Duke Blue Devils
Head coach: David Cutcliffe
2014 Record: 9-4; 5-3 ACC
2014 Bowl: 36-31 Loss to Arizona St. at Sun Bowl
2015 Returning Starters: 6 offense, 6 defense
Odds to win 2016 CFB Championship: +50000
Odds to win 2015 ACC Title: +3000
Regular Season Wins: Over 7 (-150); Under 7 (+120)
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The Duke Blue Devils are transitioning at QB and lost its top wide receiver, but the Duke still has a chance to come close to replicating last season’s success.
The Duke Blue Devils are hoping Thomas Sirk is able to carry the load at QB but will likely rely more heavily on its rush game this season while it continues to search for a receiver capable of filling the hole left by Jamison Crowder. Duke has a collection of young, talented WRs and redshirt freshman Chris Taylor showed a lot of potential in the spring.
The OL is going to need some patchwork, too. It lost four-year starter Laken Tomlinson to the NFL, but head coach David Cutcliffe has faith that the program is going to continue to rise after winning nine games last season. Duke’s offense will have to answer a lot of questions to be better than last year’s unit, but Duke did lose three of its final four games, including its Sun Bowl appearance against Arizona State. Closing the season with double-digit wins would have been a big notch in the Blue Devils’ belts.
Duke just has a lot to replace offensively and Sirk was basically just a short-yardage QB prior to this season. He’s 6’4” 215 pounds and can run well, but he’s not a proven passer and Duke’s revolution in recent years had been predicated upon its success airing it out.
TE Braxton Deaver was one of the ACC’s best but missed last year with a torn ACL, and he’ll be back for a sixth season. Maybe he is featured more in short-to-mid yardage situations and/or becomes an end zone target. Sirk has to develop some reliable targets, and Johnell Barnes and Chris Taylor will both be called upon after impressive springs.
Senior WR Max McCaffrey and RB Shaquille Powell are both formidable starters to be sure, as well. Powell is the No. 1 option in the backfield and he’s a very solid runner. Jela Duncan will also be back in the fold after missing last year with academic issues. He was the leading rusher in 2012 and 2013, so the Blue Devils really have a wealth of depth at RB.
Simply, the cup board is not bare. Of the 22 positions on offense and defense, 15 will have starters who have been on campus and part of the program for four years.
Defensively, Duke has the athleticism in the secondary to make some plays. Five DBs return with starting experience in a 4-2-5 scheme. The best defensive talent is senior S Jeremy Cash. He made the All-ACC team and had 232 tackles in the past two seasons combined.
DeVon Edwards is another S who had four INTs in the past two years, while junior CBs Breon Borders and Byron Fields both bring a lot to the table. Borders had seven career INTs and Fields is a good coverer of both the pass and rush. Duke will return LB Kelby Brown who was an All-ACC pick in 2013 with 114 tackles that season (11 for loss). He was given a sixth year of eligibility after missing las year with the ACL injury.
Duke has arguably the best kick and punt duo in the ACC. Senior Ross Martin has missed only four att. from 39 yards or longer and he’s hit 4 of 6 from 50-plus yards. Senior P Will Monday averaged 43.5 yards per attempt and he put 57 punts inside the 20 yard line in his past three seasons. DeVon Edwards is a good return specialist, too, and he has three TDs in special teams play the last two seasons.
Overall, Duke is a long-shot to repeat last season’s nine wins. College football oddsmakers at 5dimes set the O/U at 7 wins, which is a reasonable mark. But it seems quite possible that Duke lands between Vegas’ expectation and what it did last season and finishes with eight wins. It begins the season with a soft schedule and overall its schedule is slightly soft.
The team ranked in the top-50 in both passing and rushing last season and Sirk is not exactly talentless.
It’s expecting a lot to think Sirk is capable of carrying an offense that ranked No. 40 in the NCAA last season, but the defense has a lot of questions to answer after having been No. 24 in the country last year. Ultimately, if Sirk is a viable passer this team is balanced enough to really be an offensive force again. The defense will keep it in games.
Prediction: 8 wins