As a lead up to Duke’s 2013 Football season I invited a few of the friends of the Duke Sports Blog who actually keep up with football to answer some questions regarding the upcoming season.
There is a level of excitement as well as uncertainty among the fan base with so many changes in store but it is clear that the Blue Devils are finally headed in the right direction.
The panel includes: Jim Oliver (@DukeReport) owner and operator of Duke Report.com , Chris Summerville (@DukeofHoops) a writer and jack of all trades for Duke Report as well as the future photographer for both Duke Sports Blog and Duke Report, James Stotts (@DukeSportsReport) operator of the website Duke Sports Report, and Jordan Mann (@FCMann23) , an occassional contributing writer here at the Duke Sport Blog and a long-time Duke Football fan. Yes, I said, long-time Duke Football fan, they do in fact exist.
I asked them a few questions about the upcoming season and here are their thoughts and I share mine as well.
What do you see as the toughest game facing Duke this season?
CS: The toughest game of the season will come on Sat. Oct. 26th against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. We remember what happened last year when Duke got up early in that game, only for the Hokies to come back and lay a beating on the Devils.
JS: Miami. I think the Hurricanes will be the favorite to win the ACC this season. They will be a tough team to go up against, even as a home game.
JO: For Duke to become a top-tier football team in the ACC they need to get that signature win over Virginia Tech. Year-in and year-out, Virginia Tech embarrasses Duke. Last season, Duke had its best chance ever to beat Virginia Tech, but unfortunately, games don’t end after the first quarter. They are going to have to get over the fact that Virginia Tech is bigger, stronger, faster and just outplay Virginia Tech this season.
DSB: To me the toughest game isn’t always synonymous with the best team on the schedule. For me the Georgia Tech game represents the toughest game for Duke and the fans who have to watch. You know what the Yellow Jackets are going to do but you still can’t stop it. It is a game that the Blue Devils have the talent to win but can their defensive scheme outwit that of coach Paul Johnson? So far in his time in Atlanta Duke hasn’t been able to do it.
JM: The toughest game for this season will probably be in Blacksburg. Duke could be 6-1 headed into the game with wins over NCCU, Memphis, Pitt, Troy, Navy, and UVA. It will be interesting to see how Anthony Boone will handle a hostile environment at VT and hopefully Duke will not lose another 20 pt lead this time around.
Which do you see as Duke’s most important game?
CS: While some may argue that the season finale against the Tar Heels will be the most important game of the season, I think the game against the Hokies will be the most important. It will show if the Blue Devils really do belong on the national stage as we all believe they do.
JS: Wake Forest. I’m not trying to shy away from the UNC game (which is obviously huge), but I think this Wake Forest game will be very important. Last season was the first time since 1999 that we defeated them. I think this is an important game to prove that wasn’t a fluke. It could also go a long ways in determining if we’ll be bowl eligible.
JO: This is a no brainer. UNC will always be the most important game until Duke starts contending for ACC Championships.
DSB: This isn’t so clear cut. Duke has a feasible schedule this year and every game is important but I am leaning toward Pitt. A lot of prognosticators have the Blue Devils picked to finish above Pitt in the Coastal Division but I don’t see the Panthers coming in and rolling over because of some preseason pick. At worst Duke should be 2-1 heading into that game and if they can win it they will be 3-1. If they somehow beat Georgia Tech they would be 4-0 with two ACC wins. That would go a long way toward making that back to back bowl games a reality.
JM: Most important game, I have to say is versus UNC, beating UNC consecutively will be huge for in-state recruiting. Can you imagine the kind of talent Duke could get after producing two (in my standards) good seasons with consecutive wins over the Tar Holes? editors note: Spoken like a true Duke fan.
Who on this team is the Blue Devils’ best player?
CS: This one is tough. I’m excited to see what Jela Duncan will do in his sophomore season, but I think Jamison Crowder will be the best player. He had his best season as a Blue Devil last year (over 1,000 yards receiving, 8 TDs) and I think his production will only go up with Conner Vernon now a member of the Oakland Raiders.
JS: Ross Cockrell. This guy will be an anchor for the secondary. He’s also a player with NFL talent. Expect him to have a great season under David Cutcliffe and Jim Knowles.
JO: Ross Cockrell has started every game for the past three seasons and is expected to be the first defensive player drafted from Duke since Chris Combs back in 2000. He recently was added to the Thorpe Award Watch List, presented annually to college football’s top defensive back. No one player is expected to pull his weight more than Cockrell, as Duke lacks eperience at the other corner slot (more on that later).
DSB: It is hard not to look at Ross Cockrell and see the most accomplished Blue Devil but I’m going to go offense and say Jamison Crowder. He is the key component returning from last year’s offense. He is the most explosive playmaker on both offense and in special teams. He is an All-ACC talent and should be a big part of what makes Duke go this season.
