Belk Bowl Preview: Duke Blue Devils vs. Cincinnati Bearcats

Can Duke's High-Powered Offense Lead Them Past Cincinnati's Aggressive D-Line?

Can Duke’s High-Powered Offense Lead Them Past Cincinnati’s Aggressive D-Line?

Duke’s back in the postseason for the first time since 1994. Cincinnati, after tying for yet another Big East title, feels a bit burned after the ACC‘s realignment decision to take Louisville over the Bearcats. Will they take out their anger on the reeling Blue Devils?

Bowl Game: Belk Bowl

Location: Charlotte, N.C.

First Year: 2002 (Continental Tire Bowl)

2012 Participants: Duke Blue Devils (6-6) vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3)

Last Meeting: Never


Duke (previous bowl game: 34-20 loss to Wisconsin in 1995 Hall of Fame Bowl)

Through eight games, the Blue Devils were the darlings of college football. At 6-2, they clinched their first bowl trip in 18 years all the way back in October. And yet, we’re looking at Duke much in the same way we normally do now, after four straight rough contests knock them down to 6-6. Simply put, Duke has one thing going for them: a prolific passing offense. Racking up over 277 yards per game, it’s hard to find a more impressive unit than this one, led by veterans Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon. Unfortunately, the defense has done little to stop other teams from putting up similar numbers in their own passing games. Ranked 97th in the country in passing yards per game, the Blue Devils have struggled mightily stopping big gains through the air (hammered home by the 25 passing touchdowns put up against them). When you make former Stanford starter Josh Nunes look like a Heisman contender, those numbers shouldn’t surprise you.

Continue reading

ACC Football 2012 Power Rankings: Week 14

Tajh Boyd and the Clemson Offense Were No Match for South Carolina, as the Gamecocks Embarrassed the Tigers Once Again

With the regular season officially over, we check back in with the ACC’s teams to assess the damage of 2012. The good: two teams won ten games during the regular season, just one team won less than four games, and 10 teams (could be 11 if Pitt wins this weekend) won at least six games. The bad: No team won more than 10 games, two of the league’s top five teams are ineligible, and eight teams (out of 14) won between five and seven games. Oh, and Maryland decided to leave. Which is bad.

1. Florida State Seminoles (10-2) (7-1) (LW: 1): Favored against archrival Florida, the Seminoles had a very manageable game at home and seemed poised for their first 11-win regular season in years. But then they struggled out the gate, and closed just as poorly en route to a 37-26 defeat. As a team, FSU looked outmatched everywhere but the defensive line, and quarterback EJ Manuel‘s four turnovers were the stuff of a worst-case nightmare. They’ll be favored again in the ACC Championship Game, and under no circumstances can the conference really afford for them to lose.

2. Clemson Tigers (10-2) (7-1) (LW: 2): Clemson’s BCS dreams are all but dead after they came up very short against South Carolina and its vaunted defensive front. The Tigers impressive offense was shut down in a way no one had really figured out up until Saturday, and the result exposed a team that can’t run the ball with consistency, nor can they manage to stop anyone on defense either. If Clemson hopes to take the next step and become a truly elite program under coach Dabo Swinney, they need to take full advantage of opportunities against top-tier competition. They had just three games against teams with winning records all season, and went 1-2 in those contests, while being outscored 124-116.

3. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (7-5) (5-3) (LW: 5): It’s unfortunate for the conference to see Miami sit out another postseason, but if the alternative is seeing an even better, more experienced version of this group next year, it may be the best option for everyone. In line to play in its first ACC title game, we miss out on a ‘Canes/’Noles matchup this year in exchange for what’s hopefully many more to come. Anyone who watched Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson in action this season knows there are good times ahead, so long as the defense starts to clean up its act.

4. North Carolina Tar Heels (8-4) (5-3) (LW: 4): As the year’s wore on, we’ve caught glimpses of what this Heels offense could truly become under Larry Fedora and his spread attack. But on Saturday, quarterback Bryn Renner really delivered on that potential by putting up over 300 yards and five touchdowns. The junior’s obviously taken a bit more time to adapt to the new system than initially expected, but all in all, you still can’t argue with 3,356 yards and 28 scores. Expect even better production next year, as Fedora really turns him loose.

Continue reading

ACC Football 2012 Midseason Recap: Coastal Division

After a Big Comeback Win This Weekend, Has Virginia Tech Righted the Ship?

