ACC

College Football: Duke Blue Devils 2010 Team Preview

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Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference): 5-7, 3-5
Bowl Game: None
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): NR, NR
Conference finish: 5th ACC Coastal
Offensive rank: 69
Defensive rank: 61

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Desmond Scott, 262 yards, 1 TD; Jay Hollingsworth, 179 yards, 0 TD
Passing: Thaddeus Lewis, 3,330 yards, 20 TD, 8 INT
Receiving: Donovan Varner, 1,047 yards, 8 TD
Tackles: Vincent Rey, 98 total tackles
Sacks: Ayanga Okpokowuruk, 6 sacks (5 solo, 2 assisted)
Interceptions: Leon Wright, 5 interceptions (2 touchdowns)

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2010 Season Outlook

Schedule
(* denotes conference game)

Key Matchups

September 4 vs. Elon: Yeah, this should be a gimme, but the Blue Devils have dropped these games before. Remember last season? Duke lost to Richmond in their opening game, and while they needed seven wins to reach bowl eligibility because they played two FCS schools, the opening week loss didn't help their case.

September 18 vs. Alabama: This will be a huge home game for the Blue Devils. Previously, the most prominent non-conference opponent to visit Durham in the past ten years was Navy, who visits every couple of seasons. After that…the 2007 Connecticut Huskies maybe? The 2008 Northwestern Wildcats? The Blue Devils won't walk away from this one with a victory (although stranger things have happened, I know), but playing top tier programs is how you build your own program, even if it means taking a few bumps and bruises along the way.

November 6 vs. Virginia: Duke expects to build upon their five win season with a bowl eligible one in 2010. Hopefully for Blue Devils fans, this one won't decide who's stuck in the Coastal Division basement. Anyhow, Duke needs to win these games against the lower tiers of the conference if they want to make their way back to the bowl season for the first time since their 1994 Hall of Fame Bowl loss to Wisconsin.

November 27 vs. North Carolina: Basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, swimming …it doesn't matter. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels never like to lose to their in-state rivals. North Carolina fields one of the nation's better defenses this season, but anything can happen in a college football rivalry game.

Preseason Rankings (will not officially be released until August)

AP: N/A

Coaches': N/A

Key Losses

Thaddeus Lewis, QB; Ayanga Okpokowuruk, DE; Vince Oghobaase, DT; Vincent Rey, LB; Leon Wright, CB; Catron Gainey, S

Key Returning Players

Desmond Scott, RB; Donovan Varner; WR, Conner Vernon WR; Austin Kelly, WR; Kyle Hill, T; Bryan Morgan, C; Patrick Egboh, DE; Kevin Jones, P; Will Snyderwine, K

Offensive Overview

The Blue Devils lost a key part of their offense with Thaddeus Lewis now gone. Lewis was a four year starter and will look to ply his trade with the St. Louis Rams of the NFL. Sean Renfree is expected to take over this fall, but has been recuperating after suffering a torn ACL in mid-November. He was a non-contact participant in spring practice, but coaches are nonetheless confident with Renfree under center.

Center Bryan Morgan leads the offensive line that returns four starters. Morgan and the O-line will try to cut down on the number of sacks allowed (2.33/game in 2009) and will look to clear paths for a running game that has to be eager to eclipse their production last season. Duke averaged less than 65 yards rushing a game and was dead last in the nation (120th) in that category with 79 fewer rushing yards than 119th most productive rushing team.

Running back Desmond Scott was the starter last season and returns for his sophomore season. He led the team with 262 yards as a freshman last season. Josh Snead enrolled early this winter and was impressive in spring practice. He proved to be an explosive back who could really help the running game break off a 30+ yard rush this season—something they failed to do in 2009.

The wide receiver position is very deep. The Blue Devils return their six leading receivers from a season ago, and will even move fourth leading receiver Johnny Williams to cornerback. Donovan Varner led all players with 1,047 yards and eight touchdowns, with Conner Vernon and Austin Kelly also key contributors. Tight ends Brett Huffman and Brandon King combined for 27 receptions and four scores last season, and each return for their senior seasons.

