2015 ACC Football Preview: Duke Blue Devils

2014 Record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)

Returning Starters: Offense-6 Defense-6

Key Players: Thomas Sirk, Kyler Brown, The running backs

Everyone has to get over it at this point. Duke is good, not only in basketball, but in football too. I won’t be surprised if they take a slight step back this season, but they’re a difficult game for anyone now, especially in the ACC. Nine wins a season ago was no fluke and it resulted in Duke’s third consecutive bowl game. With all of the success of late, however, it would be a marvelous effort by head coach David Cutcliffe if he was able to turn a new quarterback into a cornerstone of another nine-win team.

Thomas Sirk has to pick up the reigns after Anthony Boone guided the Blue Devils so well in recent years. The production of Boone last year will not be easy to replace. He threw for 2,700 yards and 19 touchdowns to only eight interceptions. On the ground, Boone was able to make-do as well, carrying the ball for 375 yards and five touchdowns on the season. If Sirk is able to slide in and provide similar production, the Blue Devils will have a very good chance to maintain offensive production that comes close to matching their year in 2014.

At the receiver position, Duke will need to find a way to replace one of the most dynamic receivers in school history, Jamison Crowder. Crowder was able to make game breaking plays time and time again, and his big play ability will need to be replaced in some capacity this season. Sirk will be looking in the direction of Max McCaffrey and Johnell Barnes in the passing game more often than not this season. To open up the pass game, expect a heavy dose of the run, consisting of backs Jela Duncan, Shaun Wilson, and Shaq Powell. These three running backs will play a significant role into the effectiveness of the offense in the post-Anthony Boone era.

On defense, the group is returning six starters. The most prominent members of this group reside in the secondary, where safeties Jeremy Cash and DeVon Edwards provide two of the top defensive backs in the ACC. The duo will need to make up for any deficiencies the defense will have up front, as they have suffered some significant losses in the front seven. Kelby Brown, a former All-ACC performer at linebacker, tore his ACL once again and his football career is over. His younger brother, Kyler, is expected to step in and play a role at the outside linebacker position, and is a very talented player in his own right. The front seven is going to be full of young talent, as the Blue Devils are replacing all but one starter since Kelby Brown re-injured his knee. If this group can find some guys capable of producing a solid pass rush, the defense should be able to make some plays in the defensive backfield and keep the Blue Devils in games.

All in all, I believe that Duke will take a slight step back this season. The step back would be much more drastic if they were to draw a tougher schedule in the ACC. The Blue Devils avoid they Clemson and Florida State in conference play, with their two toughest games coming against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. They also have an extremely soft non-conference slate, consisting of games against Tulane, North Carolina Central, Army, and Northwestern.

The 2015 schedule in its entirety is extremely manageable, and will be a prime reason why Duke will return to a bowl game and avoid any major decline this season. Overall, this team should be fine, as David Cutcliffe will have the great opportunity to solidify himself as the best coach in the ACC at the conclusion of this season.

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