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2010 Duke Preview
Duke WR Donovan Varner
Duke WR Donovan Varner
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 3, 2010


CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Duke Blue Devils


Duke Blue Devils

Preview 2010
 

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: David Cutcliffe
3rd year: 9-15
Returning Lettermen
Off. 19, Def. 17, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 15
Ten Best Duke Players
1. WR Donovan Varner, Jr.
2. WR Conner Vernon, Soph.
3. S Matt Daniels, Jr.
4. WR Austin Kelly, Sr.
5. PK Will Snyderwine, Jr.
6. C Bryan Morgan, Sr.
7. LB Damian Thornton, Sr.
8. NG Charlie Hatcher, Jr.
9. TE Brett Huffman, Sr.
10. OT Kyle Hill, Jr.
2010 Schedule

Sept. 4 Elon
Sept. 11 at Wake Forest
Sept. 18 Alabama
Sept. 25 Army
Oct. 2 at Maryland
Oct. 9 OPEN DATE
Oct. 16 Miami
Oct. 23 at Virginia Tech
Oct. 30 at Navy
Nov. 6 Virginia
Nov. 13 Boston College
Nov. 20 at Georgia Tech
Nov. 27 North Carolina

David Cutcliffe has decided to stay at Duke. Everything else can be worked out.

The coach and architect of a mini-turnaround in Durham had an opportunity to head back to Knoxville after Lane Kiffin took the USC job. Tempting, for sure, but Cutcliffe knew he had unfinished business with the Blue Devils, opting instead to affirm his commitment to the University. For a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 1994, it was a sigh of relief. And the holdovers, many of whom were recruited by the coach, would like to pay him back with continued progress on the field.

Cutcliffe has been an unequivocal difference-maker in ways that extend beyond just the record. Sure, Duke’s nine wins in his two seasons are one more than the program had in the five prior years combined, but it doesn’t stop there. No, the Blue Devils are better-conditioned, more competitive, and fundamentally sounder than at any point since Steve Spurrier was on the sidelines. Yeah, it matters that he’s sticking around.

The challenge for Duke is to remain on the tracks and keep the momentum going without a few key parts at the center of the uptick. The Blue Devils won four games in 2008 and five in 2009, but can they climb another rung and win the six needed for bowl eligibility? Doing so will require filling the void at quarterback left by two-time All-ACC selection Thaddeus Lewis. Of course, developing a reliable hurler out of a sophomore, redshirt freshman, and true freshman brings us right back to Coach Cut. One of the best quarterback gurus in the game, he’ll have to be extra special in 2010 with a trio that’s talented, but has zero starts between them.

Through hard work and better recruiting, the foundation continues to harden in Durham. The next step is to add another floor and make that long-awaited return to the postseason.

What to watch for on offense: The quarterback battle. This is clearly going to be the make-or-break territory for the offense, if not the entire team. Sophomore Sean Renfree appears to be the guy, but he missed the spring recovering from a knee injury, clearing the way for redshirt freshman Sean Schroeder and true freshman Brandon Connette to get more reps. This position is especially critical for a team that has one of the nation’s worst running games and a talented corps of receivers that needs to be fully utilized.

What to watch for on defense: The development of a pass rush. Duke must get more pressure on the quarterback, or else the defensive backfield will again be fair game for opposing quarterbacks. New coordinator Marion Hobby will blitz if it becomes necessary, but he’d prefer to keep his linebackers and safeties back as much as possible. Instead, the hope is that veteran defensive ends Patrick Egboh and Wesley Oglesby have the kinds of senior years that are commensurate with their stature and physical ability.

The team will be far better if… the offensive line begins to gel. Now more than ever, the Blue Devils need their young and talented offensive line to turn the corner. Headed by C Bryan Morgan and LT Kyle Hill, four starters and seven letterwinners return, so there’s a base to build upon. With a green starting quarterback, this unit has to protect the pocket and open more holes for Desmond Scott and Josh Snead, a couple of young backs, with the skill set to be genuine playmakers on the ground.

The Schedule: For almost anyone else this would be a manageable slate, but the Blue Devils can't take anyone for granted. After starting out with a layup against Elon the Blue Devils have to dive into ACC play on the road at Wake Forest before dealing with Alabama. There's a stretch of three road games in four in October going on the road to face Maryland, Virginia Tech and Navy, while the home came isn't a peach facing Miami. There will have to be a few big upsets to get to six wins and a bowl, and those might have to come in November with Virginia, Boston College, and North Carolina at home wrapped around a date at Georgia Tech.

Best offensive player: Junior WR Donovan Varner. Duke’s only All-ACC first team pick from 2009, he erupted as a sophomore, catching a team-high 65 passes for 1,047 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s one of those slot receivers, who plays much bigger than his 5-9, 170-pound frame, finding the soft spot in defenses and picking up plenty of yards after the catch. An ideal short-range security blanket for an inexperienced quarterback, he’ll once again be the Blue Devils’ go-to guy in the passing game.

Best defensive player: Junior S Matt Daniels. One of the most pleasant surprises on defense from a year ago, Daniels has emerged as the enforcer of the Duke secondary. In his debut as the starter, he was third on the team with 83 tackles, breaking up six passes and packing a punch whenever a receiver entered his crosshairs. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, he has great measurables for a safety, blending the good size and great speed that’ll eventually land him on the All-ACC squad.

Key player to a successful season: The quarterback. Yeah, it’s a little redundant, but Duke will only go as far as the new starting quarterback will take them. This is not a program that can lean on its running game, defense, or special teams until the passing game gets up to speed. If the Blue Devils are going to reach their 2010 goals, it’s incumbent upon Lewis’ successor, likely Renfree, to shed the training wheels in September.

The season will be a success if ... Duke continues moving forward by winning six games and becoming bowl-eligible. With a schedule that includes national champ Alabama and six other bowl teams from a year ago, it will not be an easy target. It is, however, important for the program to maintain the wind at its back in order to keep fans and recruits adequately engaged. A bowl, any bowl game, would absolutely do the trick and send Cutcliffe’s blueprint into hyperdrive.

Key game: Nov. 13 vs. Boston College. Actually, just about any November game would qualify for a program that’s lost 20 straight in the month dating back to 2004. The Blue Devils must avoid the season-ending collapse that kept them out of the postseason a year ago. Opening the month at home against Virginia and Boston College could be just the propulsion they need to carry them through games with Georgia Tech and North Carolina as bowl eligibility hangs in the balance.

2009 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yardage: Duke 762 – Opponents 1,834
- Passing yards per game: Duke 305.0 – Opponents 215.8
- Red zone touchdowns: Duke 46% - Opponents 60%
 
- 2010 Duke Preview | 2010 Duke Offense
- 2010 Duke Defense | 2010 Duke Depth Chart
- Duke Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006