The lull of the college football offseason is in full swing over the next month. I’ll try to fill that void on the blog by taking a look at all of Virginia Tech’s 2013 opponents and (hopefully) getting some insight from a beat writer who covers each team.
The next team up is Duke, which is coming off its first bowl appearance since the 1994 season.
Who: Duke Blue Devils
When: Saturday, Oct. 26
Where: Lane Stadium in Blacksburg
Series history: Virginia Tech leads 13-7 (Last meeting: 2012 in Blacksburg, 41-20 Hokies win)
The coach: David Cutcliffe, sixth season, 21-40 at Duke; 65-69 in 11 years overall
Last year’s record: 6-7 (3-5 ACC, t-5th Coastal), lost Belk Bowl to 48-34 to Cincinnati
How they got there: The Blue Devils rode an easy early schedule, a fast start and a memorable upset win against North Carolina (one it nearly blew in the fourth quarter) to do something the team hadn’t since the 1994 season and get to a bowl game. For that, David Cutcliffe might get a statue in Durham. Not only was it the Blue Devils’ first bowl trip in 18 years, but it was also just the second time since the ACC expanded to 12 teams that they won at least three league games. That’s how historically significant last season was. Things still didn’t end well for Duke, which lost five of six once the schedule ramped up. Perhaps epitomizing the Blue Devils’ black-and-white season was the Virginia Tech game, which they led 20-0 in the first quarter before giving up 41 straight points. In the Belk Bowl, the Blue Devils had a horrible final minute that somehow turned a sure victory into a 14-point loss. But this is Duke. And Duke doesn’t do things like get to bowl games often, so no matter how the season ended, it has to be considered a striking success.
By the numbers
- Rushing offense: 125.23 ypg (98th nationally, 8th ACC)
- Passing offense: 283.92 ypg (31st, 5th)
- Total offense: 409.15 ypg (55th, 7th)
- Scoring offense: 31.54 ppg (44th, 5th)
- Rushing defense: 201.54 ypg (101st, 10th)
- Passing defense: 267.62 ypg (101st, 11th)
- Total defense: 469.15 ypg (105th, 11th)
- Scoring defense:36.00 ppg (107th, 12th)
- Turnover margin: .15 (t-50th, 5th)
Offensive starters returning/lost: 6/5
Defensive starters returning/lost: 5/6
Biggest loss: QB Sean Renfree. I could have just as easily picked wide receiver Conner Vernon, who finished his career as the ACC’s all-time leader in receptions (283) and receiving yards (3,749), but the quarterback is so vital to Cutcliffe’s system that it has to be Renfree. A three-year starter, he threw for a career-best 3,113 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior. Finding somebody to run the show in his absence will be Duke’s priority this year.
Team linchpin: CB Ross Cockrell. Duke doesn’t have a ton of talent on defense, but Cockrell certainly stands out. As a junior he had 71 tackles and tied for a league-high with five interceptions, earning first-team All-ACC honors. He’s the lone returning starter in the secondary, so he’ll need to step up his game for the Blue Devils to make any kind of improvement back there.
Watch out for: WR Jamison Crowder. For most teams, somebody who caught 76 passes for 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns would be far and away the No. 1 receiver. Most teams don’t have Vernon. So Crowder’s stats had to settle for being about even with Vernon (they somehow finished with identical stats in receiving yards and touchdowns). The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Jamison will now be looked upon to be Duke’s primary receiving threat, which brings new challenges, but he certainly has the potential to thrive this year.
The 2013 schedule
- Aug. 31: vs. North Carolina Central
- Sept. 7: at Memphis
- Sept. 14: vs. Georgia Tech
- Sept. 21: vs. Pittsburgh
- Sept. 28: vs. Troy
- Oct. 12: vs. Navy
- Oct. 19: at Virginia
- Oct. 26: at Virginia Tech
- Nov. 9: vs. N.C. State
- Nov. 16: vs. Miami
- Nov. 23: at Wake Forest
- Nov. 30: at North Carolina
The buzz: Duke enters the season in a strange place — with expectations. Well, sort of. Even the most ardent Blue Devils fan would concede that getting back to a bowl game for a second straight year — something the school has never done — would be a major accomplishment. The schedule sets up so that six wins isn’t unrealistic, with a non-conference slate that includes North Carolina Central, Memphis, Troy and Navy (although the Midshipmen are a bowl team that are always a handful with that option offense). The conference portion actually gets significantly easier. Florida State and Clemson both rotate off, replaced by Pittsburgh (now a division opponent that the Blue Devils get at home) and N.C. State (a team Duke beat 49-28 in the teams’ last meeting in 2009). With Virginia and Wake Forest also on the schedule, six wins is actually a very reasonable goal.
Why they should be excited: When the Tennessee job came open, there was plenty of speculation that Cutcliffe, who made his name coaching Peyton Manning there under Phil Fulmer, might want to go back to his roots. But the 58-year-old stayed at Duke, where he’ll enter his sixth season, long enough to build some depth at a school that lacked it under his predecessors. For all of the Blue Devils’ success last year, they did it despite numerous injuries that ravaged the defense. That wouldn’t have been possible in the past. Duke has four offensive linemen back who have started a combined 105 games, making them one of the more experienced groups in the league. Renfree is gone, but Anthony Boone brings a dual-threat capability that could mean more option runs in Cutcliffe’s offense. With Renfree injured at times last year, Boone threw for 521 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 82 yards and two scores, so he’s shown flashes. Defensively, a line led by a hopefully-healthy, sixth-year senior Kenny Anunike figures to be the strongest unit.
Why they should worry: That stats last year still weren’t pretty, despite the win total. In ACC play, the Blue Devils were out-gained by 140.4 yards per game, a gap larger than that of even woeful Boston College. So there was some good fortune that came along with Duke’s 3-5 league record that might be due for a regression to the mean this year. The offense lost a lot of experience that will be tough to replace. So much of that success came from Renfree as a passer and Vernon as his go-to receiver. Expecting Boone-to-Crowder to be that productive might be a stretch. Duke’s running game lagged considerably and doesn’t appear to have any gamebreakers in the fold. But the biggest concerns are on defense, where the Blue Devils ranked in the bottom 25 in the country in all the major categories. The back seven only has one entrenched starter back (Cockrell). For a team last seen giving up 338 passing yards and 48 points to Cincinnati, that has to be disconcerting.
The more you know: Cutcliffe has won 21 games in five years at Duke. That’s more than any of the previous seven coaches reached, including Steve Spurrier, who was 20-13-1 in three years in Durham. You have to go back to Mike McGee (1971-78) to find a Duke football coach with more wins with the school (37).
- Alabama: Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Western Carolina: Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- East Carolina: Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Marshall: Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Georgia Tech: Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- North Carolina: Team overview | Ask a beat writer
- Pittsburgh: Team overview | Ask a beat writer