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TODAY at No. 38: DUKE Coach: David Cutcliffe (40-48, entering 8th season; 84-77 overall) 2014 record: 9-4, 5-3 in Atlantic Coast Conference; tied for...

colorado st pickTODAY at No. 38: DUKE

Coach: David Cutcliffe (40-48, entering 8th season; 84-77 overall)

2014 record: 9-4, 5-3 in Atlantic Coast Conference; tied for fifth in Coastal Division

Look back: Duke proved it was no fluke in 2014 by building on an impressive 2013 campaign that saw the Blue Devils win the Coastal Division. This past season wasn’t quite as magical, but it was a vitally important one as coach David Cutcliffe continues to establish a winning culture at a program that was a consistent bottom-dweller not too long ago. Duke won eight of its first nine games last season and was ranked in the Top 25 for four consecutive weeks until a late two-game skid against Virginia Tech and rival North Carolina dropped the Blue Devils from the polls and out of contention for another divisional crown. It was a disappointing end to the year, but having high expectations shows just how far Duke has come.

Offensive starters returning: 6

Offensive starters lost: 5

Defensive starters returning: 6

Defensive starters lost: 5

Key losses: OL Laken Tomlinson, WR Jamison Crowder, QB Anthony Boone, LB David Helton, LB C.J. France, RB Josh Snead, OL Takoby Cofield, WR Issac Blakeney, PK Jack Willoughby, DL Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, DL Jamal Bruce

Top returnees: DB Jeremy Cash, DB DeVon Edwards, OL Matt Skura, TE Braxton Deaver, OL Casey Blaser, OL Lucas Patrick, K Ross Martin, P Will Monday, RB Shaquille Powell, RB Shaun Wilson, DB Deondre Singleton

Strengths: Duke’s secondary, led by safeties Jeremy Cash and DeVon Edwards, stacks up as one of the best units in the ACC. Combined, Cash and Edwards had 244 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 10 sacks last season. Thumper Deondre Singleton (70 tackles in ’14) will likely be Duke’s third safety, and the Blue Devils will lean on cornerbacks Breon Borders and Bryon Fields to round out a defensive backfield that ranked in the top 40 nationally in opposing passer rating, yards per passing attempt allowed and opponent completion percentage.

Offensively, Duke’s identity will likely be that of ground-and-pound, something that hasn’t always been the case under Cutcliffe, although the offensive-minded coach has shown the ability to adapt throughout his career. The Blue Devils return three sound starting linemen, including center Matt Skura, but must find a suitable replacement for guard and first-round pick Laken Tomlinson. Behind the seasoned line is a formidable running-back duo in Shaquille Powell and Shaun Wilson (combined for 1,216 rushing yards last year).

Weaknesses: Quarterback is a major unknown for Duke now that two-year starter Anthony Boone is gone. Boone wasn’t necessarily a star, but his strengths and weaknesses were clearly defined, and he will be missed. Thomas Sirk, who has just 14 career passing attempts, is expected to replace Boone.

The loss of linebacker Kelby Brown, whose fourth ACL tear finally ended his career at Duke, was devastating. The Blue Devils were already thin at the position before the injury to the all-conference linebacker.

Outlook: Duke should vie for its fourth bowl appearance in as many years, although the Blue Devils are looking for another division title as well. That’s a possibility if Sirk can adequately fill in for Boone and the defensive front can rebound from Brown’s injury.

2015 SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 at Tulane

Sept. 12 NC Central

Sept. 19 Northwestern

Sept. 26 Georgia Tech

Oct. 3 Boston College

Oct. 10 at Army

Oct. 24 at Virginia Tech

Oct. 31 Miami

Nov. 7 at North Carolina

Nov. 14 Pitt

Nov. 21 at Virginia

Nov. 28 at Wake Forest

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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