Tag Archives: Football Friday

In just over a month, Duke and Richmond will kickoff the 2011 season under the lights in Wallace Wade Stadium

Football Friday, Under the Lights!

This week’s Football Friday looks back at last weekend’s spring game and looks ahead to the spring recruiting season. Join Blue Devil Nation Premium to stay in the loop with Duke Football all year long. [private]

 

This week's Football Friday is under the lights!

Welcome to Football Friday, under the lights! This is what happens when the Football Friday author has a busy week at his day job studying gynecology. FUN! In all seriousness, sorry to be tardy to the party, but it unfortunately will happen from time to time that we’ll have a nightcap. It’s been a busy week in Duke Football, so let’s get right to it.

Positives from the spring game

A quick highlight of the spring game with some comments from Coach Cutcliffe was posted today on our Facebook page. There was a lot to like from the spring game and good reason to be positive and optimistic about this fall. Of course, questions still exist about this year’s Blue Devils, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, but many of those questions won’t be answered until they line up against Richmond and Stanford in weeks 1 and 2. The spring game was a good opportunity to evaluate some potential strengths and weaknesses as the team heads into the 2011 season. Just a few quick thoughts:

The defense as a whole, including the defensive line, performed better than expected. I thought Duke competed well along the line of scrimmage and were even able to pressure the quarterback. It still seems likely that incumbents Charlie Hatcher, Sydney Sarmiento, and Justin Foxx will see the majority of snaps at their respective positions, but the influx of redshirt-freshmen has really improved the depth along the front four. In particular, players like Jamal Wallace, who led the team in tackles in the spring game, and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, who was credited with a sack, appear ready to contribute this fall. I am excited to see what Coach Petri is able to do with this young group of linemen.

Issac Blakeney looks to be ready to contribute for the Blue Devils in 2011

Ross Cockrell took home the most improved defensive player award, and the staff has always remained excited about his potential, despite some early struggles as a first-year starter last season. In the spring game, Blue Devil fans got a look at another exciting young member of the Duke secondary in Issac Blakeney. Blakeney was impressive last Saturday, totaling 5 total tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, and 1 pass breakup. The Blue Devils will add 3 talented freshmen to the secondary this fall in Jared Boyd, Tim Burton, and Chris Tavarez, which should mean that the Duke defensive backs will be improved from a year ago. Duke will of course need big years out of veterans Matt Daniels and Lee Butler in the secondary, but the future looks bright.

Offensively, there was even more reason for optimism. Duke is in the enviable position of having three talented quarterbacks in Sean Renfree, Brandon Connette, and Anthony Boone. After Saturday’s performance, it is reasonable to assume that all three will see playing time this fall, and Coach Cutcliffe alluded to some possible creative offensive packages in his post-game comments. All three quarterbacks showed the ability to lead successful drives in the spring game, both on the ground and through the air. Though senior Jay Hollingsworth was held out, the four remaining backs were impressive in limited action. Sophomore Juwan Thompson was awarded most improved offensive player, and he is likely to see an expanded role this fall. At receiver, Duke has All-ACC caliber upperclassmen in Donovan Varner, Conner Vernon, and Cooper Helfet, coupled with rising stars in Tyree Watkins, Brandon Braxton, and Braxton Deaver. The offensive line returns all but one starter and adds talented redshirt freshmen to the depth chart. In summary, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about Duke’s potential on the offense.

Duke picks up 2nd commitment for 2012

Allen Jackson met with Coach Cutcliffe after the spring game on Saturday and gave his verbal pledge to the Duke Football program. BDN spoke with the newest Blue Devil last Sunday, who mentioned Duke’s academics, as well as his respect for new defensive line coach Rick Petri. As a player, Jackson has tremendous athleticism for his size and the potential to be a dynamic pass rushing defensive end at the college level. His biggest weakness is size, but he plans to work on adding strength over the next year to prepare himself for the college game. The Duke staff is very excited about Allen’s commitment, and the Blue Devil Nation welcomes its newest member.

Spring recruiting picking up

In case you haven’t noticed, things are really picking up with recruiting around the Blue Devils and around the country. With spring practices at most schools now in full swing, prospects are taking in practices and spring games, and commitments have begun to roll in. Duke hosted a number of prospects at the spring game, most notably TE Dan Beilinson, LB Deion Williams, DE Romeo Okwara, and OL Eric Olson. All four players have received offers from Duke and enjoyed their visit to Duke. Dan Beilinson described his visit as “a really great experience.” With spring practice now completed, the Duke staff will focus their efforts on the recruiting trail.

With a few dozen offers already extended, the first step for the Duke staff is to fully assess each prospect’s interest in the Duke program. Several prospects with offers, especially those from the west coast (i.e., QB Oshay Dunmore, TE Evan Baylis, WR Jonavaughn Williams) have yet to make a trip to Durham. For many families, the travel costs required by long distance unofficial visits are prohibitive, and the only way Duke will be able to see these prospects on campus will be to wait until official visits, a potentially risky proposition. This can be a difficult point in the recruiting process, as the Blue Devil staff must decide where to best focus their efforts and resources.

While I do expect Duke to eventually begin to cast a wider net with scholarship offers, most likely during June camps, there is a group of prospects that Duke has made a very strong impression on this spring. These are players already with impressive offer lists, and I suspect Duke will remain heavily involved with their recruitment. In fact, I expect Duke to secure another verbal commitment fairly soon, based on the feedback I have heard from the prospects directly. It is undoubtedly extremely early in the recruiting process, and written scholarship offers are still months away, but the early indications from the class of 2012 appear very promising for the Blue Devils.

