Team: Duke Blue Devils
W-L: 3-9 (1-7)
Top Offensive Performer: Sean Renfree, QB
Top Defensive Performer: Matt Daniels, SS
For the first time in 15 years, Duke opened their football season with the potential promise of a postseason bowl berth. Quarterback Sean Renfree was continuing to develop and head coach David Cutcliffe seemingly had the squad believing it had turned the corner. While this may have been true from a morale standpoint, the on-field results still could not deliver. Of course, the Blue Devils were competitive in most games — something unseen around Durham for quite some time — but with just three wins (and a loss to FCS school Richmond), there must be some doubt about whether Cutcliffe (15-33 in four seasons) can truly get it done.
In the passing attack, Duke made great strides, finishing among the top 30 teams in the country throwing the ball, at over 272 yards per game. What would kill them, though, was their lack of a running game. Averaging about 94 yards per contest, only five teams were worse than Duke in that department. It showed when they got to the red zone, scoring just 26 touchdowns on 47 chances. Combined with Renfree’s nearly one-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio (13:11) and there’s still plenty of growth left to do on that side of the ball for 2012.
As for defense, Duke was ranked 90th in FBS overall in points allowed per game, at 31.2. While standout safety Matt Daniels recorded 10.5 tackles per game — a phenomenal amount, for sure — the jury’s still out how many of those opportunities were created by holes in the defense, as opposed to Daniels’ pure skill. Six teams put up at least 30 on Duke, and three of those registered 40 or more. As a squad, the Blue Devils ranked either last or second-to-last in virtually every major defensive statistic, and beyond one standout game against Virginia Tech in late October, rarely appeared to improve.
In 2012, Duke will be met with an ever-improving schedule of ACC foes, along with the departure of their best defender from an already porous unit. The offense, while hoping for more improvement from Renfree in his senior season, will also be counting on receiver Conner Vernon and their non-existent rushing attack to come up in a big way. If they can do it, Duke could flirt with the postseason for the first time since 1994. Otherwise, it may be Cutcliffe’s final bow as Blue Devils head coach.