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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Likes and Dislikes

Five and Five: Duke

What are five things I like about Duke in 2010? What about five things I don’t? This list has all the answers.


1. The ascension of Sean Renfree to the starting role at quarterback… I hope. He tore his A.C.L. midway through last season, limiting him during the spring. Renfree should be 100 percent come September, however. It’s vital that he’s fully healthy.

2. Duke has weapons at wide receiver, beginning with junior Donovan Varner. He’ll be joined in the starting lineup by sophomore Connor Vernon, one of the top freshman receivers in the country last fall, and senior Austin Kelly.

3. One year after being a question mark, the Duke offensive line ranks among the more veteran groups in the conference. Four starters return, led by senior center Bryan Morgan.

4. While the schedule is difficult, as I’ll touch on below, Duke could open the season with four wins in its first five games. The Blue Devils sandwich a home date against Alabama with games against Elon, Wake Forest, Army and Maryland.

5. David Cutcliffe. If he leads Duke to bowl play — as I suspect he will in 2010 — Cutcliffe might finally begin to earn some of the national publicity he so justly deserves.


1. Last season’s paltry ground game. Duke could improve in this regard in 2010, as it returns four starters up front and all three of last year’s lead running backs. However, it will take a newfound commitment to the run from the coaching staff for the Blue Devils to balance out this offense.

2. Question marks on the defensive line. Gone are Vince Oghobaase and end Ayanga Okpokowuruk, each past all-conference selections. It helps to return a talent like Charlie Hatcher, but the Blue Devils will need to land contributions from some unproven performers.

3. A lack of play makers on the defense. It’s not just Oghobaase and Okpokowuruk that Duke must replace; it’s also linebacker Vincent Rey and defensive backs Catron Gainey and Leon Wright. As for the secondary, perhaps junior Johnny Williams, a former wide receiver, has the athleticism to excel on the defensive side of the ball.

4. I think Duke will miss defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre, the newly-hired head coach at San Jose State. The defense had made significant strides under MacIntyre, and will need to regroup under a new voice — former Cornell head man Jim Knowles — while breaking in a handful of new starters.

5. As a whole, the schedule presents few opportunities after Oct. 2 for Duke to rise for air. In addition to home games against Miami (Fla.), Boston College and North Carolina, Duke travels to Virginia Tech, Navy and Georgia Tech.

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