A shameless plea until next week

Well, that’s all the time I’m allowed to spend thinking/writing about football for now, so it’s back to studying gynecology. I know you think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Until next week, I know there are a few of you out there who read this column weekly and are interested in Duke Football. With basketball season now sadly behind us, please join in the discussion on our football message board. There’s lots to talk about, and I assure you there are no experts or holier-than-thou’s among us. We’ve got lots more football recruiting coverage still to come and we always welcome input and suggestions. We all make up the Blue Devil Nation – WE ARE DUKE!

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Duke will hold its annual spring game Saturday at 3PM in Wallace Wade Stadium

Football Friday looks at Duke’s spring game

Duke will hold its annual spring game Saturday at 3PM in Wallace Wade Stadium

Duke Football will hold its annual spring game this Saturday at 3 PM in Wallace Wade Stadium. The event is free to the public and offers fans a chance to get a first look at the 2011 Blue Devils. Duke men’s lacrosse will host Georgetown at 1 PM in Koskinen stadium, so be sure to come out and support Duke athletics on what should be a fun Saturday in Durham!

 

Rejoice, Blue Devil fans! Football Friday is here. Ok, today is not a day for rejoicing. But let’s at least talk some football to take our minds off the…disappointment. And after today’s day of mourning, maybe you can put that bottle down and head out to Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday afternoon to check out the 2011 Blue Devils? Think you could do that for me, sport? Sure, why not!

Well, if you do go, and I truly hope you will, here are five questions to think about as you watch the spring game in Wallace Wade on Saturday:

1. Can the Duke defensive line slow down the run?

I’m sure most have already determined that I’m an eternal optimist when it comes to Duke football. That being said, I have no delusions of Duke having a dominant defense in 2011. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and for a squad that finished 2010 ranking113th out of 120 FBS programs against the run, Duke has a long way to go. In 2009, the Blue Devils ranked 74th against the run, and I’m hoping that with the addition of Rick Petri and a group of young and athletic linemen, Duke moves back in that direction. The defensive line should benefit from going up against a pretty good and healthy Duke offensive line, so this is definitely a matchup to watch on Saturday.

2. Can the Duke defensive line pressure the quarterback?

I promise, all the questions won’t be about the defensive line – just most of them. In addition to struggling against the run in 2010, Duke finished 108th in pass efficiency defense, 113th in sacks, and 109th in tackles for a loss. These are not numbers we want to show potential donors when pitching the Wallace Wade upgrades. There is no question that there was room for improvement in the Duke secondary last year as well, but in general, opposing quarterbacks were way too comfortable throwing against the Blue Devils. The good news is that Rick Petri comes from a Miami defense that led the country in tackles for loss, so he may have a few tricks to help Duke find their way into the backfield. We’ll also have to see if new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has any new ideas for how to bring pressure from Duke’s linebackers and safeties.

3. Have Sean Renfree and the Duke offense taken a step forward this spring, especially in terms of taking care of the football?

In an earlier edition of Football Friday, I mentioned the key to 2011 success likely lies in the ability of the offense to take care of the football. The 2010 Blue Devils were turnover machines, finishing last in the ACC and 112th in the country in turnover margin. With a full year of starting experience under his belt, the hope is that Sean Renfree and his receivers will be able to eliminate many of their mistakes from a season ago. Of course, in the spring game, this is difficult to evaluate. If the offense takes care of the ball, is that because the defense didn’t apply pressure (see question 2)? These are things that the coaching staff, and fans, should keep a close eye on Saturday.

4. Will Duke be able to consistently run the ball behind a stronger, deeper offensive line?

If you’ve followed some of Duke’s spring practice reports, you might think that Duke has a stable of Heisman-caliber running backs, along with dual-threat QB Brandon Connette. Early in spring practice, many of Duke’s young defensive linemen were still getting their feet wet, and the defense as a whole was adapting to a new coordinator. By the spring game, many of those kinks should be worked out for the defense, and it should be a good matchup in the trenches. Duke’s running backs have been a little beat up this spring, but those who have played, have played fairly well. A consistent rushing attack will alleviate some of the pressure on Duke’s passing game and even the defense.

5. Who will step up and be the leaders of this year’s Blue Devils?

I debated whether to talk about leadership or surprise players in this last question, and I think leadership is more important. Some of the surprise players may not even be on campus yet, but this year’s leaders have to be. If Duke wants any chance of a bowl game in 2011, they will need a group of strong, vocal leaders on both sides of the ball. With a year of starting experience, I expect Sean Renfree to take control of the Blue Devil offense, aided by a group of upperclassmen at running back (Jay Hollingsworth and Desmond Scott), receiver (Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon), and the offensive line (Kyle Hill and Brian Moore). Defensively, leadership is much more of a question mark. Charlie Hatcher is a warrior and the lone senior along the defensive line, while seniors Matt Daniels and Lee Butler (who has missed all of spring practice) should anchor the secondary. Outside of those three players, Duke lacks significant game experience on defense, which means that players like sophomore Kelby Brown and junior Jordon Byas may have to assume leadership roles. On Saturday, keep an eye on the sidelines and in the huddle to see which players are ready to step up and lead this young Blue Devil team.

