COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
ACC Coastal PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: David Cutcliffe, 21-40 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Scottie Montgomery, Kurt Roper | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jim Collins, Jim Knowles
David Cutcliffe has always taken a pro-style offensive approach, but he’s well aware that the spread attack is the offense du jour in college football. Expect the Blue Devils to have more of a spread look this season if for no other reason than they now have a dual-threat quarterback taking the snaps.
Anthony Boone is much more mobile than his predecessor, Sean Renfree. Boone was impressive when pressed into duty last year, throwing for 531 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions and rushing for 82 yards and two TDs.
Giving the quarterback carries will be just part of Cutcliffe’s increased emphasis on the ground game. The Blue Devils gave a glimpse of what’s to come when they rolled up 200 yards rushing in the Belk Bowl, using a tailback rotation of Jela Duncan, Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson.
If Duke’s going to achieve true offensive balance — and you know that the Blue Devils are still going to throw it and that junior wideout Jamison Crowder is going to put up big numbers — it will have to get continued improvement from its offensive line. There are no excuses anymore for this unit, which features four returning starters and a handful of other returnees with playing experience. Cutcliffe believes junior guard Laken Tomlinson can be one of the best at his position in the ACC.
An improved ground game won’t help the Blue Devils much if their defense can’t keep opponents from racking up huge rushing totals — a frequent issue in 2012.
Duke’s hoping that an experienced defensive line — three seniors and a fourth-year junior are expected to start there — will plug some of the gaps. The backups are also battle-tested as well, which should allow for frequent substitutions and combat the fourth quarter fatigue that has been Duke’s bugaboo in past seasons. The D-line will also be asked to get to the quarterback early and often. Otherwise, an inexperienced secondary, which struggled badly with giving up big plays last season, could be ripe for the picking.
One thing to watch in preseason camp will be the status of junior linebacker Kelby Brown. A Freshman All-American in 2010, Brown has since suffered through two injuries to his right ACL. If he’s back at full strength — and he’s expected to be — then Duke has a dynamic playmaker to go with cornerback Russ Cockrell and end Kenny Anunike.
Duke used freshmen at both placekicker and punter last season and lived to tell the tale. Kicker Ross Martin’s leg proved to be both accurate (20-of-23 field goals) and strong (2-of-2 from 50-plus yards). Punter Will Monday was named first-team All-ACC after averaging 44.6 yards per punt. Meanwhile in the return game, Duke must find a replacement for Lee Butler, who handled much of the duties on both punts and kicks. The Devils ranked sixth in the nation in punt returns in 2012 but 114th in kickoff returns.
The good news is that the 2012 Duke season was not a flash in the pan. If anything, the 2013 team has more experience and more talent across the board. But there are still issues that need to be addressed — run defense, anyone? — and there is the fact that the rest of the ACC has improved right alongside the Blue Devils.
Duke is certainly capable of running the table with its non-conference schedule, and there are several winnable ACC games out there — Pittsburgh at home on Sept. 21 comes to mind — but Duke doesn’t have much margin for error if it wants to reach a bowl game for the second straight season.