At the midway point in the 2012 season, little is decided in the ACC. Neither division has a clear frontrunner, no team is assured a trip to the postseason and no team has clinched a bowl spot either. Nonetheless, it’s been an entertaining season within the conference — something we’ll try to highlight here. Along with evaluations for each team, we’ll be providing brief predictions for the second half as well.

Below is the Coastal division midseason evaluation. Also be sure to check out the Atlantic division recap too, which appeared earlier.

Duke Blue Devils (5-2) (2-1): The Blue Devils have been one of the nation’s biggest and best surprise stories thus far, getting themselves within one victory of their first bowl appearance since 1994. Though they’ve had a strong passing game in past seasons behind Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon, what’s set this group apart is that its paired with a staunch defense. Or at least it was, up until this past weekend. For as much as everyone has happily jumped aboard the Duke bandwagon, we all seemed to sweep their poor strength of schedule under the rug. It’s come back to bite them against both Stanford and Virginia Tech, which leads us to the more difficult second half of the season. With no sure wins left on the slate, they’ll have to catch lightning in a bottle just one more time to get themselves to the six-victory plateau. If they fail to, this will be biggest failure of all, in Duke’s two decades of ineptitude.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-4) (1-3): We transition from the shock of Duke’s success, to the surprise of Georgia Tech’s failure. With 2012 championed as “the year” this particular group of Yellow Jackets turned the corner and took the Coastal division as their own, it’s been nothing short of dumbfounding to see them fall so flat. And we can’t even sit here and blame Paul Johnson’s triple-option (though make no mistake, it’s a factor here too) for their futility. Rather, it’s been all about the defense, which has allowed over 30 points per game (about 36 per, if you only count FBS opponents). Since he’s fired Al Groh, Johnson’s remaining excuse is gone, however. If they fail to deliver against a manageable final six games, we could see the end of an era at Tech.

Continue reading

ACC Football 2012 Power Rankings: Week Six

After a Wild Weekend of ACC Football, Miami Vaults Up Our Power Rankings

Week five was a rough one for the ACC, as several squads were upset in non-conference matchups. So while the league’s reputation may have taken a hit, no harm was done at all to Florida State, who continues to make a serious push for a national championship. Below them (and Clemson), however, we have quite a bit of sorting out to do…

1. Florida State Seminoles (5-0) (LW: 1): The ‘Noles offense didn’t necessarily look amazing against USF on Saturday, but they didn’t have to. After letting up a ton of points against Clemson, the defense got back to business, and completely shut down the Bulls at every turn, letting up just 268 yards and 17 points. Not lost in the effort either was another strong — yet unsung — effort by the running game, which is ranked as the eighth-best ground attack in the FBS.

2. Clemson Tigers (4-1) (LW: 2): Considering they’ve been without Sammy Watkins for three of their five games now, it’s impressive that the Clemson offense has still been able to put up such big numbers. Having a stacked arsenal of targets will do that for a team. Without Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins has stepped up in a big way, and is now considered among the best wideouts in college football, based on his 42 catches and six scores. I’m still not convinced we’ve seen both receivers at 100-percent for a full game yet, either; a horrifying thought for opposing defenses.

3. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (4-1) (LW: 5): This Miami squad is sporting a bevy of playmakers, the likes of which it hasn’t seen since its late 90s, early 00s heydays. We already knew the types of performances we could expect from running backs Mike James and Duke Johnson. But the show that Stephen Morris put on against an NC State pass defense that was one of the nation’s best in 2011? Literally unprecedented for any ACC or Miami quarterback. Win or lose, the ‘Canes have become a must-watch team every week.

4. Virginia Tech Hokies (3-2) (LW: 3): This fourth spot is where the big questions begin. We knew that Virginia Tech’s offense would struggle — and they have, mightily — but I doubt anyone believed the defense would also experience its own issues. As stated time and time again, Logan Thomas can’t do it by himself. Now that he’s been forced to, you see the glaring errors in his game, hurting both his team’s chances and his draft stock.

Continue reading

ACC Football 2012 Previews & Predictions: Week 3 (Part Two)

Andre Ellington and Clemson Will Be Using This Weekend’s Matchup Against Furman As a Warm-up for Florida State

This is Part Two of this week’s Previews & Predictions feature. Also check out Part One.