 

 

Best of luck to Abraham Kromah and the rest of Duke's NFL hopefuls this week. -Lance King Images

Football Friday evokes spring break memories

March Madness is in full swing as Duke takes the court tonight in the ACC quarterfinals against Maryland. Is it just us, or do you also find that the weeks in March go a lot faster than the rest of the year? It probably has something to do with conference tournaments streaming on television and online nearly 24 hours a day. While productivity in offices and schools across the country plummets, we’re as busy as ever at BDN. There’s no better time to join BDN premium than March, as Mark Watson follows the Blue Devils every step of the way in their quest for ACC and NCAA championships. Now that we’ve got you hyped for basketball, here’s this week’s Football Friday. [private]

Welcome back, loyal readers. And I do mean loyal. If you’re reading a Football Friday column in the middle of the ACC tournament, well, it doesn’t get much more loyal than that. Mille grazie. Yes, Cacchio is an Italian name.

The Blue Devils are on spring break!

Duke is on spring break

Ah, spring break. Fond memories, right? Where did the time go? Anyway, the Duke football team is off this week for spring break, and many of the players are taking advantage in warm, sunny locations, from South Beach to the Caribbean all the way to the California coast. Personally, I think they’ve earned it, from the early morning February practices to the late-night November film sessions. Student-athletes miss out on many aspects of the typical college experience due to their extracurricular commitments, but this week, the Duke football team gets to join in the revelry. Safe travels to all and we all look forward to getting back to work on Wednesday morning.

ACC spring football kicking off

Miami and Clemson hit the field for spring practice this week. Both programs

Al Golden is shaking things up at "The U" this spring

have question marks at the quarterback position, where Clemson will be breaking in first-year starter Tajh Boyd, while Miami appears to have a true QB controversy on their hands. New Head Coach Al Golden ruffled some feathers with his spring depth chart, placing many of last year’s starters near the bottom in an effort to challenge his team this spring. Most surprising may have been at the QB position, where he placed rising senior Spencer Whipple ahead of last year’s starters Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. Next week, spring practice will kick off at Boston College, NC State, Wake Forest, Virginia, and North Carolina.

Speaking of the Tar Heels…

While many in Chapel Hill may still be in denial, we’re all aware that there have been some issues with the Tar Heel football program. Unfortunately NCAA violations are more common than we would like to think in college sports today (see Auburn, Baylor, Ohio State, Tennessee, USC, etc.), but I think there may be an even bigger issue here, and that is the double standard that appears to exist for coaches and players. Ohio State players are suspended for five games, while Jim Tressel is suspended for two. UNC players are held out of several games, some for the entire season, while the coaching staff denies accountability.

DL Delvon Simmons has asked UNC for a release from his NLI

This double standard doesn’t only arise when NCAA violations are uncovered. Coaches are allowed to up and leave programs without penalty, while players must go through a tedious transfer process and are usually required to sit out an entire year. A perfect example is the revolving door that has been the UNC Defensive Line Coach for the past few months. John Blake, implicated in the Gary Wichard scandal, resigned in September. Charlie Coiner was appointed to replace Blake, but was then replaced by Brian Baker in January. Baker worked to make sure UNC was able to sign top defensive line prospects Devonte Brown, Delvon Simmons, Shawn Underwood,  and Sylvester Williams (who enrolled in January)  in their class of 2011. Just after National Signing Day, Baker left the Tar Heels for a position with the Dallas Cowboys. UNC has since brought in Joe Robinson from LSU, giving them a total of four DL coaches since the start of the 2010 season. Now, top recruit Delvon Simmons has asked for his release from his letter of intent, and there appears to be some controversy. While the coaches were able to leave without penalty, Simmons must wait to hear whether UNC will grant him a full release, a conditional release, or hold him to his letter of intent. The situation is puzzling, even for the wild world of football recruiting. For starters, Simmons never took an official visit to Chapel Hill and did not have an in-home visit with the Tar Heel coaches. Stay tuned. The bottom line is that these coaches should be held to the same commitments and standards as their players.

Duke prepares to host Pro Day

Duke will graduate another group of outstanding seniors this year, as the

Lance King Images

program continues to build on the field while maintaining the program’s tradition of academic excellence. NFL scouts will be on hand in Wallace Wade Stadium on March 22 to take in workouts of Blue Devil seniors. Duke graduates 19 letterman this year, including starters Patrick Egboh, Brandon Harper, Brett Huffman, Austin Kelly, Brandon King, Abraham Kromah, Wes Oglesby, Chris Rwabukamba, and Damian Thornton. Best of luck to all the Duke seniors as they pursue careers in football and other fields!

Recruiting slowly starting to pick up

Lutheran (CA) LB Deion Williams will visit for Duke's spring game

Over the past week or so, recruiting has started to heat up around the country, as players and coaches assess each other’s interest. Duke hosted two junior days and entertained well over 100 recruits from the class of 2012; a few other prospects have visited Durham to take in spring practice. A handful of Duke prospects have already pledged their verbal commitments to rival ACC schools, including LB Sha’Keel Rashad to UNC, OL Mike Madaras to Maryland, QB Gray Crow to Miami, and OL Joel Suggs to Wake Forest. Hooker and Madaras both held verbal offers from Duke. The Blue Devil staff will keep an eye on these prospects, as decommitments are all too common in college football recruiting, but will focus their efforts on hundreds of other prospects, trying to find the best players for the Duke program.

