Part of Duke week.
BC Interruption: Many analysts expect Sean Renfree to be one of the top passers in the ACC, what kind of year do you expect from him?
Blue Devil Nation: Despite just three wins in 2010, Sean Renfree was impressive in his first year as a starter. On the season, he surpassed 3,000 passing yards while completing 61.4 percent of his passes and adding 14 touchdowns. He was plagued by turnovers early in the season and finished the year with 17 interceptions, but showed much better poise in the Blue Devils' final 5 contests. This spring, Head Coach David Cutcliffe, who coached both Peyton and Eli Manning, repeatedly praised Renfree's performance as not just good, but great. With six of his top seven receivers and four offensive line starters returning in 2011, the expectations are high for Renfree in his second year under center. Renfree is a gifted quarterback and dedicated student of the game; along with the dynamic receiving duo of Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon, Duke fans expect Renfree to turn in an All-ACC performance in 2011.
BCI: Duke has a football program that goes largely unnoticed. Who are some players that BC fans should be aware of?
BDN: Though the program was nearly dormant for several years, since David Cutcliffe's arrival in Durham, the ACC has quickly learned not to overlook the Blue Devils. Duke features a number of preseason All-ACC candidates, led by kicker Will Snyderwine, who has been tabbed a pre-season All-American by some publications. Offensively, Renfree's favorite targets are Varner and Vernon, but expect senior tight end Cooper Helfet and sophomore receiver Brandon Braxton to see increased roles in 2011. Junior Desmond Scott has led the Duke backfield the past two seasons, and he is joined by young speedsters Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson. Defensively, Duke should be led by senior safeties Matt Daniels and Lee Butler along with senior nose guard Charlie Hatcher. Sophomore Kelby Brown is the top returning linebacker after leading the country in fumble recoveries per game as a true freshman.
BCI: Last year Duke allowed an average of 35.4 points a game which was good for 109th in nation. Do you see Duke's defense improving this season?
BDN: The Blue Devils will have their third defensive coordinator in the past three years as Jim Knowles takes over for the departed Marion Hobby. In 2010, Hobby tried to institute a 3-4 defense, but the Blue Devils just had too many question marks up front to consistently slow opposing offenses, and particularly struggled against the run. This spring, Knowles installed a 4-2-5 scheme that aims at putting Duke’s best athletes on the field, highlighted by a group of dynamic players at safety, led by Daniels and Butler. The success this season likely still hinges on the play of the front seven, who will have to do a better job of pressuring opposing quarterbacks. With Brown having missed all of spring practice recovering from knee surgery, there are question marks at linebacker. Hatcher will anchor the defensive line, and Duke hopes that a group of young redshirt-freshmen and sophomores will mature sooner rather than later to aid the Blue Devil pass rush.
BCI: Duke hasn't made a bowl game since 1994 and haven't won a bowl game since John Kennedy was president. Do you think that will change this year?
BDN: Obviously, the goal for the program is to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994, but that may be asking a lot of this young team. With so many questions on defense, it’s hard to find 6 sure wins on Duke’s 2011 schedule. The margin of error is small, but the Blue Devils should be capable of competing with teams like Richmond, Boston College, Tulane, Florida International, Wake Forest, Virginia, and Georgia Tech. If Duke can pull off a signature win against a favored opponent, it would help to renew the excitement around the program and significantly improve the chance for bowl-eligibility. If the Blue Devils' defense can be good enough, a bowl game should be in the cards, but even a five win season would be a big step forward for the program.
BCI: Last year BC barely escaped Wallace Wade Stadium with a win. Do you expect a similar result this year on the road?
BDN: I suspect that Duke is fortunate to play Boston College early in the season, as Chase Rettig and the Eagles' offense will continuously improve under new offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers. The two teams match up strength against strength with the potent Duke offense lining up against the stingy Eagles' defense. After a tough home contest against Stanford in week two, we will learn a lot about this Duke team when they travel to Chestnut Hill. Can Duke's young defensive front slow Montel Harris? Can Renfree and the offense outduel Kuechly and the Eagles? It's an intriguing match up, and I certainly hope it turns out to be as competitive and entertaining as last year in Durham.
BCI: Final question. Do you think the football program will ever catch on with the students at Duke?
BDN: There's a lot of reason for optimism around Duke football, and student support is slowly growing. Duke students, and fans in general, are spoiled by the unprecedented success of Mike Krzyzewski in Cameron Indoor Stadium. After five wins in 2009, the gridiron Blue Devils took a step backward in 2010, but should improve behind an exciting offense in 2011. Most still believe that Coach Cut will get the job done at Duke and he has the University's full support. Hopefully, the next time the Eagles travel to Durham, they will be playing in front of a sold-out Wallace Wade Stadium against an ACC title contender.
For more information on the Duke Blue Devils, be sure to check out Blue Devil Nation.