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1. Duke: The Next Generation
Building a program happens in cycles. You struggle at first, then break through with a experienced talent. Then that talent leaves. Every roster churn provides an opportunity to either improve further or regress toward what you inherited.
I find myself frequently saying, "Hard jobs remain hard." It applies when a coach is fired, when a coach takes over a tough situation, or, in Duke's case, when an incredibly successful batch of seniors leaves.
David Cutcliffe has worked minor miracles. He took over a program that had averaged a 2-10 record for 12 years; that he managed to go 15-33 in his first four years was an accomplishment. In 2012, Duke went 6-7 and reached its first bowl in 18 years. And in 2013-14, he went 19-8 with one division title and one near-miss.
The F/+ ratings tell the tale. Duke's average rating was minus-35.6 percent in Ted Roof's final three years, then improved to an average of minus-16.9 percent in Cutcliffe's first two, minus-11.3 percent in his next three, and plus-10.4 percent in the last two.
The Blue Devils broke through in 2013, lost their offensive coordinator, most of their running backs and some key offensive linemen, and maintained some of their gains in 2014. Now comes the biggest test. Stalwart quarterback Anthony Boone and Jamison Crowder, a good receiver and great return man, are gone. So are All-American guard Laken Tomlinson, nearly four-year starter tackle Takoby Cofield, five of last year's top eight defensive linemen, and both starting linebackers.
The cupboard isn't bare. Duke returns a healthy number of starters, and a few 2013 contributors return after missing 2014. But the names atop the marquee are changing, and that's always a scary thing. Cutcliffe's recruiting has improved -- the Blue Devils' five-year ranking is 56th, but their two-year ranking is 44th -- and if player development is up to snuff, there might not be anything to worry about.
But ... hard jobs remain hard. When you are at Duke, with minimal margin for error, you end up having to prove yourself all over again every year.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 8-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 51|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|11-Oct||at Georgia Tech||8||31-25||W||62%||6.9||68%|
|27-Dec||vs. Arizona State||27||31-36||L||32%||-10.7||17%|
|Points Per Game||32.4||43||21.8||23|
2. A crash before the finish line
Forecasting the college football race in November was an interesting task. On November 12, undefeated Mississippi State was No. 1 in the Playoff rankings but had barely a 50 percent chance of finishing 11-1. Undefeated Florida State had a 31 percent chance of remaining undefeated. Nobody really knew what to think of Ohio State yet.
Hovering over in the corner was Duke. The Blue Devils ranked 21st in the Playoff rankings but had a 66 percent chance of finishing 11-1. With just one upset (of Florida State in the conference title game), they would be 12-1, a power-conference champion, and a serious headache for the Playoff committee.
Of course, Duke wasn't title-caliber. In nine games, they had played above a 70th-percentile level just twice. They beat an eventual top-10 team, Georgia Tech, on the road, but they needed a plus-3 turnover margin to do it. They looked dreadful against Miami and needed a late surge to get past a bad Syracuse.
And when the luck turned against them in a 17-16 loss to Virginia Tech -- they created eight scoring opportunities to Tech's three but still got outscored -- the veneer cracked. A top-50 team became barely a top-100 team.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 9 games): 59% (~top 50 | record: 8-1)
- Average Percentile Performance (last 4 games): 29% (~top 90 | record: 1-3)
Following the Tech loss, Duke got destroyed by North Carolina, then became the first team in two months to allow more than 4.1 yards per play to Wake Forest.
They did overcome a 17-point first-half deficit before losing the Sun Bowl, and they did still finish with nine wins for the second time since World War II. But after expectations grew unrealistically high in mid-November, the crash still felt disappointing, especially since Duke was about to lose key players.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.9%||54||Succ. Rt. +||104.1||55|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||27.3||15||Def. FP+||102.0||44|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.4||73||Redzone S&P+||118.8||21|
|Q1 Rk||39||1st Down Rk||89|
|Q2 Rk||75||2nd Down Rk||74|
|Q3 Rk||65||3rd Down Rk||59|
3. An inefficient efficiency offense
Scottie Montgomery's first year as Duke coordinator (full title: The Baxter Family Associate Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator) was ... okay. Despite losing carries leader Jela Duncan to suspension and three starting linemen, the Blue Devils held steady in the run -- 40th in Rushing S&P+ in 2013, 43rd in 2014.
