NCAA Football

           ***** NCAA Football Preview - Duke Blue Devils *****
 By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: David Cutcliffe's fifth season at the helm in Durham
 ended with Duke earning a 6-7 overall mark and him being named the ACC Coach
 of the Year. While Duke finished one game under .500 overall, its 6-6 regular
 season mark was good enough to earn the Blue Devils their first bowl game
 appearance since 1994.
 The first half of the season was much more successful than the second half, as
 the team won five of its first six games, with the lone loss coming in
 lopsided fashion at Stanford (50-13) in week two. Big wins over FIU (46-26),
 NC Central (54-17) and Memphis (38-14) had Duke hitting ACC play with a full
 head of steam, which the team used to upend both Wake Forest (34-27) and
 Virginia (42-17) to sit at 5-1 in early October.
 However, even a record-setting year on the offensive side of the football for
 the Blue Devils, wasn't able to carry them the entire season, as the team
 dropped five of its last six ACC affairs, with the lone win over the last
 month and a half of the campaign coming against rival North Carolina (33-30).
 Losses to Virginia Tech (41-20), Florida State (48-7), Clemson (56-20),
 Georgia Tech (42-24) and Miami-Florida (52-45) took the wind out of Duke's
 sails, leaving it 3-5 in the ACC overall. good for just a fifth-place finish
 in the Coastal Division. Still, the work done early paved the way for a rare
 bowl bid for Cutcliffe and his team.
 Fueled by a record-setting season in 2012, Duke's offense set the school's
 single-season mark with 410 points, while averaging 31.5 ppg (fifth highest
 average in school history).
 With a lethal arsenal on offense, the Blue Devils headed to Charlotte in late
 December and were highly competitive in the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati,
 taking the Bearcats to the limit before succumbing in a 48-34 decision, ending
 a bid to earn their first bowl victory in over 40 years.
 OFFENSE: There was plenty to like about Duke's offense in 2012 and the hope is
 that the unit can continue to evolve under the direction of offensive
 coordinator Kurt Roper. He will have his work cut out for him though, as Duke
 must find adequate replacements for standout QB Sean Renfree (3,113 yards, 19
 touchdowns) and equally talented WR Conner Vernon (85 receptions, 1,074 yards,
 eight TDs).
 Junior Anthony Boone is the heir apparent under center with a strong arm.
 Boone has started just one game in his career, but has played in 22 games and
 should be able to adjust to his new role seamlessly.
 "Right now, I've been here for four years so mistakes aren't really something
 I'm looking for - to be crisp and not have mental errors is what I'm looking
 for," Boone said.  "As a team, we'll strive to be efficient as a unit,
 offensively and defensively - get the right calls, get the right checks, have
 11 guys on the field flying around and having a good time and competing at a
 high level."
 It will certainly help to have a reliable target in the passing game in junior
 Jamison Crowder. The 5-foot-9, 175-pounder was second on the team in
 receptions a year ago (75) and matched Vernon's numbers with 1,074 yards and
 eight TDs.
 Duke's ground game has long lagged behind the passing game in terms of
 production and last year was no different. The hope is that with the team's
 top four tailbacks returning, Boone's threat to run under center and four of
 last year's five starters returning along the offensive line, the Blue Devils
 will start to show a little more balance on offense.
 DEFENSE: The Blue Devils showed flashes of strong defensive play in 2012, but
 against the better teams on the schedule, they really struggled, suffering
 lopsided losses to Stanford, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Clemson.
 The team returns eight starters from that squad, highlighted by a pair of All-
 ACC performers in senior rush end Kenny Anunike (6-5, 260) and senior
 cornerback Ross Cockrell (6-0, 180). Anunike was an honorable mention All-ACC
 selection after leading the team in sacks (5) for the second straight season,
 Cockrell was a First-Team All-ACC selection, finishing the year with 71 total
 tackles, 13 PBU and five interceptions.
 Other defenders of note include senior DE Justin Foxx (46 tackles, 4.5 sacks)
 and LBs CJ France (60 tackles) and David Helton (55 tackles). Fellow LB Kelby
 Brown (6-2, 230) missed all of last season due to knee surgery, and could give
 the team even more depth if he maintains his health. Brown was a Freshman All-
 American in 2010.
 SPECIAL TEAMS: Duke's kicking game is in fine shape heading into 2013. The
 team went with a pair of freshman last year and the youngsters more than held
 their own. Place kicker Ross Martin earned First-Team Freshman All-American
 honors and was All-ACC Honorable Mention, converting 20-of-23 field goal
 attempts (long of 52 yards) and 46-of-47 extra points. Punter Will Monday was
 a First-Team All-ACC selection in 2012 as the freshman averaged 44.6 yards per
 punt, placing 19 of his 67 attempts inside the 20-yard line.
 OUTLOOK: Winning is infectious and Cutcliffe knows that the success from last
 year can carry the team in 2013.
 "It started back in January with this football team, when they arrived back on
 campus for classes and conditioning and we had our first meeting," said
 Cutcliffe at the ACC media event in July. "This is a very hungry football
 team; hungry to win football games and return to a bowl game, hungry to win
 the Coastal Division of the ACC. Last year we were in the hunt for the
 division title in November. That's where we want to be again this year;
 playing late in the season for a title."
 The non-conference schedule is void of any real momentum killers, as games
 against NC Central, Memphis, Troy and Navy are all within Duke's grasp. To
 take the next step however, Duke must find a way to turn close games into
 victories in the ACC. The team will get Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, NC State and
 Miami-Florida at home this year, while traveling to Virginia, Virginia Tech,
 Wake Forest and North Carolina. The team avoids powerhouses Florida State and
 Clemson altogether.
 Two straight bowl appearances is almost unheard of when talking about Duke
 football, but if the new-look offense can find a little more balance and the
 defense finds more consistency, a winning season is there for the taking in
 08/19 09:18:48 ET

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