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ACC Season Preview: Duke

By Carlos Pineda
SouthernPigskin.com
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The Blue Devils must successfully replace the production of quarterback Sean Rnfree and receiver Conner Vernon if the team hopes to make consecutive bowl appearances.

Coach: David Cutcliffe (21-40, entering 6th season; 65-69 overall)

2012 record: 6-7 (3-5, fifth in ACC Coastal Division)

Looking back: In 2012, David Cutcliffe continued his transformation of the Duke football program by leading the Blue Devils to their first bowl game since 1994, an appearance in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. He was named the ACC Coach of the Year for his efforts. Duke was in contention for the ACC Coastal Division title for most of the season before bowing out with losses to Georgia Tech and Miami to end the regular season. After jumping out to a 5-1 record, Duke became bowl eligible two weeks later with a 33-30 last-second win over rival North Carolina, snapping an eight-game losing streak in the series. 

Offensive starters returning: 7

Defensive starters returning: 5

Key losses: Conner Vernon, WR; Sean Renfree, QB; Walt Canty, S

Top returnees: Ross Cockrell, CB; Jamison Crowder, WR; Ross Martin, K

RELATED: Duke is Changing its Status Quo in Recruiting

Strengths: Replacing quarterback Sean Renfree is easier said than done, but junior quarterback Anthony Boone should fit the role fine for a Duke offense that returns Jamison Crowder at the receiver position and four starters on the offensive line. Crowder, a junior, finished the season tied with former Blue Devil Conner Vernon for receiving yards with 1,074 and eight touchdowns. Duke averaged 31.5 points per game last year and amassed 409.2 yards of total offense per game.

Weaknesses: Conner Vernon left Duke as the conference's all-time leader in career receptions (283) and career receiving yards (3,749), and last year helped lead Duke to its most successful season in 18 years. Also gone is Renfree, who set 17 school records and became the fourth Blue Devil QB to surpass 9,000 career passing yards (9,465). While the offense fueled Duke's success last year, its defense ranked near the bottom of every statistical category in the ACC and in the country. The Blue Devils allowed 36 points per game and nearly 470 yards of total offense per game in 2012.

Outlook: What Duke accomplished last year was unexpected. While the offense will have to deal with the departures of Renfree and Vernon, it's the defense that will dictate if Duke can build upon its success from last season or if it will take a step backwards into oblivion. 

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31: North Carolina Central 4 p.m.

Sept. 7: at Memphis 4:30 p.m.

Sept. 14: Georgia Tech 3:30 p.m. ESPN U

Sept. 21: Pittsburgh

Sept. 28: Troy

Oct. 12: Navy

Oct. 19: at Virginia

Oct. 26: at Virginia Tech

Nov. 9: NC State

Nov. 16: Miami

Nov. 23: at Wake Forest

Nov. 30: at North Carolina

*Bold denotes home games

Prediction: Duke will have too much to overcome next season. The Coastal Division will be much stronger with the emergence of Miami and the expected bounce backs from both Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Needing to win all four of its non-conference games and at least two in the ACC to become bowl eligible, the Blue Devils will finish 2013 with a 5-7 record.

Previous ACC Season Previews

Boston College

Clemson

Carlos Pineda - Carlos Pineda is a featured writer for Southern Pigskin. He covered the UCF Knights football team for Florida Today in 2010. Carlos' work has been published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal. He attended the University of Central Florida. Follow Carlos on Twitter @CarlosFPineda.