But the pass fell apart. Duke returned quarterback Anthony Boone and four of five leading wideouts, but star tight end Braxton Deaver tore his ACL in August, and Boone struggled without his primary efficiency option. His completion rate fell from 64 percent to 56, and his passer rating from 128.2 to 116.7. He topped 130 six times in 10 games in 2013 but only three times in 13 games last fall.
It's hard to thrive as a pass-first efficiency offense when you aren't passing efficiently. Part of Boone's regressed completion rate was due to less risky decisions -- his interception rate fell from an unacceptable 4 percent to a healthier 1.8 -- but the result was fewer opportunities for players like Jamison Crowder.
So perhaps it isn't the worst time for new blood. Thomas Sirk is the likely Blue Devil starter; he saw action in nearly every game, mostly as a run threat, and in limited opportunities, he combined efficient passing with explosive (and inefficient) rushing. Three other players with similar recruiting profiles and less experience await a shot. Cutcliffe has long held a "quarterback whisperer" reputation, and it appears that, in Sirk and these other youngsters, he's got good templates to work with.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Thomas Sirk||6'4, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8358||10||14||67||3||0||71.4%||0||0.0%||6.7|
|Parker Boehme||6'2, 220||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8432||1||2||5||0||0||50.0%||0||0.0%||2.5|
|Nicodem Pierre||6'2, 205||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8541|
|Quentin Harris||6'1, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8354|
|Shaquille Powell||RB||5'10, 205||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8801||134||618||2||4.6||2.0||41.8%||0||0|
|Jela Duncan (2013)||RB||5'10, 210||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8764||113||562||3||5.0||3.6||38.9%||N/A||N/A|
|Shaun Wilson||RB||5'9, 180||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8455||78||598||5||7.7||8.6||44.9%||1||1|
|Thomas Sirk||QB||6'4, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8358||48||238||8||5.0||8.4||27.1%||3||1|
|Joseph Ajeigbe||RB||5'9, 210||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8414||41||150||0||3.7||2.3||26.8%||0||0|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Braxton Deaver (2013)||TE||6'5, 240||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8241||59||46||600||78.0%||13.4%||63.0%||10.2||92||10.5||76.7|
|Max McCaffrey||WR||6'2, 195||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8059||57||37||385||64.9%||12.9%||56.1%||6.8||-61||6.8||43.2|
|Johnell Barnes||WR||6'0, 170||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8470||53||23||209||43.4%||12.0%||69.8%||3.9||-94||4.0||23.5|
|Shaquille Powell||RB||5'10, 205||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8801||25||18||154||72.0%||5.7%||52.0%||6.2||-59||6.1||17.3|
|Shaun Wilson||RB||5'9, 180||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8455||23||18||179||78.3%||5.2%||43.5%||7.8||-31||6.9||20.1|
|David Reeves||TE||6'5, 255||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8356||23||13||103||56.5%||5.2%||65.2%||4.5||-58||4.2||11.6|
|Erich Schneider||TE||6'7, 240||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8096||11||6||19||54.5%||2.5%||63.6%||1.7||-56||1.6||2.1|
|Anthony Nash||WR||6'5, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8336||3||2||16||66.7%||0.7%||100.0%||5.3||-8||N/A||1.8|
|Ryan Smith||WR||5'7, 165||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7994||3||1||0||33.3%||0.7%||66.7%||0.0||-14||0.0||0.0|
|Terrence Alls||WR||6'1, 180||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8056||2||2||14||100.0%||0.5%||50.0%||7.0||-9||7.3||1.6|
|Davis Koppenhaver||TE||6'4, 210||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8086|
|Trevon Lee||WR||6'1, 175||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8743|
|Chris Taylor||WR||6'1, 170||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8199|
|Quay Chambers||WR||6'3, 205||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8073|
|T.J. Rahming||WR||5'10, 170||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8675|
|Aaron Young||WR||6'4, 200||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8529|
|Keyston Fuller||WR||6'0, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8625|
4. Well-timed returnees
Jamison Crowder was more or less the same receiver in 2013 and 2014. He averaged 12.6 yards per catch in 2013 and 12.3 in 2014, and while his per-target averages regressed from 8.2 to 7.5, some of that had to do with Boone throwing the ball away instead of forcing throws. He was decent, but 7.5 yards per target as a No. 1 target is replaceable.
Of course, someone still needs to replace them. Max McCaffrey has not been asked to do much downfield and has averaged 6.4 yards per target as a possession man, while Johnell Barnes showed hints of explosiveness in 2013 but none last year. They're the only two returning wideouts who caught more than two passes last year.