The next big recruiting milestone for the Blue Devils will come on March 26, as the program hosts a number of prospects for their spring game, which is set for a 3 PM kickoff. We’ll have a full list of attendees as we get closer, but BDN has already learned that California LB Deion Williams will fly in for the weekend. Williams holds a Duke offer and is very high on the Blue Devils early in his recruitment. It’s important to note that all of these spring visits are unofficial visits, meaning that prospects must pay for their own expenses. It’s a sign of serious interest that players like Bart Houston and Deion Williams are making the trip across the country to learn more about the Duke program. I expect Duke’s recruiting to really take off in June, as Duke will host a series of camps for high school players, including Coach Cutcliffe’s QB College, which will allow the Duke coaches to evaluate prospects firsthand.

Let’s Go Duke

Thanks again for reading. Please feel free to join in on our football message board; we welcome Duke football fans of all opinions, shapes, and sizes. Until next week, you may now return to March Madness. Show your Duke pride and support the Blue Devils as they begin their championship quest tonight in Greensboro. We are Duke!

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QB Sean Renfree is off to a good start this spring - BDN Photo

Football Friday interrupts March Madness

Even in the middle of March Madness, Football Friday is back to satisfy your weekly craving for Duke football. So far, we’ve covered Duke’s incoming freshman class, football recruiting 101, and a look at the fall schedule. While we love us some good recruiting scoop here at BDN, we think it’s also just as important to talk about the players we already have. With that in mind, this week’s Football Friday takes a look at the early reviews from Duke’s 2011 spring practice. [private]

Sir Nolan Smith leads Duke to Chapel Hill - Lance King Images

Duke travels to Chapel Hill

This weekend is all about Duke vs. North Carolina. The Tar Heels have dominated the Blue Devils on the gridiron of late, and that’s a trend that we’d all like to see come to an end this fall. More importantly, however, is to come away with a victory and the #1 seed on the hardwood Saturday, and I think the Blue Devils have a great chance to do it. The two teams match up with each other poorly, and that should make for another very interesting game. In the first game, UNC had no answer for Duke’s guards, while Duke struggled to contain UNC’s bigs. Kyle Singler and Harrison Barnes essentially neutralized each other. I expect to see much of the same on Saturday, and if either team can get a boost from their bench, that could end up being the difference. It’s Duke and Carolina, with the ACC regular season championship on the line, which means we’re in for another thriller.

Recruiting news

The Blue Devils hosted 26 prospects on February 19th for the second of their junior days. The prospects took in Duke’s practice, toured the facilities, and met with the coaches.

Duke commit Erich Schneider enjoyed his visit to Durham

Current Duke commit Erich Schneider made the trip from Florida and got to spend a lot of time with Coach Middleton and the tight ends. The long distance award goes to QB Bart Houston, who flew in from California for the weekend. Houston’s recruiting has recently picked up and offers are starting to come in for the talented signal-caller. A few other prospects were in town this past weekend to take in Duke’s spring practice, including offensive lineman Andrew Jelks. Jelks told BDN he really liked Duke and had high praise for Coach Cutcliffe and Coach Luke. The top Tennessee prospect intends to make visits to Knoxville, Tuscaloosa, and Oxford, Mississippi this spring.

Congratulations are due for Duke TE commit David Reeves, who helped Greensboro High School capture a Regional Championship on the hardwood. Best of luck to David and Greensboro as they continue their quest for an Alabama State Title.

With only 12 seniors scheduled to graduate this season, the Blue Devils will be particularly selective this year with their recruiting. No new offers were extended this week, and the top targets remain the same as we discussed in our earlier Football Friday. Invitations have been sent out to prospects for the spring game on March 26, and it will be important for the Blue Devils to have a good showing, both on the field and in the stands.

Spring Practice

Duke wrapped up the first half of spring practice on Wednesday, and will take a much-needed two-week break for spring break. No coach or fan wants to hear that Duke is banged up this spring, but it’s the truth. Duke has been practicing with about 55 players this spring, which can make it difficult to assess individual performances. In particular, the Blue Devils are thin on the defensive side of the ball, where Kenny Anunike, Kelby Brown, Lee Butler, and Quan Stevenson are out for the entire spring, and other key players have missed time. At this point, everyone is expected to be healthy for the fall, which obviously is most important, but with a young team, you’d like to see players play as many snaps as possible this spring.

QB Sean Renfree is off to a good start this spring - BDN Photo

Right now, the strengths of this team should be no surprise to most fans, and it starts with the play at quarterback and receiver. Sean Renfree has had a very good start to spring practice, and Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone have also made strides since the fall. Renfree told BDN last week that he feels as comfortable as he ever has playing football, and it’s shown on the field. For the most part, he’s been on the same page with his receivers and his offensive line, which has made things difficult for the Duke defense. As we mentioned last week, the Duke offense must take a big step forward in taking care of the football if the Blue Devils are to have any success this fall. So far, Renfree and co. look poised to do just that.

For those who have followed Duke’s spring scrimmage statistics, you’ll note that the running backs have put up some impressive numbers. Josh Snead has been out with a MCL sprain, but Desmond Scott. Patrick Kurunuwe, and Juwan Thompson have played well and shown the ability to break out big runs. The real credit here goes to Duke’s offensive line, where they lose only one starter in center Bryan Morgan. Brian Moore shifts over from right guard to take the starting center spot, and Duke has been working in Conor Irwin, Joey Finison, and Dave Harding as well. Overall, the line looks much improved, and projects to start Moore at center, Kyle Hill at left tackle, Harding at left guard, John Coleman at right guard, and Perry Simmons at right tackle. Redshirt-freshmen Laken Tomlinson and Tacoby Cofield have both played well this spring and will likely back-up Coleman and Simmons this fall.