JM: Ross Crockrell, pre-season all ACC and Duke’s most important player who can lock down teams best Wide Receivers. He can win games for Duke by doing his job and not allowing teams best WR’s a chance to hurt us.
CS: While not many starting QBs are often listed as a player that could be a surprise, I think Anthony Boone will be. He’ll have a better season than most are anticipating. I think his game against Virginia last year is a good gauge of what he can do (200+ yards passing, 4 TDs, 0 INTs). I think he can surpass 3,000 yards passing, with at least 20 TDs, 7 INTs, and upwards of 4-5 rushing TDs this season.
JS: Anthony Boone. We all know Boone was a very solid backup under Sean Renfree, but I expect him to break out. He’s going to surprise others by how good he is. I expect him to be a great leader at the quarterback position.
JO: With Duke legend, Conner Vernon, now in the NFL, someone is going to step up and try to replace his production. While I believe it will take more than one wide receiver to do that, I think Max McCaffrey will end up being that guy. I was impressed by the play of McCaffrey during the Spring game. I fully expect McCaffrey to finish the season with at least 600 receiving yards, which will be a huge improvement over the 31 yards he had last season.
DSB: I’m going to go out on a limb and say true freshman corner Evrett Edwards. He is listed as a second string corner in a periously young secondary but I think he could surprise a lot of people and end up starting by season’s end. I’ve seen a lot of positive talk about him and despite the fact he lacks some of the glamour other programs have in true freshman I think he could be the second coming of Ross Cockrell who was thrust into a starting roll as a freshman. Yes he struggled at times, but I think we can all agree he has had a quality career so far.
JM: Jeremy Cash, even though his talent is familiar to the ones close to the program, no one knows about him outside of the campus of Duke. (Except Ohio State) Cash, who sat out last year due to transferring from Ohio State will fill in the hole Walt Canty left at the Safety position and has potential to become a play maker like Matt Daniels. He has the ability to make tackles in the open field and can also cover Wide Receivers and Tight Ends one on one.
CS: Without a doubt it will be Conner Vernon. Whenever Duke needed a big play made, or a catch to keep a drive moving, Vernon was their guy. Not only will they miss his play making ability, but they will miss his experience and leadership.
JS: Conner Vernon. Vernon took over as the ACC’s all-time leader in pass receptions and receiving yards. He’s a play-maker that will be missed.
JO: Sean Renfree. It’s never easy replacing a three-year starting quarterback. It’s even more difficult to replace one as talented as Renfree. His absence will be heightened with the lack of depth and experience at QB. Anthony Boone has some talent, but can he lead the passing attack the way Renfree did? Thomas Sirk was supposed to push Anthony Boone for the starting position, but his Achilles injury ended any debate as to who would start the season as the starting QB.
DSB: Most will say Conner Vernon or Sean Renfree here, and everyone in this panel did, but I’m going to say Desmond Scott. Scott was converted to receiver last season from running back and though he started out slow he was a critical piece of the offense as a slot receiver in a lineup that really lacked a true tightend. It is hard to argue he didn’t make some of the critical plays last season and kind of became a huge factor on third down. Duke has to replace Vernon but they also have to find a third receiver option to replace Scott and I think that will be difficult.
JM: No question the player who will be missed will be Conner Vernon. Other than Jamison Crowder the receiving core has a lot of question marks. Though I like the depth of the position, I have not seen any wide receiver stand out to me like Vernon did. Hard to replace a man who holds a handful of Duke and ACC receiving records.
CS: Running back without a doubt. All of the Duke RBs possess the ability to not only break long runs, but to double as big play WRs as well.
JS: The offensive line. With the likes of Matt Skura, Laken Tomlinson, Dave Harding, Tokoby Cofield, and Perry Simmons that are projected to start, I feel this unit has more potential than any other one. This line has a lot of experience which will help carry Duke in 2013.
JO: I’m not sure running back has ever been Duke’s biggest strength, even during the days of Roger Boone and Randy Cuthbert. I’m high on both Jela Duncan and Josh Snead. There games are very complimentary as Duncan provides the power and Snead provides the speed, yet they each are capable of both. Juwan Thompson is a mixture of both and neither but is steady and will step up when called upon. Shaquille Powell probably won’t get a ton of carries unless Duncan or Snead go down with an injury, but I have confidence the running game won’t miss a beat with him in the lineup.
DSB: I’m going to agree with Chris and say the running back position is the deepest and most talented. Duke has three backs that could all be primary staring backs in Juwan Thompson, Josh Snead and Jela Duncan. That doesn’t include Shaquille Powell who will see some carries too. All offer different strengths and I think Duncan will eventually rise to the top as the best with his combination of power and speed. I think the only thing that could hold them back in the play calling, which at times has, in my opinion limited the running game.
