Duke Blue Devils
The question revolving around Duke football is whether head coach David Cutcliffe can win there. After a 3-9 finish in 2010 reaching respectability would be a major accomplishment but after five Bowl appearances in the history of the program the question could well be can anybody win at a school that always plays second fiddle to their basketball program. How much longer will Duke give Cutcliffe to produce a winner is an unknown but looking at the talent and returning players this might be Cutcliffe‘s last chance.
The expertise of Cutcliffe is obviously getting the most out of his quarterbacks and two of his former pupils were Peyton and Eli Manning which proves this ability. To a lesser extent Cutcliffe turned former Blue Devils QB Thaddeus Lewis in to a productive passer and looks to have present day signal caller Sean Renfree pointed in that direction after throwing for over 3.100 yards in 2010. Renfree has the weapons in wide receiver Desmond Scott and TE Cooper Helfet back so the air attack should once again be the strength of the Blue Devils offense provided Renfree cuts back on the 17 interceptions he threw a year ago. The rushing attack has most of it’s players back but there isn’t a single player that proved capable of being an every down back and Duke needs to be more balanced as opposed to being a pass only squad. Part of the problem is an undersized offensive line that isn’t suited to running the ball that needs to replace both guards this season.
The big problem for Duke lies on the defensive side of the ball where opponents moved the ball almost with ease through any manner of their choosing. Teams could run or pass as they saw fit and the Blue Devils defense often seemed helpless, with opposing offenses piling up huge chunks of yardage and points. The task of improving upon these numbers is difficult at best with only six players back from last season. The good news is that defensive tackles Charlie Hatcher and Sydney Sarmiento return after seeing the field in every game a year ago. Kelly Brown is back at outside linebacker but Tyree Glover was dismissed from the team, leaving another void. The probable strength and most experienced part of the defense is the secondary where three players return so the coaching staff is hoping a year of seasoning helps improve poor overall numbers in 2010.
The Blue Devils have a weapon in kicker Will Snyderwine who connected on 21 of 24 with a long of 52 yards in 2010 to garner First Team All ACC honors. Alex King averaged a solid 41.1 yards on 55 boots but netted just 33.6 yards. The return game was dependable yet unspectacular with Lee Butler back to return punts and Josh Snead bringing back kicks.
I see an improved Blue Devils squad in 2011 on both sides of the ball with an offense that will score more consistently and a defense that should present more than token resistance, which is the key to success in my view. The more obvious reason for improvement is simply because it would be difficult to match last year’s futility. Cutcliffe probably has his best team at Duke and a .500 season is possible but beyond that and I would be slightly surprised.