Furman Paladins (0-2) at Clemson Tigers (2-0): Clemson should be happy that their pass defense is improved, because the Paladins know how to throw the ball. Last year, a mild scare against fellow FCS school, Wofford, seemed to wake the Tigers up a bit. This season, they’ve got to use it as a tune-up for a presumed College Gameday matchup with Florida State a week later. Along with fitting Sammy Watkins back into the gameplan on Saturday, Clemson will likely be handing plenty of carries to Andre Ellington as well. One big concern they won’t get to work on, unfortunately, is run defense, since it’s likely Furman is throwing the ball for most of the game. Prediction: Clemson 63, Furman 18

Boston College Eagles (1-1) (0-1) at Northwestern Wildcats (2-0): Even if the Wildcats’ win over Syracuse a couple weeks back was luck, it’s hard to discount their effort in a win against a tough Vanderbilt team many thought was on a steep upswing. Boston College gets some help from NU’s less-than-stellar pass defense, which could surrender another huge day to Chase Rettig. The key for the Eagles will be running the ball effectively, however. SU was unable to do so, and it was their undoing against the Wildcats. Prediction: Northwestern 35, Boston College 27

North Carolina Tar Heels (1-1) (0-1) at Louisville Cardinals (2-0):UNC quarterback Bryn Renner took a beating versus Wake Forest last week, so it’ll be interesting to see how he’s spared the same fate against an aggressive Louisville blitz. One obvious solution is running the ball more, though that depends entirely on Giovani Bernard‘s availability. If they can remain balanced on offense, and actually play some semblance of pass defense, the Heels could score an upset. Prediction: Louisville 30, UNC 26

Continue reading

Stanford 50, Duke 13: Blue Devils Crushed By Cardinal Passing Attack, Defense

Duke’s Offense Stood on the Sidelines for Most of Saturday Night’s Game Against Stanford — Both Literally and Figuratively

Sitting just five rows back from the Duke bench, there was a buzz about the team and a sense of hope on the sidelines. After last week’s big victory over Florida International, it appeared that David Cutcliffe’s program had finally turned the corner. But just one minute and seven seconds after kickoff, it was blatantly obvious nothing had changed for the Blue Devils.

Saying Stanford dominated this game would be an understatement. The early punt-return touchdown was a deflating blow for Duke, one that would set the tone for the rout. Quarterback Sean Renfree, who had an average game according to the box score (28/40, 200 yards), was the focal point of a listless offensive attack based solely on swing passes, and was also responsible for two of the team’s four turnovers. The running game was virtually non-existent, notching just 27 yards on the night — mostly attributable to playing from behind for 59 of the game’s 60 minutes. Most of all, the defense was simply out-manned. Just one week removed from a frustrating debut against San Jose State, Cardinal QB Josh Nunes completed long bombs at will, and finished up with 275 yards passing and three TDs. Duke failed to ever get significant pressure on the Stanford passer, and their receivers were regularly three or four steps ahead of the Blue Devil defenders. The only saving grace for Duke was its red zone defense, which managed to force four field goals in the first half and keep the deficit to “just” 20 points in the first half.

Continue reading

Has David Cutcliffe Finally Turned Duke Football Around?

Duke Cruised to a Victory Over FIU Last Week; Can They Do the Same On the Road Against Stanford This Saturday?

If you consult Saturday’s 46-26 drubbing of Florida International, then, yes. Worried about a quick and aggressive defense on the FIU side, pundits seemed to believe Duke was bound to struggle. Instead, a huge second quarter virtually put the game away before halftime, and the Blue Devils coasted to a big victory in their opener. So while they’re not out of the woods yet, one of the team’s more impressive showings in a decade all traces back to their coach’s emphasis on culture change:

“Guys that have invested a lot in our program,” Cutcliffe told the Durham Herald-Sun afterward. “From the beginning of their careers, they have truly bought into our way of doing things. The demands that we have. The discipline on and off the field. They’ve done a great job of indoctrinating those aspects into our team.”

But now, if they’ve truly turned it around, they’ll need to refocus quickly on their next opponent. The Stanford Cardinal, who went 11-2 last season, will be awaiting Duke over in Palo Alto, Calif. However, they’re not the same team that beat the Blue Devils 44-14 last season, either. With first-overall pick Andrew Luck gone, the Cardinal figured they’d have to regroup a bit. After last week’s meek 20-17 effort over San Jose State, suddenly there’s some cause for alarm. Could Duke score a huge non-conference victory over a top-25 team this weekend?

Continue reading