Luckily, Braxton Deaver's back. Deaver was Boone's best efficiency option in 2013 but showed off some speed. He caught three passes for 96 yards against Virginia and six for 116 against Texas A&M, and if he can do some damage in the middle of the field, it could open up the outside lanes.
Running back Jela Duncan is also back after suspension took away his 2014. He and returning senior Shaquille Powell* are efficiency backs with minimal explosiveness, but Duke boasts an intriguing change-of-pace guy in Shaun Wilson. Granted, the sophomore didn't do much in conference play (46 carries, 186 yards), but his 28 carries for 404 yards in non-conference play hinted at serious potential.
Scottie Montgomery had more pass-happy tendencies than his coordinator predecessor, Kurt Roper, but further emphasis on the run might pay off, both because of this trio of backs and Sirk's mobility.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Laken Tomlinson||RG||52||Consensus All-American,
2014 1st All-ACC
|Matt Skura||C||6'4, 305||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8127||27|
|Lucas Patrick||LG||6'4, 305||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8560||13|
|Casey Blaser||RT||6'5, 285||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8045||13|
|Cody Robinson||RG||6'3, 295||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8640||1|
|Gabe Brandner||LT||6'6, 275||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8043||0|
|Austin Davis||C||6'4, 285||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8470||0|
|Sterling Korona||LT||6'7, 290||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8251||0|
|Tanner Stone||RG||6'6, 300||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7951||0|
|Trip McNeill||OL||6'5, 300||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8550|
|Zach Harmon||OL||6'3, 280||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8497|
|Jake Sanders||LG||6'5, 310||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8389|
|Christian Harris||RT||6'6, 290||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8417|
|Kameron Schroeder||OL||6'5, 275||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8392|
|Reno Rosene||OL||6'7, 335||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8656|
5. A great line loses two anchors
John Latina has been around the block. He spent five years as Cutcliffe's offensive coordinator at Ole Miss and four as Charlie Weis' O.C. at Notre Dame. He coached for Tommy West at Clemson for five years and for Bill Snyder at Kansas State for another five.
And over the last couple of seasons, he's put together one hell of an offensive line. Duke ranked 20th in Adj. Line Yards and 12th in Adj. Sack Rate in 2013, lost three players who had combined for 100 career starts, then improved to 15th and fourth, respectively.
To the extent that this performance had to do with good coaching, Latina's return suggests another good line is in store. But this time, Latina won't have right guard Laken Tomlinson, who was not only named an All-American, but also became Duke's first first-round draft pick since 2004. He and left tackle Takoby Cofield combined for more than seven seasons' worth of starts, so while four players with starting experience return (54 career starts), losing Tomlinson and Cofield isn't the best thing when you're breaking in a new quarterback.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||45.2%||105||Succ. Rt. +||86.0||117|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||32.9||16||Off. FP+||102.0||38|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.0||35||Redzone S&P+||97.6||73|
|Q1 Rk||106||1st Down Rk||95|
|Q2 Rk||115||2nd Down Rk||63|
|Q3 Rk||48||3rd Down Rk||69|
6. Bending too much
You can succeed with a bend-don't-break defense. If you're good at preventing big plays, and if you're good at keeping the opponent out of the end zone on scoring opportunities, then a bend-don't-break can limit damage and protect an offense from having to do too much.
Duke held opponents to a respectable 4 points per scoring opportunity and allowed just 16 gains of 30-plus yards (eighth-best in the country). And despite allowing 5.7 yards per play or greater six times, they allowed more than 25 points just three times. With a good offense, you can win with that.
Unfortunately, Duke's offense needed more help. And while flexibility is fine, Duke had one of the least efficient run defenses in the country. For whatever reason, the Blue Devil defense started horribly, ranking well into the triple digits in first- and second-quarter S&P+ before improving.
Duke's defensive deficiencies removed all margin for error. In their final nine games (i.e. their games against good teams), they were outscored in the first half, which put a tiring defense and one-dimensional offense under pressure. They couldn't pull off the magic act all year.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Carlos Wray||DT||6'2, 290||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8122||13||25.5||3.3%||2.0||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|A.J. Wolf||DT||6'4, 270||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8105||13||18.0||2.3%||1.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kyler Brown||DE||6'4, 245||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8158||13||16.5||2.1%||2.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Deion Williams||DE||6'0, 230||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8716||13||5.5||0.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Britton Grier||DE||6'1, 245||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7894||11||4.0||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Mike Ramsay||DT||6'2, 295||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7785||6||3.5||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Keilin Rayner||DT||6'3, 260||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8550||6||2.5||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Allen Jackson||DE||6'5, 260||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8364|
|Edgar Cerenord||DT||6'1, 300||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8514|
|Quaven Ferguson||DT||6'2, 305||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8169|
|Taariq Shabazz||DE||6'3, 225||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8524|
|Trevon McSwain||DE||6'6, 250||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8625|
|Marquies Price||DE||6'6, 225||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8519|
|Zach Morris||DT||6'3, 295||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8479|
|Brandon Boyce||DT||6'0, 250||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8403|
