By Lee Lance.
Taking a look around the ACC, this stop lands us in Durham, NC at the home of the Duke University Blue Devils. Can this years Blue Devil football team, under third year head coach David Cutcliffe, take a huge step and become bowl eligible after coming up just one win short of that feat last season? If that were to happen, it would be the first time for a Duke football team in 16 years.
“There is a lot of mystery involved in this 2010 team, but also, I think, a lot of great anticipation” said Coach Cutcliffe at the 2010 ACC Media Days. “I can’t remember…..being more excited about starting a season than I am with this group”.
Coach Cutcliffe has at least one reason to be excited, and if not for the 18 returning starters he will field, it will be for where four of those players return; offensive line. Everyone who knows anything about college football, or even just reads about it on Sundays, surely knows that without a strong offensive line, you are as good as dead. This year the Blue Devils return four of five o-linemen from last year, including a senior center that has started 24 straight games in Bryan Morgan. The only spot the Devils need to fill in the group heading into the season is right tackle, and junior Jon Needham will fit that bill perfectly, having played in ten games last year and started one.
The only problem is, behind that offensive line they will be missing one star player they have grown use to, quarterback Thad Lewis. Lewis is considered by some to be the best quarterback ever to suit up for the Devils and he leaves some big shoes to fill, but redshirt sophomore Sean Renfree is capable, and if he is fully healed from an ACL injury, will help this teams chances tremendously.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Devils also lost some key players, including All-American DT Vince Oghobaase and All-ACC LB Vince Rey, along with their defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre, who left after last season to take the head coaching position at San Jose State. Filling the spot for MacIntyre, Duke went the dual coordinator route, hiring former Cornell coach Jim Knowles to handle the duties along with Marion Hobby.
Along with those changes, and with some big questions looming, one sure thing is this season won’t come without its lows and some growing pains, and Coach Cutcliffe is well aware of that. “We believe we can compete, yes. Do I realize we have some improving to do and some growing up to do, absolutely.” “It’s going to be fun to watch them (the team) grow.”
One thing will remain the same throughout the season just like right now though, Coach Cutcliffe always likes to think positive, despite the seeming impossible schedule early on. “We believe we can be a bowl team…..without question we have some speed and some talent and some ability to make plays…..we just got to develop some consistency and we have got to do it early. The schedule is challenging, and we are getting thrown to it pretty early” Cutcliffe said.
The Blue Devils sure do get thrown to it early too. After a game that may allow some fine tuning against Elon on September 4th, the team travels to Winston Salem to face Wake Forest before returning home, to face what will be their toughest game of the year, and possibly the past few years, against the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide.
Looking on through-out the season the schedule only has two more road games that seem insurmountable tasks at this point, and those are an October 23rd date at Virginia Tech and a November 20th visit to Georgia Tech. Figure those two games as sure losses along with Alabama, but then the rest of the games don’t seem that far out of reach, albeit some still not likely to be wins. Peppered in among those games are home games against Army, Miami, Virginia, Boston College and North Carolina, as well as two more road games at Maryland and Navy. Okay, so while none of those games can be counted as sure wins for the Devils and perhaps a few are even highly unlikely wins, it doesn’t hurt to hope for the best, right, Coach Cutcliffe will be doing just that.
However, despite all of Coach’s wishful, positive thinking, this year isn’t likely to land the Devils in that bowl game, and it will leave them hoping that maybe next year they can end what will then be a 17 season drought from post season play.