JM: Wide Receivers. I know I said they have the most question marks but the Receiving core will complement each other very well with different kind of receivers. Max McCaffrey is a possession Wide Receiver who will help take a load off of Crowder by moving the chains. Then you have players like Anthony Nash who is 6’5 and is the “fastest Wide Receiver on the team”according to David Cutcliffe.
CS: Our DBs (both CBs and Safeties). While they have the talent, too many times last year they gave up big plays to the opposing teams WRs and TEs (remember the Belk Bowl?), especially after Duke had made a big play themselves to take the lead. They will need to cut down on allowing those big plays if Duke wants to have a successful season.
JS: The receiving corps. This was an obvious one for me. Duke lost play-maker, Conner Vernon, along with the likes of Desmond Scott.That is something that will be very difficult to replace. This position will have a lot to prove.
JO: Despite having one of the best corner back’s in the country in Ross Cockrell, I’m not sure they have a true No. 2 corner. It will CB by committing starring a bunch of young guys. As an Atlanta Falcons fan, I remember when Deion Sanders played CB for the Falcons and how the opposite field CB was always picked on. I still have nightmares about how wide receiver’s toasted Charles Dimry over and over and over.
DSB: It is hard to argue that the secondary isn’t the most vulnerable to criticism. That comes with youth and inexperience. There is talent there though. You have a veteran in Cockrell, a star in the making in Jeremy Cash and some other veterans in Anthony Young-Wiseman. Dwayne Norman and Corbin McCarthy showed promise as freshman and I think they will only get better. Who starts alongside of Cockrell will be important to watch. I see that one position being the biggest liability and question mark right now. You can’t over look the quarterback either. Beyond Anthony Boone, I’m not sure any Duke fan feels good about the other options with projected quarterback Thomas Sirk out for the year as he recovers from a torn Achilles Tendon.
JM: Defensive Backs. Though Duke has Ross Crockrell and Jeremy Cash, they lack talented depth in the secondary. It’s tough to run a 4-2-5 defense when you have two to three solid defensive backs and the other two or three are liabilities.
CS: Barring any injuries to key personnel, Duke football will have their first back-to-back bowl appearances in the program’s history.
JS: Yes, I believe they will. I gave this away with my previous “predict the record” answer. I think there is still a ton of uncertainty with this team, but I firmly believe David Cutcliffe will help lead this team to another bowl game. I expect things to start out rocky, but I expect Duke football to find it’s groove heading into the season.
JO: Yes, and since I have Duke going 7-5 this season, I will let Wikipedia explain why they will make a bowl:
“Under current regulations, in order to be bowl eligible, a team must have a winning record, which may include one win against a Division I FCSscholarship-awarding opponent, or win their conference, and the team must not be on probation. The NCAA allows one victory per season over a Division I FCS (formerly I-AA) team to count toward an FBS team’s bowl eligibility, so long as the FCS team has supplied financial aid for football averaging out to at least 56.7 full scholarships (90% of the limit of 63 allowed to FCS schools) over “a rolling two-year period” that can include the current season”
DSB: I think the Blue Devils will make a bowl game. I think they have tasted it and they want to get back there and win it. The loss to Cincinnati in a game Duke realistically should have won, has them clamoring to get back. There is a belief in the program like never before and you know this group wants to be the first to get Duke to back to back bowl games.
JM: Yes, their schedule is favorable for at least another 6-6 season if not better.
Bottom Line: What do you predict Duke’s record will be in 2013-2014?
CS: I think for the 2013-14 season, the Duke football team will go 8-4 with wins over NC Central, Memphis, Pitt, Troy, Navy, Virginia, Wake Forest, and North Carolina.
JS: 6-6, I feel Duke will have the ability to make a bowl game. The schedule isn’t “that” tough, so I feel this is a very realistic expectation. You could set the bar higher or lower, but I’m stuck in between,
JO: 7-5 Wins: NCCU, Memphis, Pitt, Troy, Navy, Virginia, Wake Forest Losses: Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, NC State, Miami, UNC
DSB: It is hard to project considering you never know what is going to happen in a given year. I think Duke has a very feasible schedule and should go 4-0 in non-conference play leaving only two ACC games to win to become bowl eligible. If everything goes well and they avoid injuries and the offense can be as good as I believe it can be and the defense improves like I believe they will, I see this team going 8-4. Worst case scenario I think this team goes 5-7 but I’m willing to settle in the middle at 7-5.
JM: For this season I can see Duke finishing at worst, 6-6 and who knows how great they can finish. This is the first time in years where Duke does not play a Clemson or Florida State. Duke’s toughest opponent is Virginia Tech, Miami and/or Georgia Tech and Duke has had its great battles with Virginia Tech and shoot outs with Miami and Georgia Tech in the past. I’m not saying Duke will go 12-0 or 11-1 by any means, I am just saying all of the games on the schedule are winnable games, unlike in the past.
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