7. Good news: the line already wasn't very good!
Good news: the strongest unit on the team (the secondary) returns virtually intact. Duke's three safeties in coordinator Jim Knowles' 4-2-5 are wonderful, helping to prevent big plays and provide havoc for a defense in need of it.
Bad news: five of eight linemen and both starting linebackers are gone. Duke got a decent pass rush from its ends (particularly Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo) and was pretty strong in short-yardage situations, and while the return of starting tackles Carlos Wray and A.J. Wolf could assure the Devils are still decent on third-and-short, the pass rush is starting over.
Of course, it's hard to worry too much about turnover in personnel when the personnel needed to be better. Duke ranked 123rd in Adj. Line Yards and 125th in Rushing Success Rate+; that's horrendous. The pass rush could technically regress, but change might be worth it if newcomers provide a little more oomph in run defense.
Judging purely by size, oopmh is not a given. Wray and Wolf average just 280 pounds, the top three returning ends average 6'2, 240, and 2014's top three returning linebackers average 6'1, 212.
It seems Cutcliffe is attempting to solve this issue with recruiting; either of two road-grading redshirt freshmen (6'1, 300-pound Edgar Cerenord and 6'2, 305-pound Quaven Ferguson) could enter the rotation, and younger ends like freshman Trevon McSwain (6'6, 250) could provide a push. But you almost never want to rely on freshmen to improve a unit. It's probably going to take them a while to find their legs.
At the very least, Duke gets Kelby Brown back. Brown injured his knee around the same time that Braxton Deaver did and missed all season; he was one of the league's best linebackers in 2013, with 10 non-sack tackles for loss and four passes defensed), and his presence alone could make the line look a little better. There might not be hope for much improvement in the front six, but Brown, Wray, and Wolf should assure no regression.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kelby Brown (2013)||MLB||6'2, 230||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8558||13||85.5||10.2%||11.0||1.0||2||2||2||0|
|Chris Holmes||WLB||6'2, 215||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8189||13||21.0||2.7%||2.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Dwayne Norman||WLB||6'1, 210||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8187||13||17.5||2.2%||3.0||3.0||0||2||0||0|
|Zavier Carmichael||MLB||6'0, 210||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8384||13||14.0||1.8%||0.0||0.0||2||0||0||0|
|Dominic McDonald||LB||6'2, 240||So.||NR||0.8535|
|Tinashe Bere||LB||6'1, 220||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8376|
|Ben Humphreys||LB||6'2, 210||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9270|
|Joe Giles-Harris||LB||6'2, 220||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8487|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|DeVon Edwards||S(R)||5'9, 175||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7759||13||105.0||13.4%||7.5||4.5||1||9||5||0|
|Jeremy Cash||S(S)||6'2, 205||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8672||13||89.5||11.4%||10.5||5.5||2||7||4||0|
|Bryon Fields||CB||5'11, 180||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8003||13||55.5||7.1%||2.5||0||1||2||0||0|
|Deondre Singleton||S(B)||5'11, 180||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8248||13||55.5||7.1%||0.5||0||0||7||0||0|
|Breon Borders||CB||6'0, 175||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7957||13||36.0||4.6%||0.5||0||3||6||0||0|
|Corbin McCarthy||S(S)||5'10, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7500||13||13.5||1.7%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Evrett Edwards||S(B)||5'11, 190||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8535||12||13.5||1.7%||0||0||1||2||0||0|
|Alonzo Saxton II||CB||5'11, 170||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8568||8||10.5||1.3%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Zach Muniz||CB||5'11, 170||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8256||12||5.0||0.6%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Jake Kite||S||6'0, 185||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8041||8||2.5||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Phillip Carter||S(R)||6'1, 195||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7923|
|Johnathan Lloyd||CB||6'0, 190||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8481|
|Jeremy McDuffie||DB||5'11, 170||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8615|
|Jordan Hayes||DB||6'0, 170||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8373|
8. Get these safeties some help
Nineteen tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 28 passes defensed, nine forced fumbles. That's pretty good production if coming from a linebacking corps, and it's what Duke got from its safeties. Jeremy Cash and DeVon Edwards were devastating, leading the team in sacks and still combining for three picks and 16 breakups. They are spectacular weapons for a defense in desperate need of some.
