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Duke's been good at football! 2015 will tell us if Duke can *stay* good at football

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David Cutcliffe's Blue Devils have some historically amazing accomplishments over the last two years. But is this program truly rebuilt, or was that just a stellar senior class? Catch up on the 128-team preview countdown here!

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

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
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Elon N/A 52-13 W 72% 13.4 100%
6-Sep at Troy 126 34-17 W 54% 2.6 96%
13-Sep Kansas 99 41-3 W 91% 30.9 100%
20-Sep Tulane 93 47-13 W 69% 11.6 99%
27-Sep at Miami 31 10-22 L 12% -27.2 1%
11-Oct at Georgia Tech 8 31-25 W 62% 6.9 68%
18-Oct Virginia 39 20-13 W 63% 7.6 85%
1-Nov at Pittsburgh 43 51-48 W 55% 2.8 60%
8-Nov at Syracuse 80 27-10 W 52% 1.0 89%
15-Nov Virginia Tech 33 16-17 L 31% -11.7 34%
20-Nov North Carolina 70 20-45 L 3% -44.4 0%
29-Nov Wake Forest 101 41-21 W 50% -0.2 94%
27-Dec vs. Arizona State 27 31-36 L 32% -10.7 17%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 27.6 76 28.6 68
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.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.82 87 IsoPPP+ 98.6 72
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.7 ACTUAL 15 -8.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 69 62 48 72
RUSHING 48 43 18 69
PASSING 78 78 87 76
Standard Downs 55 53 59
Passing Downs 85 49 95
Q1 Rk 39 1st Down Rk 89
Q2 Rk 75 2nd Down Rk 74
Q3 Rk 65 3rd Down Rk 59
Q4 Rk 85

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.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Anthony Boone
255 453 2700 19 8 56.3% 13 2.8% 5.6
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

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
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
Anthony Boone QB
81 466 5 5.8 3.9 53.1% 4 1
Josh Snead RB
81 401 3 5.0 3.9 40.7% 2 1
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

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Jamison Crowder WR
144 86 1085 59.7% 32.6% 59.7% 7.5 30 7.5 121.8
Issac Blakeney WR
77 47 559 61.0% 17.4% 57.1% 7.3 -15 7.2 62.8
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
Josh Snead RB
17 12 92 70.6% 3.8% 52.9% 5.4 -51 5.3 10.3
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.

Powell lost his little brother Malachi to cancer recently. Awful.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 116.2 3.33 3.43 41.1% 65.6% 12.9% 204.7 1.7% 4.8%
Rank 15 16 52 41 80 3 4 7 23
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Laken Tomlinson RG 52 Consensus All-American,
2014 1st All-ACC
Takoby Cofield LT
43
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.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.69 3 IsoPPP+ 100.6 64
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.8 ACTUAL 21.0 -1.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 69 101 117 64
RUSHING 94 112 125 88
PASSING 34 57 83 45
Standard Downs 98 121 59
Passing Downs 92 92 84
Q1 Rk 106 1st Down Rk 95
Q2 Rk 115 2nd Down Rk 63
Q3 Rk 48 3rd Down Rk 69
Q4 Rk 43

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.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 82.8 3.45 3.14 46.8% 59.5% 15.6% 104.6 6.1% 7.8%
Rank 123 120 47 126 23 110 60 37 59
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo DE
13 32.0 4.1% 7.5 4.5 0 0 2 0
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
Jamal Bruce DT
13 17.5 2.2% 5.0 3.0 0 3 1 0
Jonathan Jones DE
13 16.5 2.1% 1.0 1.0 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
Dezmond Johnson DE
10 14.5 1.8% 5.5 2.5 0 1 0 0
Jamal Wallace DT
11 10.5 1.3% 1.5 0.5 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
Michael Mann DE
4 2.5 0.3% 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.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
David Helton MLB
13 92.0 11.7% 5.0 1.5 0 1 0 0
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
C.J. France WLB
11 43.0 5.5% 1.5 0.5 0 0 0 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








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
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
Christian Conway S
13 9.0 1.1% 0 0 0 0 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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Will Monday 6'4, 210 Sr. 59 43.0 8 20 17 62.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Jack Willoughby 73 62.8 28 0 38.4%
Ross Martin 5'10, 185 Sr. 6 61.3 1 0 16.7%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Ross Martin 5'10, 185 Sr. 50-50 14-14 100.0% 5-7 71.4%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
DeVon Edwards KR 5'9, 175 Jr. 29 25.7 1
Johnell Barnes KR 6'0, 170 Jr. 3 33.3 0
Jamison Crowder PR 22 12.7 2
Ryan Smith PR 5'7, 165 Jr. 2 22.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 1
Field Goal Efficiency 11
Punt Return Efficiency 3
Kick Return Efficiency 18
Punt Efficiency 6
Kickoff Efficiency 63
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

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
3-Sep at Tulane 92
12-Sep N.C. Central NR
19-Sep Northwestern 62
26-Sep Georgia Tech 19
3-Oct Boston College 49
10-Oct at Army 126
24-Oct at Virginia Tech 26
31-Oct Miami 28
7-Nov at North Carolina 44
14-Nov Pittsburgh 38
21-Nov at Virginia 46
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 2011, my first year of doing this preview series, I wrote this:

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.