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2013 ACC Previews: Duke

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Receiver Jamison Crowder is the one piece left from last year's prolific Duke pass offense, as quarterback Sean Renfree and a pair of top targets graduated. Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images.
Receiver Jamison Crowder is the one piece left from last year's prolific Duke pass offense, as quarterback Sean Renfree and a pair of top targets graduated. Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images.

As the college football season draws closer it is time to take a look at each team in the ACC and their outlook for 2013. During the next several weeks, we will look at what to expect from your favorite team and what it will take for 2013 to be a success. We will follow the predicted finishing order released during ACC media day, alternating between the Coastal and Atlantic Division. First up is the Duke Blue Devils.

Head Coach: David Cutcliffe (sixth season)

Last Season: 2012 was a season to remember for Blue Devils fans. An exciting 5-1 start resulted in a 6-6 campaign that included a win over rival North Carolina and a first bowl appearance in 17 years. After winning just six games combined during the previous two years, 2012 was a step in the right direction. However, the Blue Devils lost their last five games, including a heartbreaking 48-34 defeat in the Belk Bowl to Cincinnati.

Key Losses: Quarterback Sean Renfree — the first Duke player selected in the NFL draft since 2004 — rewrote the record books at Durham during his three years as starter, setting new marks for passing yards and completion percentage. Duke ranked 31st in passing offense in 2012. Wide receivers Conner Vernon and Desmond Scott also graduated in addition to Renfree.

Vernon was a special receiver, leaving school as the ACC's all-time leader in catches and receiving yards.

In total, Duke has 15 starters returning, including a host of players that missed time a year ago due to injury.

What To Expect On Offense: Anthony Boone has seen action in each of the last two seasons and has experience heading into his first year as starting quarterback. Boone is more of a threat to run than his predecessor and will have a pair of excellent backs behind him to help lighten the load. Jela Duncan and Josh Snead each averaged 5 yards per carry in 2012, and neither of them start. Juwon Thompson sets the tone as starter and the trio needs to have a strong campaign. Defenses clearly are behind offenses in the ACC, and the Blue Devils should continue to compete in this phase of the game with the skill position players they have.

Duke usually lives and dies by its passing attack and despite changes in personnel that should remain the same in 2013. The Blue Devils may be wise to rely more on their running game, something they did toward the back half of last season. It will be interesting to see how this balance is kept. The receiver corps is a complete mess due to injuries and inexperience, but will be led by Jamison Crowder, a player coming off a 1,000-yard season as a sophomore.

The offensive line figures to be a major strength of the team, as the group returns four starters, including 2011 Freshman All-ACC selection Laken Tomlinson.

What To Expect On Defense: If there was any one reason why Duke failed to compete with the big boys of the ACC last year, it was the play of its defense. There is plenty of blame to go around for this and there doesn't appear to be any help on the horizon. The Blue Devils are banking on a return to health equaling an improvement on defense. Ross Cockrell (five interceptions) is a first-team All-ACC caliber player at cornerback, but he has little around him to work with and could do nothing once opposing offenses went away from him. Duke allowed 8.9 yards per pass attempt last year and an FBS-high 15.5 yards per completion. Cockrell probably will see even fewer passes thrown his way as Duke breaks in newcomers in the rest of the secondary, including Ohio State transfer Jeremy Cash.

The pass rush should be the group benefiting most by the return of injured players such as Kenny Anunike. The sixth-year player registered five sacks last year in his first full-time season as starter and should improve on that mark. Duke was in the middle of the pack last season nationally with 25 sacks, but was in the bottom 20 in rush defense (5.0 yards per carry against).

Breakout Star: Kelby Brown. Brown missed the entire 2012 season due to a knee injury just as he was ready to develop into one of the best linebackers in the conference. He will be a main cog in Duke's 4-2-5 scheme.

Big Games: Duke was able to reach the six-win mark last year by taking care of business against its weak non-conference schedule. After cupcake games against North Carolina Central and Memphis this year, the Blue Devils don't have an easy game left on the schedule. Trips to Wake Forest, Virginia and a home game against Troy are key if the Blue Devils want to make it two straight trips to a bowl game.

Outlook: All of the signs point to Duke taking a massive step back in 2013. The defense figures to be as bad as it was in 2012 — bottom five in the country bad — and it is difficult to believe the offense will be able to put up as many points as it did a year ago. Cutcliffe has done an incredible job of making the Blue Devils competitive and last season's success should bear its fruits in years to come with more bowl appearances. It just may not be this year.

Predicted Record: 4-8.