ACC 2012 Season Preview: Duke Blue Devils

Duke QB Sean Renfree is a Huge Part of the Team’s Success in 2012, So Long As Coaches Give Him the Proper Chance to Lead

Team: Duke Blue Devils

2011 W-L: 3-9 (1-7)

Head Coach: David Cutcliffe (15-33; four seasons)

Returning Starters: 13 (7 Offense, 6 Defense)

Another year of “we’re almost there” from Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, and yet another year without a bowl game. Lack of postseason games aside, however, it’s hard to argue Cutcliffe hasn’t at least improved the Blue Devils back to a respectable program. They no longer go 0-12 and 1-11, Duke now manages to win conference games. Beyond a blowout here and there, the team actually found itself with a chance to win the large majority of games in 2011, and could have easily lucked into a 5-7 record instead of the 3-9 they finished with instead. So how much rope does Cutcliffe get? His job appears safe, but when does the standard for success at Duke begin to change? As his recruiting classes begin to creep up into the top 60 or so, we at least start to find the answer for this year and beyond.

Returning eight starters from last year’s group, Duke’s offense promises to once again be effective. But it needs some sort of running game in order to truly take that next step. While the team was 28th in passing yardage in all of FBS, they were 115th in yards on the ground. They were also woeful in the redzone, converting just 72 percent of the time, from inside in the 20-yard line. This is where QB Sean Renfree can begin to provide more leadership most of all — punching the ball into the endzone. Despite a promised rotation with fellow QBs Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone, Renfree ultimately controls how much his counterparts are used and needed. Should be settle into a groove and show he’s effective at delivering the ball to Conner Vernon in the endzone, Perhaps he ends up giving both Boone and Connette a little more time on the bench this season.
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ACC Football 2012 Payback Games: Duke Blue Devils

Duke’s Matt Daniels Was a Big Part of their Close Loss to Virginia Tech in 2011. Will They Be Able to Reverse Their Fortunes in the Rematch Without Him?

Every team in the ACC has a couple games they wish they had back from 2011. Whether they didn’t bring their A-game, or the other guys just got lucky, every school would love another shot at an opponent, for the ability to prove it won’t happen again. Luckily, because of conference play and parity in the ACC, many will get a chance at redemption immediately, with rematches already on the books for 2012.

As part of our 2012 college football season preview, we’ll be running through the biggest “payback” games for each school. As no team finished with just one loss, there are likely multiple choices for each — none more “right’ than another, necessarily. Still, every selection should help provide some extra motivation for fans as they gear up for this season’s slate of games.

Team: Duke Blue Devils

Opponent: Virginia Tech

Last Year: Loss, 14-10 vs. Virginia Tech

This Year: October 13, at Virginia Tech

Duke really thought they’d finally broken through. In a year when they were supposed to finally make that first bowl game since 1994, things appeared less bleak than normal. At 3-4, hosting divisional nemesis Virginia Tech — maybe the impossible could happen. Maybe, they could have broken a then-43-game losing streak to ranked opponents. Obviously, that was not the case, and that streak hit 44 by days end. But if ever there was a moral victory for Duke, this one might have qualified. Continue reading

NFL Draft 2012: Dwight Jones, Chase Minnifield and Other ACC Players Go Undrafted

North Carolina’s Dwight Jones Will Now Be Playing for the Texans, With a Chip On His Shoulder

While 31 (33) of their ACC cohorts were selected during this weekend’s NFL Draft, the festivities still left plenty of ACC players without an NFL team to call home yet. Of course, many have since signed as free agents with squads, however, it still doesn’t eliminate the questions about why they weren’t considered among the top 253 players available.

We’ve listed out our top 10 most puzzling undrafted ACC players for 2012 below. Also included are notes on their skill set, and if they’ve landed on an NFL team since.

Most Confusing Undrafted ACC Players for 2012

1. Dwight Jones, WR/North Carolina (signed as free agent with Houston Texans): Considered a top wideout prospect by most, it’s honestly baffling how Jones’s name failed to be called by Friday — nevermind the entire draft. Quick and physical, he’s a big-play guy who should make for the perfect pairing opposite Texans’ star Andre Johnson.

