Duke Football Predictions
The Duke Blue Devils simply have not been able to turn things around under head coach David Cutcliffe. He has posted a combined 15-33 record in four seasons with the program, including back-to-back 3-9 campaigns. He does have the offense improved, but the defense has simply given up too many points the last few years.
Cutcliffe will get another chance to take the Blue Devils to their first bowl game since 1994. He’ll have his most talented team yet with 17 starters and 44 lettermen returning from last year’s squad. Here is a look at the personnel on both sides of the ball, as well as my prediction on where Duke finishes in the ACC Coastal Division in 2012.
The offense put up 22.5 points and 366 total yards per game last season. Taking better care of the football must become a priority. The Blue Devils are -21 in turnover differential over the last two years combined, which is the biggest reason for two straight 3-win seasons. With eight returning starters, the offense should be improved.
Senior QB Sean Renfree returns. He completed 65.0 percent of his passes for 2,891 yards with 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last year, while also rushing for four scores. Renfree is primed for his best season yet at Duke.
The top two rushers come back in senior Desmond Scott (367 yards, 5.1/carry, two TD) and junior Juwan Thompson (457 yards, 4.2/carry, seven TD). Scott missed three games last year due to injury, and he’s the more explosive back, so he should get the bulk of the carries.
Leading receiver Connor Vernon (70 receptions, 956 yards, six TD) returns after earning second-team All-ACC honors last year. Sophomores Jamison Crowder (14, 163, one TD), Blair Holliday and Braxton Deaver round out the receiving corps. Vernon will likely break most of the school’s receiving records by the end of 2012.
Seven of the top nine linemen return, including four starters, and three very highly touted players. The four starters coming back are senior C Brian Moore, sophomore RG Laken Tomlinson, junior LG Dave Harding and junior RT Perry Simmons. With 90 career starts returning up front, this will easily be Cutcliffe’s best O-line in his tenure.
After giving up 31.2 points and 425 total yards per game last year, the defense must play better. This should be one of the most improved stop units in the country with nine starters and nine of its top 10 tacklers back.
The defensive line saw six freshmen play last year, which clearly wasn’t good news. However, that should benefit this unit in 2012. Three starters return up front in junior DE Justin Foxx (30 tackles, 4.5 for loss), junior DT Sydney Sarmiento (32 tackles, 1 sack) and senior DE Kenny Anunike (4 sacks), who is their best lineman but took a medical redshirt last year after making three starts.
The linebacker corps returns all three starters in junior WLB Kelby Brown (65 tackles, 7 for loss), senior MLB Austin Gamble (43 tackles, 5.5 for loss) and junior SLB August Campbell (31 tackles, 3.5 for loss). Converted receiver Brandon Braxton makes the switch to linebacker, and he’s expected to start ahead of Campbell.
The secondary loses its best player in FS Matt Daniesl (126 tackles, 16 passes defended), who earned second-team All-American honors. However, it gets back senior CB Lee Butler (58 tackles, 9 passes defended in 2010), who took a medical redshirt last season. Junior CB Ross Cockrell (56 tackles, 10 passes defended) and senior FS Walt Canty (87 tackles, six passes defended) are returning starters.
ACC Coastal Prediction – 6th Place
It’s hard to pick the Blue Devils to finish last in the Coastal Division with as much experience as they have returning. They should be improved on both sides of the ball and challenge for their first bowl bid since ’94 with a non-conference schedule that features FIU, NC Central and Memphis all at home. However, Duke is still less talented than the other five teams in this division. They do get Miami and Virginia at home, so they could possibly pass those two. But the Blue Devils draw both Florida State and Clemson from the Atlantic, which will surely result in two blowout losses. Visits to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech won’t end well, either.
|Boston College||Clemson||Florida State||Maryland|
|NC State||Syracuse||Wake Forest|
|Duke||Georgia Tech||Miami||North Carolina|
|ACC||Big 12||Big East||Big Ten|
|Conference USA||Independents||MAC||Mountain West|