As you can expect with several starters out, defensively, Duke has had mixed results this spring. The theme on defense seems to be athleticism and inconsistency; Duke is clearly stronger and faster than they have been in past years, but they are extremely inexperienced with only 5 seniors on the entire defensive unit. The key for the Blue Devils will be the play up front, and newcomers Jamal Bruce and Jordan Dewalt-Ondijo have shown some play-making ability and will compete for playing time this fall. New DL Coach Rick Petri is working hard with his young linemen, which include 10 underclassmen. Over the course of the spring and fall, the expectation is that this group, led by returnees Charlie Hatcher, Sydney Sarmiento, and Justin Foxx, will develop under Coach Petri into a solid ACC defensive front, but there will continue to be growing pains along the way. Among the defensive backs, the Blue Devils’ athleticism has been evident, as players such as Austin Gamble, C.J. France, and Jordon Byas appear ready to contribute this fall.  Duke has the athletes on defense to improve from last season’s ACC-worst unit, and consistency will be the key to the group’s success this fall.

In summary, at this point in the spring, the offense is clearly ahead of the defense, which is what you would expect to see with a more veteran group. I think Coach Cutcliffe said it best with his assessment of the first half of spring practice: “I’m not disappointed at all. What you see is that we don’t have a lot of people who are ready to play 50 or 60 snaps of ACC football, so there’s a learning process to that.” Overall, the effort and energy from the Blue Devils has been excellent. The team continues to work hard this spring and improves each day, which is exactly what you want to see from a young team.

Next week

We’ve got lots more football prospect interviews coming your way, so be sure to check back during your March Madness downtime. Until next week, GTHC.

WE ARE DUKE.

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Can Coach Cutcliffe lead the Blue Devils to a bowl in 2011?

Football Friday looks at Duke’s 2011 schedule

Crimson Tide fans have raised over $45,000 through Tide for Toomers

Happy Friday Blue Devil Nation! It feels good to be #1 again, doesn’t it? There’s still a lot of basketball to be played before a champion is crowned and it should be a great March. We made it through another week, which means it’s time for our Football Friday column. This week, we take a comprehensive first look at Duke’s 2011 schedule.

See, the internet can be a good thing

Since I mentioned the Auburn incident briefly last week, I thought I should commend the Alabama Crimson Tide fans for their generous support of Tide for Toomers, which has now raised over $45,000. I think many Duke fans are able to appreciate the general good nature of the Crimson Tide faithful after meeting them at last fall’s game in Durham. This generous campaign is an impressive demonstration of charity and respect; hopefully, the funds will be put to good use to help restore a popular Auburn tradition. The most important characteristic of any truly great rivalry is not hatred or competitiveness, but mutual respect. Well done.

Will Duke go bowling in 2011?

Of course, the fan in me says yes, and I’m excited to see this young team continue to develop on the field. That being said, the analyst in me says I’ve got another year to save up frequent flyer miles for our bowl trip. The Blue Devils will face 8 opponents who went to a bowl in 2010, including 3 ranked opponents. Duke will close the season with 3 of their final 4 games on the road. Coming off a 3 win season with a roster that features 57 underclassmen, the scheduling gods have not been particularly kind to the Blue Devils.

Two words should give Duke fans a ray of hope: starts with turnover, ends with margin. Put it together: turnover margin. I conveniently found two good examples to prove my point right in the ACC.

The Maryland Terrapins finished the 2010 season 9-4 after a dismal 2-9 season in 2009. Of course, the impressive turnaround earned Ralph Friedgen ACC Coach of the Year honors, but apparently was not enough to save his job. Sure, Maryland made improvements across the board and broke in a talented young quarterback in Danny O’Brien, but if you look at the statistics, most offensive and defensive improvements were pretty marginal in the ACC rankings. The big jump was in turnover margin, where they went from -6 in 2009 (11th in ACC) to +15 in 2010 (2nd in ACC).

The second example happened right down the road in Carter-Finley Stadium. The Wolfpack went from 5-7 in 2009 to 9-4 in 2010, and also simultaneously improved from -11 (12th in ACC) to +7 (4th in ACC) in turnover margin. It’s said all the time and it seems cliché, but the statistics show that winning the turnover battle is essential to winning football games.

Of course, the Blue Devils went in the opposite direction, from +2 (4th in ACC) in 2009, to -11 (12th in ACC) in 2010. If the Duke offense can do a better job of taking care of the football while the defense comes up with a few more opportunistic takeaways, maybe, just maybe, the Blue Devils can find enough wins to play in December.

2011 Duke opponents

Can Coach Cutcliffe lead the Blue Devils to a bowl in 2011?

September 3: Richmond (2010: 6-5)

Repeat after me: it’s not 2009, it’s not 2009… The Blue Devils certainly hope so; a repeat of the 2009 season opener would be devastating for the program. The Spiders took a step back in Head Coach Latrell Scott’s first year, but still posted their 6th consecutive winning season. Simply put, Richmond is a football team that expects to win, and having won their last 2 games in Wallace Wade Stadium, they will come to Durham confident. The Blue Devils will have to be ready to play on opening night and have every reason to be: they should have a full house of support, overall better athletes, and better coaching. They need to take care of business on their home field against an FCS opponent.