Defensive Overview

Whereas the offense loses just two starters, the defense must replace five starters from last season's squad. Most notable among those lost to graduation is defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase, who was named a third team All-American by the Sporting News last season. Defensive end Ayanga Okpokowuruk must also be replaced after recording 6.5 sacks and 40 tackles last season. Patrick Egboh, a starter last year, and Wesley Oglesby, who has started two games, will be playing from the end positions, while Charlie Hatcher, who played in every game last season, will lead the way in the middle coming off of a 39 tackle, one sack season in 2009. Kenny Anunike moves from tight end to the defensive line.

The Blue Devils also lose last year's leading tackler Vincent Rey. Rey recorded 98 tackles last season, picked off two passes and even returned a fumble for a touchdown. Damian Thornton returns, however, and will lead the linebackers corps. Thornton finished with 60 tackles last season. Abraham Kromah also returns to the starting lineup. Meanwhile, the secondary will replace Leon Wright and Catron Gainey. Lee Butler and Matt Daniels both have starting experience, and form a very capable safety duo. Chris Rwabukamba returns after recording seven passes defended last season and will get the start at one of the cornerback positions.

Special Teams Overview

Duke returns both specialists in kicker Will Snyderwine (has to be one of the better names in college football) and punter Kevin Jones. Synderwine hit all 24 of his PAT attempts and was 17 for 20 in field goals attempts, including field goals of 47, 49 and 51 yards. Synderwine was a second team All-ACC selection in 2009. Jones averaged 39.3 yards per punt a season ago and will once again handle punting duties for the Blue Devils.

Head Coach: David Cutcliffe

David Cutcliffe enters his third season as head coach of the Blue Devils. He was previously the head coach at Ole Miss for six full seasons, and served as interim head coach for the team in the 1998 Independence Bowl. Upon his departure from Ole Miss after the 2004 season, Cutcliffe found himself as an assistant coach first at Notre Dame for a season, and then at Tennessee for two as the offensive coordinator before arriving in Durham in 2008.

He has seen steady improvement since taking over at Duke, leading the Blue Devils from a 1-11 season in 2007 before he arrived, to a 4-8 record in his first season as head coach and then to a 5-7 season in 2009. There's been a good deal of speculation as to whether Cutcliffe will become a popular name in the 'silly season' of coaching change rumors, especially if he leads Duke to further improvements and returns the Blue Devils to the bowl season.

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Kevin Jones, P

Season Prediction

5th ACC Coastal

Last season, Duke's five wins were the most since their eight-win 1994 season that took them to a bowl game. This season, some are predicting further improvement, while others think a bit of a back-slide is in order. Quarterback Sean Renfree, replacing four year starter Thaddeus Lewis, isn't the only one who will be feeling the pressure in 2010. To make it to the bowl season, Duke must move the ball more effectively on the ground and the defense needs to stiffen up.

The Blue Devils let up an average of 35.6 points in their seven losses, and held their opponents to an average of 18.2 points in their five wins. Keeping teams out of the end zone will be important and breaking 100 yards rushing once in a while wouldn't hurt. Duke rushed for more than 100 yards just once last season when they put up 233 of their 762 rushing yards against North Carolina Central. Take away that game and the Blue Devils averaged less than 50 yards rushing a game.

Taking a look at their schedule, Duke must win their games against the ACC's softer opponents (i.e. Wake Forest, Maryland and Virginia), and must not let up another opening week loss to an FCS school (they get Elon on September 4) if they want a shot at a bowl game. That would bring them to four wins. They also need to grab the win over Army and pull off a surprise win against a team to whom they're supposed to lose (i.e. Alabama, Miami, Virginia Tech, Navy, Boston College, Georgia Tech and North Carolina). They can do it, but it's far from a certainty.- Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

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