Win or lose Saturday, Duke's football future is bright
Posted November 29, 2013
Regardless of Duke’s fate at North Carolina, there are several reasons to believe the Blue Devils are not a collective flash in the football pan.
Team leaders Ross Cockrell, a senior safety, and Anthony Boone, a red-shirt junior, predicted as much way back in July in Greensboro – the very day Duke was picked to finish last in the ACC Coastal Division.
“People think we just got lucky and made it to a bowl game last season, but people are wrong,” Boone said. “If they were surprised by us last season, just wait.”
The natural tendency by fans and the media was to assume Duke football couldn’t sustain success regardless of how many rabbits David Cutcliffe pulled from a hat in 2012.
And even if Duke wins Saturday to finish regular season at 10-2 overall to claim the Coastal title at 6-2, there’ll still be a tendency to see the Devils as a cellar candidate in preseason 2014 and beyond – and that’s even if Cutcliffe turns down the wave of job offers that will come his way.
As Cockrell said in July, “It’s going to take fans a long time to really understand that we’ve turned the corner. We realize that, but that corner definitely has been turned.”
Roster is still youthful
Starting with Boone, fellow quarterback Brandon Connette, linebacker Kelby Brown and nose guard Jamal Bruce, the current roster is dotted with red-shirt juniors.
If all or most return for 2014, Duke again will be blessed with above-average experience and first-rate locker room leadership. But beyond that group, the Devils are getting as much production from first- and second-year players as any team in the ACC.
Five running backs are averaging more than five yards per carry and two of those – Jela Duncan (5.3 average) and Shaquille Powell (5.6) – are sophomores.
A third running back, Smithfield-Selma junior Josh Snead, is averaging a whopping 6.6 yards per carry behind an offensive line that includes red-shirt juniors Takoby Cofield (Tarboro tackle), Laken Tomlinson (guard) and Braxton Deaver (Charlotte tight end) along with red-shirt sophomore center Matt Skura.
The offense’s most explosive player, wide-out Jamison Crowder from Monroe, is a junior. Behind Crowder is an emerging receiving star in sophomore Max McCaffrey. Huge target Issac Blakeney (6-6, 235, Monroe) is another of those red-shirt juniors.
And on defense, red-shirt sophomore Jeremy Cash and red-shirt frosh DeVon Edwards are solid preseason ’14 all-star candidates, as is junior linebacker David Helton.
Two things have occurred fairly fast:
1.Cutcliffe and his staff have been able to sign enough quick, athletic players to make a collective impact even though there are few 4-star and 5-star players on the roster.
2.The staff also has made strides inside North Carolina’s borders. That’s something Duke football coaches have tried to accomplish without much success for years, particularly in the Charlotte metro area.
Cockrell, who played at Charlotte Latin High, said Duke will become more popular in that part of the state.
“We have so many guys on the team from around Charlotte that it’s created a lot more interest and momentum for recruiting,” he said. “Duke’s really visible there now compared to just three or four years ago.”
The program was down for so long that Duke acquired a reputation for losing that won’t soon be forgotten. But in a twisted kind of way, that situation might even be working in Duke’s favor.
The team has won 15 games in two seasons without being directly targeted by opponents. That won’t be the case in Kenan Stadium Saturday. The favored Tar Heels will be completely focused.
But come July and those preseason picks for 2014, will the Devils land just one vote to win the Coastal? It’ll be interesting to see.