September 10: Stanford (2010: 12-1)

The Blue Devils had so much fun playing a top non-conference game in September last year that they decided to do it again in 2011. Jim Harbaugh may be gone, but Andrew Luck is still there; after watching the second half of the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech, it’s probably safe to say that Luck alone might be the toughest test for the Duke defense all season. But not so fast. The Cardinal are losing a lot of talent at key positions, including receiver, where Luck will have to find new targets. I also suspect he will do a lot of handing off to a talented group of running backs, led by Stepfan Taylor. There are question marks along the line of scrimmage, where the Cardinal lose 3 starters on offense and 2 on defense. Most fans and analysts won’t give Duke a chance in this game, but there’s reason to believe that it may be more competitive than expected.

September 17: at Boston College (2010: 7-6)

Last season, I circled the September matchup at Wake Forest on the schedule as a crucial game for the Blue Devils. This year, I’m circling this early season trip to Chestnut Hill. Well, not literally, since I can’t figure out how to do that on my iPhone, but you get the idea. Duke played BC down to the wire in 2010, and both teams return most of their key players. After struggling to score in 2010, the Eagles will have a new offensive coordinator, but still expect to feature a heavy dose of senior RB Montel Harris. Defensively, Mark Herzlich has graduated, but junior Luke Kuechly, who Duke fans may remember as The One-Man Defensive Highlight Reel, is likely to put up another All-ACC year. While I don’t think this is a must-win game, I think we’ll learn a lot about our young Blue Devils in their first road game in an unfamiliar stadium. Can Duke protect the football and score against an imposing, physical defense? Can the defense wrap up Montel Harris and do a better job against the run than a year ago?

September 24: Tulane (2010: 4-8)

Without a doubt, this is a game Duke should win, but it won’t be the cupcake most expect. Tulane went up to Piscataway and beat Rutgers a year ago, so they’re capable of beating BCS conference teams on the road. Also, the Green Wave are 2-0 all-time against the Blue Devils, but the last meeting was in 1973. Somewhat similar to Duke, Tulane was able to put up points fairly consistently in 2010, but struggled to slow opposing offenses. That being said, much like the Richmond game, Duke needs to take care of business against a lesser opponent in Wallace Wade Stadium.

October 1: @ Florida International (2010: 7-6)

Not that Duke football should be overlooking any opponent at this point, especially on the road, but prior to last year, most would have considered Duke a clear favorite in this matchup. The Golden Panthers played their first year in the FBS in 2005 (their football program played its first game in 2002), had never had a winning season at any level, and had a cumulative record of 24-68. This was all before their magical 2010 run to the Sun Belt Championship and a Little Caesars Pizza Bowl title over Toledo. The good news is that FIU is 0-4 all-time against ACC opponents, including a loss a year ago at Maryland. If the Blue Devils hope to continue that trend, they will need to contain dynamic senior T.Y. Hilton, the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year. Heading into the open date, this is a crucial road game for Duke.

October 8: Open date

The open date falls near the middle of the schedule, which is where the coaching staff prefers, but I think it comes a week too early this year, as you’ll see below. I expect Duke to enter the bye at 3-2, with an outside chance of a great 4-1 start (and of course the possibility of things going in the other direction, but we won’t think about that for now, it’s February!). Their first opponent out of the bye will be the preseason favorite to win the ACC championship, and the Blue Devils will need all the extra preparation they can get.

October 15: Florida State (2010: 10-4)

There’s not much to say to the preview of this matchup. Jimbo Fisher has done a great job of turning the Seminoles back into perennial ACC contenders, and I expect the momentum from his first year as head coach to continue in 2011. To put it simply, Duke will be overmatched at most positions on the field. That being said, Duke is capable of competing with the Seminoles; if they take care of the football, execute, and get some help from the football gods, there is no reason to think an upset isn’t a possibility.

October 22: Wake Forest (2010: 3-9)

I’m getting really tired of saying that we have to beat Wake Forest, but guess what? We have to beat Wake Forest. After several years of success, Wake Forest has struggled the past two seasons, and the Blue Devils have failed to take advantage. As I’ve said already, Duke has to take care of business in Wallace Wade Stadium against “beatable” opponents if they want to take the next step as a program. The outcome of this game is likely to be predictive of how Duke finishes the 2011 season, which is why I would have preferred the open date come a week later. I expect both teams to be improved from a year ago, and this should be another game that will come down to the wire between the Tobacco Road rivals.

October 29: Virginia Tech (2010: 11-3)

It’s conceivable that Duke could play very good football during this 3-game October homestand and end up without a win to show for it. The defending ACC champions beat the Blue Devils handily in Blacksburg a year ago, but lose ACC Player of the Year Tyrod Taylor, along with running backs Darren Evans and Ryan Williams. As always, under the guidance of Bud Foster, the Hokies’ defense will present another stiff challenge for the Duke offense, but I expect the Virginia Tech offense to experience some growing pains in 2011. I’m not going to predict an upset here, but I have to admit I like Duke’s chances if they are able to take care of the football and if they have momentum from a win over Wake Forest.

November 5: at Miami (2010: 7-6)

The Al Golden era begins in Miami, and the Blue Devils will make their second trip to sunny Florida in week 10, the first of three November ACC road games.  It’s hard to predict how the Hurricanes’ season will go under their new head coach, especially with a big question mark under center. A great athlete, Jacory Harris has struggled to cut down on turnovers, which makes it tough to win. Stephen Morris showed flashes of potential last year, but is far from a sure thing at this point. Miami should have the better athletes, but with the program in transition, it’s not unreasonable to think that Duke could win two games in the state of Florida in 2011, though unlikely.

