive tackle Jamal Bruce and a whole lot of question marks.
Fortunately for Duke, the secondary that was the big concern heading into last season is now the source of strength in 2014. Even without All-ACC corner Ross Cockrell, there’s plenty of talent in this group, led by tackling machine Jeremy Cash at safety. It may get even better if redshirt freshman Evrett Edwards makes the impact that many expect.
Also expected? Plenty of tackles from Duke’s pair of starting linebackers, David Helton and Kelby Brown. Keeping the talented but injury-prone Brown healthy will be key.
Previewing Duke's Specialists:
Perhaps no school in the country is more set on special teams than Duke. The Blue Devils feature All-ACC-caliber performers at kicker (Ross Martin), punter (Will Monday), punt returner (Crowder) and kick returner (DeVon Edwards). Last year, special teams played a critical role in several Duke wins. Expect the same this fall.
The Coastal Division race should be wide open again this season, and Duke should be in the thick of it. Thanks to a pillow-soft non-conference schedule, and the absence of Clemson, Florida State and Louisville among Atlantic Division crossover opponents (the Devils get Syracuse and Wake instead), a third straight bowl game seems highly likely for the Blue Devils. A repeat trip to the ACC title game? Duke seemed to catch just about every late-game break in 2013 (for a change). It’s hard to envision a repeat of that level of magic again this fall. And the Blue Devils certainly won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around.