NGSC Sports

Can Duke do it again next year?

There was no question in most people’s minds that the feel good story of the 2013 college football season was the Duke Blue Devils. They won the Coastal Division of the ACC for the first time in school history, got a school record ten wins, to go with consecutive bowl appearances. This gives the Duke fan base something else to think about and root for other than basketball. 

A big reason for the turnaround in Duke Football starts with the head coach David Cutcliffe, who knew as soon as he arrived on campus that changing the culture of the program was the first and most important thing to accomplish. This was not done over night either. It has been a year by year project that has led to the recent success of the program. After all, Duke is known for their basketball history of final fours and national championship, not football. Cutcliffe had to take the time to create a brand that Duke fans, students, alumni and boosters would embrace. And over the last two years that is exactly was has happened. Duke Football may never be on par with basketball, but at least it is now in the conversation.

Taking the next step may end up to be the most challenging part yet. Success comes with expectations, not only in your conference, but in the nation as well. Can Duke sustain the momentum it has gained with the recent bowl appearances and division crown? It has to start with recruiting and this is where establishing the brand name comes into play. Duke has a crowned field with which to recruited against down on Tobacco road. UNC, NC.ST., WFU and ECU all are looking for the same thing, the best talent in the area. Duke will graduate 16 seniors from the 2013 football team, but will have some very important pieces coming back to defend the division title. On offense, both QB’s are returning, with Anthony Boone, who threw for 2,260 yards and 13 TD and Brandon Connette, who passes for 1,360 yards and 13 TD and showed quite a knack for scoring in the red zone. He played just as well being the short yardage option when the touch yards were needed. WR Jamison Crowder was the go to man in the passing attack, gaining over 1,300 yards for the season with 8 TD’s. The running game was done more by committee with several players chipping in with solid years to keep opposite defenses honest.

On defense, the unit was lead by All- ACC defenders LB Kelby Brown andCB’s Jeremy Cash and DeVon Edwards. Although the defense did not put up eye-popping numbers this season, when a defense play was needed, this group usually found a way. Special teams has also played a big role in the team success with Edwards earning All American honors for his special teams play in the return game for both punts and kick-offs. It was the little things that led the Blue Devils to enjoy the kind of season they had.

The Atlantic Coast Conference is changing by the year it seems. In 2013, Syracuse and Pittsburgh both made their first appearance in the league. In 2014, it will be the Louisville Cardinal and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish who will begin play. A crowned and deeper field of teams for Duke to deal with on a yearly basis will make the job of staying in the top half of the conference that much more difficult. And we haven’t even mentioned the likes of Clemson, Miami, and the current national champions, The Florida State Seminoles, who Duke had a run in with in the conference title game back in early December. That game saw Duke hang in there with the Seminoles for a half before the talent of Florida State took over and gave the ‘Noles a 45-7 victory.

Another problem facing coach Cutcliffe is keeping his assistance with him, since the season has ended he has already lost his Offense Coordinator Kurt Roper to the same position with the Florida Gator of the SEC. Replacing him will be key to keeping the ball rolling. As this is being put together, the Blue Devils do not know who they will face to begin the 2014 season. Scheduling could also become important to whatever growth the program continues to see. The league schedule will be tough no matter what, but how Duke puts together the non  conference part of their schedule could very well end up being the difference between playing for league championships and bowl games and watching them from home.

The Duke Blue Devils have gone from being a program that for years was constantly in the lower half of the ACC, to a team that is now on the verge of being talked about in the same way that other top program in power conferences gets view. Progress has been made both on the field and off. It is critical that the Blue Devils not take a step backwards in recruiting, or in any other faze of the operation. They are so close, but yet still so far away.          

 

photo by: Ro Yadama

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