November 12: at Virginia (2010: 4-8)

Duke is 3-0 against Virginia under David Cutcliffe, but it has gotten more difficult every year. After a convincing victory in Durham in 2008, the Blue Devils pulled out a 4th quarter victory in Charlottesville in 2009, and a last minute victory in Durham in 2010 (cementing Desmond Scott’s place in Duke fans’ hearts). It won’t be any easier in 2011, as Mike London has done an impressive job turning things around for the Cavaliers. Virginia will be breaking in a new quarterback and running back, losing Marc Verica and Keith Payne to graduation. The Wahoos are likely to experience some youthful growing pains, but they will be hungry for a win against the Blue Devils in Charlottesville. This is a very tough road test for the Blue Devils and it comes during a difficult stretch in November.

November 19: Georgia Tech (2010: 6-7)

At first glance, this may be the most winnable game on Duke’s November schedule, which says a lot. Georgia Tech defeated the Blue Devils in 2010 without start QB Josh Nesbitt, so there’s no reason to think that Tevin Washington isn’t capable of leading them to victory again. That being said, Duke played one of their best games of the year in Atlanta last year, and may have pulled off the upset without a crucial second half red zone turnover. As has been my theme throughout this preview, if Duke wins the turnover battle in this game, they have a good chance of taking down the Yellow Jackets, which would be a good win on the program’s resume.

November 26: at North Carolina (2010: 8-5)

With all that’s gone on at UNC over the past year, the fact remains that they’ve dominated the Blue Devils on the field and remain an imposing opponent. Things could change in Chapel Hill before this game, but the Tar Heels showed an impressive toughness in 2010 by playing well through adversity. With key losses on both offense and defense, the Tar Heels have question marks heading into the season, but most should be answered by the final game of the season. This is another game that Duke simply must win to truly take the next step forward as a program.

The bottom line

Predictions when most teams haven’t even begun spring practice are generally meaningless, but you want me to make one, so I will. I already said that Duke enters the bye week at 3-2, but I expect Duke to play some of its best football during the second half of the season. Unfortunately, that coincides with some of Duke’s toughest matchups on paper. My gut really doesn’t like the way the schedule plays out for the Blue Devils, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended with 4 wins. However, I am optimistic that Duke has the athletes and the coaches to take a big step forward by pulling off an important upset late in the season over a team like Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, or even Miami, giving them 5 wins on the season.

Next week

Don’t worry, we’ll be back next week and we’ll talk some more recruiting and recap the headlines from Duke’s spring practice. Thanks for reading and don’t forget WE ARE DUKE.

This is a sample of the weekly Duke Football updates you’ll have access to as a BDN Premium member.  Join today and get inside access to happenings around the athletic programs where you’ll have a front row seat on the recruiting front.

DL Carlos Wray is the 6th verbal commitment in the class of 2012

Football Friday returns for round two

DL Carlos Wray says that Duke has stood out to him early.

Football Friday is back for its second week and BDN’s Patrick Cacchio offers up a brief introduction to Duke Football recruiting. Join Blue Devil Nation Premium today to get an inside look at Duke athletics and become a part of our growing community. [private]

We did it! We all survived another week and we’re back for our second installment of Football Friday. Somehow, enough of you read this column last week that they’re letting me write it again. It’s all thanks to you, our members, with your emails, your PMs, your tweets, and your Facebooking. And as a big thank you to you, we’ll give you what you want this week – recruiting updates.

Kudos and other random thoughts

I figure I’ll get the simple stuff out of the way first each week. Duke had 13 players named to the ACC All-Academic team, more than twice any other ACC school. In fact, add together any other two ACC schools and you’re still not even close. Virginia and North Carolina? 5 players combined. The 2 Techs? 9 players combined. The Duke players who were recognized are some of the team’s stars on the field – almost all of them are starters. Obviously, having the smartest players doesn’t translate into wins on the field, but academic excellence is an important part of Duke culture, and it’s great to see that as Duke football becomes more competitive, we’re not forgetting our roots (cough, tarheels, cough). Congratulations to all of the well-deserving student-athletes.

I feel obligated to get on my soapbox for a minute and talk about what happened at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn. It’s a great reminder for all of us that our individual actions (and tweets/Facebook posts) reflect on our fan base as a whole. A proud tradition at Auburn has been forever tarnished by one severely misguided Crimson Tide fan. The bottom line is that all of us as fans need to do a better job of cheering for our own team and respecting our opponents, as difficult as that can sometimes be.

Football recruiting 101

For those who have heard Coach Cutcliffe and his staff talk about recruiting, much of the rest of this article may be review, but bear with us, there are big names at the end.

I’m going to go out on a ledge here and assume that if you’re a BDN member, you follow Duke basketball recruiting pretty closely. And why wouldn’t you? All you have to do is find a ranking of the top 25 or so prospects in a given class, read one of Mark’s magnificent basketball updates (or should it be magnificent Mark’s basketball updates?), check out highlights on YouTube, and you’re pretty much a Duke basketball recruiting insider, right? That doesn’t work so well for football. ESPN lists over 15,000 prospects in the class of 2011, and already has about 10,000 prospects in the class of 2012. Unfortunately, Duke cannot just target the top 25 or so from the rankings, since they have to fill out a roster with 85 scholarships. So somehow, we have to sort through all of those football prospects to find our future Blue Devils. I should have asked for more cell phone minutes for Christmas.