2. Chase Minnifield, CB/Virginia (signed as free agent with Washington Redskins): Some injury concerns scared off teams from drafting Minnifield this weekend — a shame, considering he was projected to be a fourth- or fifth-round pick. Given the pass-happy competition the ‘Skins face in the NFC East, the cornerback’s ballhawking skills will surely come in handy. Continue reading

2012 NFL Draft Preview: Duke

Duke Safety Matt Daniels Seems Pretty Confident He’ll Be Drafted Come April

Leading up to April’s NFL Draft, we’ll be taking a look at each ACC‘s school’s prospects and where they’re slated to be chosen. While 43 ACC players were invited to the NFL Draft Combine, those not in attendance also have ample opportunity to hear their name called between April 26 and 28.

Sending out a younger group in 2011, Duke didn’t have a ton of graduating seniors — save standout safety Matt Daniels, who is the school’s only real potential draft pick.

Matt Daniels, SS, Senior

Even for a Duke defense that usually looked out-of-sorts throughout his time there, Matt Daniels was still a true star, racking up a high number of tackles and registering some big hits both before and after the catch. Last season, the Blue Devil was second in the ACC in tackles, registering 126 in just 12 games. While several games could be considered his “best” of 2011, Daniels’s talent most resonated after a two-interception, 13-tackle effort versus Virginia Tech in October. Virtually taking over the game, he had the supposedly over-matched Duke defense going blow-for-blow with the Hokies in a close 14-10 loss. At 6’1″ and 215 pounds, he’s the perfect size for the strong safety position, though his speed has been a concern Continue reading

ACC 2012 Spring Practice Expectations: Duke Blue Devils

Duke CB Ross Cockrell Will Be An Integral Part of Improving the Team's Dreadful Defense This Spring

As spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing what needs to happen for the teams and players of the ACC, culminating with notes on all 14 spring games.

Today’s featured team: Duke Blue Devils

Just taking a look at Duke’s scoring from 2011, they were bad. At just 22.5 points per game, they were ranked 93rd in all of FBS. But then you dive in a bit further, and there’s actually some pretty revealing information on a very capable offense. The Blue Devils were 28th in overall passing yards, and behind QB Sean Renfree, had the second-best passing offense in the ACC at 272.2 yards per game. For a team that went just 3-9, they scored at least 10 points in every game, even when faced with one of the country’s top 50 defenses on seven different occasions. Their biggest weakness, however, was running the ball; something that must be addressed in a big way if they hope to be competitive in 2012. Last season, Duke was 115th nationally in rushing yards per game, and leading back Juwan Thompson had just 457 yards on the year. If Thompson and the run game don’t show quick improvement this March, head coach David Cutcliffe could be employing a committee backfield, at least for season’s early goings. Backup Desmond Scott was effective when he played last season (5.1 yards per carry on 72 touches), and incoming freshmen Jela Duncan and Shaquille Powell may also challenge for playing time. If I’m Cutcliffe, the ball’s going to whoever can find the enxzone, regardless of seniority. Continue reading

2011 ACC Season Recap: Duke Blue Devils

Sean Renfree Needs Even More Improvement If Duke Hopes to Leave the ACC Cellar

Team: Duke Blue Devils

W-L: 3-9 (1-7)

Postseason: N/A

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. Continue reading

ACC’s Top 25 Players of 2011: No. 16, Matt Daniels

Duke's Matt Daniels is Number 16 On Our Countdown of the ACC's Top 25 Players

To recap the 2011 season of ACC football, we’ll be ranking the top 25 players in the conference this year, starting at 25, and heading all the way to the number-one slot. While these rankings can surely be debated, it’s still entertaining to assemble them. And on we go…

No. 16: Matt Daniels, SS/Duke

Given the general futility of Duke’s defensive line, Matt Daniels had plenty of opportunities to make key stops throughout the season. Still, the senior safety excelled, recording 30 more tackles than he had during his junior campaign. Finishing second in the conference in stops, with 126 total, Daniels averaged an incredible 10.5 per game — an incredibly high number for someone playing the deep secondary position. On top of his tackling prowess, Daniels also picked off two passes (both in Duke’s close loss to Virginia Tech), and defended 14 passes throughout the season. Even after earning first-team All-ACC honors, most NFL Draft projections have him going in rounds six or seven. However, given his impressive senior season, there’s a possibility he goes earlier, especially with the league dying for secondary help across the board. Continue reading