The return of Edwards, Cash, and Deondre Singleton assures Duke of stability and occasional play-making even if the front six doesn't improve. And their disruptive capabilities gave corners Bryon Fields and Breon Borders opportunities to make plays, too.
Despite a porous front six, Duke managed a No. 68 Def. S&P+ ranking last fall after ranking 54th the year before. The secondary assures Duke of a high floor, and if the run defense gets any push whatsoever, the defensive backs could easily head up a top-50 offense.
|Will Monday||6'4, 210||Sr.||59||43.0||8||20||17||62.7%|
|Ross Martin||5'10, 185||Sr.||6||61.3||1||0||16.7%|
|Ross Martin||5'10, 185||Sr.||50-50||14-14||100.0%||5-7||71.4%|
|DeVon Edwards||KR||5'9, 175||Jr.||29||25.7||1|
|Johnell Barnes||KR||6'0, 170||Jr.||3||33.3||0|
|Ryan Smith||PR||5'7, 165||Jr.||2||22.5||0|
|Special Teams F/+||1|
|Field Goal Efficiency||11|
|Punt Return Efficiency||3|
|Kick Return Efficiency||18|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||97|
9. Missing one key piece
Duke's offense and defense regressed, but the Blue Devils still won nine games. Granted, that tells you a little bit about their schedule (109th in my SOS measure), but it also tells you about the weight the special teams unit carried.
Despite inefficient passing and mostly woeful run defense, Duke managed to rank 11th in the country and second in the ACC with a plus-5.6 yard field position margin. That much field position impact and nearly perfect place-kicking earn you a No. 1 special teams ranking.
That the special teams unit was more than just Jamison Crowder is encouraging. Ross Martin was perfect on kicks inside of 40 yards, Will Monday averaged 43 yards per punt with great hangtime, and DeVon Edwards was an awfully strong kick returner. So losing Crowder, one of the nation's best punt returners, won't kill the unit.
Still, neither run defense nor pass offense are guaranteed to improve, which means Duke might be equally reliant on special teams for field position help, and a merely mortal punt returner will cost the Devils a few yards on each return.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|24-Oct||at Virginia Tech||26|
|7-Nov||at North Carolina||44|
|28-Nov||at Wake Forest||89|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-2.6% (66)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||44 / 56|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||6 / -0.8|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||+2.6|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||14 (6, 8)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||8.4 (0.6)|
10. Start fast
Duke has attended three bowls in three years after attending two in the preceding five decades. Granted, they haven't won a bowl since January 1, 1961, but progress is progress, and the Devils have made a ton of it.
If they want to keep that bowl streak going, they need to strike early. Of the five opponents on the schedule projected worse than 50th, three show up in the first three weeks. Get upset by Tulane on the road or Northwestern at home, and six wins might be hard to come by for a younger squad.
I assume they'll get there -- starting 3-0, beating Army and Wake Forest on the road, and winning at least one conference home game doesn't seem like too much to ask -- but after 19 wins in two seasons, it's hard to imagine Duke approaching that level of success again in 2015.
And that's fine. Go bowling again in 2015 and prep an experienced squad, with more experience at receiver and defensive line, for a lovely sojourn in 2016.
In 2002, Ted Roof was a reasonably successful defensive coordinator; by 2007, he was a failed head coach. In 1999, Carl Franks was a reliable, long-time Steve Spurrier assistant; by 2003, he was a failed head coach. Fred Goldsmith? Same thing. In 1992, he was Sports Illustrated's national coach of the year at Rice. In 1996, he went 0-11 in Durham.
A great coach can win -- and potentially win big -- at a résumé-killing job; a good one probably can't. David Cutcliffe likely isn't a great coach, but he's certainly a brave one.
I'm now forecasting "only six wins or so" for Duke, and it represents a clear step backwards. Maybe I should rethink that "likely isn't a great coach" thing.
We'll see how long Cutcliffe can keep this up, but even if Duke hasn't been a true top-40 team, they've won 19 games, taken a division title, and developed NFL talent. There's no overstating how impressive that is at a job that has killed countless résumés in the past half-century.