Luckily, the list gets broken down several ways. First, each member of the Duke coaching staff serves as the recruiting coordinator for a geographic area. For example, as you might expect, Matt Lubick is the lead recruiter for most of the west coast. Then, within a region, there are only a certain number of FBS-caliber athletes, which can be determined by evaluating game film and transcripts (or paying for a scouting service).  At Duke, the next step is probably the most restrictive, and that’s whether or not the student will qualify academically for admission to Duke. The staff will then focus their recruiting efforts on this remaining group of core prospects. Obviously, hundreds of hours of work go into the evaluation process alone, but luckily for us, we don’t have to really start following all of this until Duke starts recruiting a prospect to see if there’s a mutual interest. I won’t be needing those cell phone minutes after all!

A word on in-state recruiting

Duke was the first to offer Tarboro RB Todd Gurley

Ok, a couple hundred words. A common misconception/criticism seems to be that Coach Cutcliffe and his staff are almost exclusively focusing their recruiting efforts on North Carolina prospects and failing to “leverage the Duke brand” at a national level. This is simply not true, and the numbers prove it. Duke’s current roster has about two dozen players from North Carolina, which is by far the least among the 4 North Carolina ACC schools. The Duke staff has placed an emphasis on in-state recruiting, but it’s by no means exclusive.

There are two primary benefits to Duke’s emphasis on North Carolina and surrounding areas. First, prospects within driving distance of Durham are the easiest to get on campus for unofficial visits, which allow prospects to build relationships with the coaching staff and grow comfortable with the Duke campus. The Duke staff places a lot of stock in the ability to get to know a player at a personal level, and the best way to do that is to have as much face-to-face contact as the NCAA allows. Second, it’s important to a lot of players and their parents that they go to school close to home. This may be more significant for athletes than the average college student, as it is usually important for the player’s family to be able to watch him play on Saturdays. Most college football rosters are made up of a significant number of in-state recruits, and this probably has a lot to do with it.

Breaking down the 2012 board

The Duke staff maintains a recruiting board of a few hundred prospects. Each prospect is evaluated individually by the entire coaching staff and a collective decision is made whether to offer that prospect a scholarship or to evaluate again at a later time in the recruiting cycle. For the class of 2012, there are already well over 100 prospects on Duke’s board, and roughly a third of them have received verbal scholarship offers to date. In addition to the board, there are several hundred other prospects that Duke will invite for unofficial visits to Junior Days, summer camps, and games during the fall as part of their ongoing evaluation process. Keep in mind that just by taking a quick look at Duke’s current roster, it’s easy to see that there won’t be many scholarships available in 2012 (think 15, give or take a few).

So how does the board breakdown? Since I mentioned the in-state emphasis, let’s start there. Duke is currently evaluating or has offered about 30 players from North Carolina, and roughly another 30 players from neighboring states. There are also over a dozen prospects from Florida and Ohio, and another dozen from California and Colorado as well.

Position-wise, Duke has clear needs at QB, RB, and DL in 2012. As such, there are 18 quarterbacks already on the board, 10 running backs (4 with offers), and 16 defensive linemen (8 with offers). The offensive line is a position that is best built by signing a few prospects in each class, and Coach Matt Luke has done a great job getting in early with top prospects. Duke has already offered 10 offensive linemen, all of whom are highly-coveted by programs around the country. Obviously, there are a handful of players that have been offered at other positions, but for now, we’ll just focus on the key areas of need.

Bilal Marshall is the first 2012 QB with a Duke offer

Top targets

QB: Right now, Bilal Marshall is the only quarterback with a Duke offer. Coach Cutcliffe, known as a QB guru for his work with the Mannings, tends to keep his quarterback recruiting close to the vest, but we know that most of the top high school quarterbacks in the country are on his list (Gunner Kiel, Zeke Pike, Bart Houston, Casey Cochran). Even though Marshall seems to be at the top for now, we know that Duke has also been involved with Ian Fisher from Maryland, and that Bart Houston will visit this weekend. Several other top quarterbacks are giving Duke a serious look and it seems safe to say at this point that Duke has a good chance of landing an elite quarterback in this class, though it’s too early to say which one.

RB: Keith Marshall is a perfect example of why it’s important for Duke to build its relationships and reputation in-state. Many consider the speedy prospect out of Raleigh’s Millbrook High School to be the top running back in the class of 2012, and Duke was among the first to offer him. It’s too early to tell where his recruitment will go, but he’ll have his pick of schools from around the country and Duke remains in the mix. Another top in-state RB is Todd Gurley, who took in Duke’s win over North Carolina in Cameron Indoor Stadium last week. At this stage in the process, Duke is in good shape with Gurley and will be a major player in his recruitment.

DL: Vince Oghobaase was probably the last elite defensive line prospect to commit to Duke, but early indications are that Duke will land one in 2012. Early on, Duke is in good shape with Carlos Wray, D.J. Reader, Matt Godin, and Allen Jackson. All four look to be solid 4- or 5-star caliber prospects and have all made visits to Durham and came away impressed.

LB: This is another area of need and Duke is in good shape early with two top prospects in Preston Durham and Keilin Rayner.

2011 preview next week

In case you didn’t know, Duke’s schedule was released this week, spring practice kicked off Wednesday, and Duke hosts its second Junior Day this weekend. Oops, probably should have written about those this week, but I had to give you guys what you wanted. I guess we’ll tackle those issues next week. Again, I have to give you a reason to keep coming back (as if my wit and charm aren’t enough). Best of luck making it through another week. Until then, WE ARE DUKE.

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