CFN: Duke Preview

The biggest star at Duke these days isn't going to wear a helmet or pads, but he's going to bring the most excitement around the football program in years.

- 2008 CFN Duke Preview | 2008 Duke Offense
- 2008 Duke Defense | 2008 Duke Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Duke Preview | 2006 CFN Duke Preview 

Head coach: David Cutcliffe
1st year at Duke
8th year overall: 44-29
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 20, Def. 27, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 15
Ten Best Duke Players
1. DT Vince Oghobaase, Jr.
2. WR Eron Riley, Sr.
3. LB Michael Tauiliili, Sr.
4. QB Thaddeus Lewis, Jr.
5. LB Vincent Rey, Jr.
6. RB Re'quan Boyette, Sr.
7. OT Fred Roland, Sr.
8. OT Cameron Goldberg, Sr.
9. DE Wesley Oglesby, Soph.
10. CB Leon Wright, Jr.

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record: 0-0

Aug. 30 James Madison
Sept. 6 Northwestern
Sept. 13 Navy
Sept. 20  OPEN DATE
Sept. 27 Virginia
Oct. 4 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 11  OPEN DATE
Oct. 18 Miami
Oct. 25 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 1 at Wake Forest
Nov. 8 NC State
Nov. 15 at Clemson
Nov. 22 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 29 North Carolina

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Record: 1-

Sept. 1 Connecticut L 45-14
Sept. 8 at Virginia L 24-13
Sept. 15 at Nwestern W 20-14
Sept. 22 at Navy L 46-43
Sept. 29 at Miami L 24-14
Oct. 6 Wake Forest L 41-36
Oct. 13 Virginia Tech L 43-14
Oct. 27 at Florida State L 25-6
Nov. 3 Clemson L 47-10
Nov. 10 Georgia Tech L 41-24
Nov. 17 at Notre Dame L 28-7
Nov. 24 at No Carolina L 20-14 OT

The biggest star at Duke these days isn’t going to wear a helmet or pads, but he’s going to bring the most excitement around the football program in years. 

By luring David Cutcliffe away from Tennessee, the Blue Devils have their best Xs and Os guy since Steve Spurrier was in Durham, and a coach who brings instant credibility to a floundering program that hasn’t been close to competitive for years.

Cutcliffe’s task is obviously overwhelming, inheriting a team that won two games against FBS teams in four years and hasn’t beaten an ACC opponent since 2004. However, the hiring of a new staff is a dramatic step in the right direction, and 19 starters are back from a year ago. It’s not nearly enough to start dreaming about the postseason, but it’s a start, and it’s not like Cutcliffe isn’t used to handling impossible situations.

No, he didn’t turn Ole Miss into a power, but helped by Eli Manning, he did make the program relevant again before being unceremoniously fired after one down year. His first step will make the offense more consistent, something he was able to do for the Rebels and Vols, and that, along with all the returning experience, could be just enough to come up with a bit of a breakthrough.

The one Blue Devil win game by hanging on late in a 20-14 win over Northwestern, but outside of that, the team has gone 0-for-10 over the last three seasons in games decided by a touchdown or less. The 2006 team should’ve beaten by Miami, and a more confident, veteran team would’ve. Last year’s games against Wake Forest, Navy and North Carolina could’ve easily have gone Duke’s way with one big stop and a bit more from the offense late. If experience and Cutcliffe combine the right way, the Blue Devils should win a few of those close ones and be far more respectable.

Although no one in Durham will pay attention unless Duke wins a few more games, there is a new attitude permeating throughout the program, which often happens when an unsuccessful regime is swept out of town. Fundamentally, the Blue Devils will make a quantum leap from last season, even if they lack the depth and talent to make it show up in the standings. Duke will take its first rebuilding steps under Cutcliffe in 2008, remaining in the ACC cellar, but will stun at least one league opponent later in the fall.      

What to watch for on offense: Cutcliffe plans to install a faster paced, no-huddle offense, while still adapting to the personnel he inherits. The ultimate goal will be to achieve balance and to keep defenses guessing. Cutcliffe’s first quarterback is a good one, third-year starter Thaddeus Lewis, an all-league contender if he keeps learning. If Duke is going to start scoring more touchdowns than in recent years, it’s imperative that the line gives Lewis an extra tick or two to find top offensive weapon Eron Riley and an improving collection of young wideouts. 

What to watch for on defense: Although Duke’s recent woes on defense will likely continue, there is reason for optimism thanks to a front seven that’s loaded with more playmaker than usual. DT Vince Oghobaase is the signature player, but he has company, namely from frenetic LBs Michael Tauiliili and Vincent Rey, who’ll go anywhere to make a play. The weakest link is located in the secondary, where the Blue Devils are short on defensive backs that can go stride-for-stride with quality receivers. It’ll help in a big way if the ends, Wesley Oglesby and Ayanga Okpokowuruk can generate more heat on quarterbacks this season.  
The team will be far better if… the offensive line does a much better job of pass protecting and run blocking. In QB Thaddeus Lewis, RB Re’Quan Boyette, and WR Eron Riley, Duke has the building blocks of an improved offense, but you’re not going to know it if the front wall doesn’t do its part. The tackles, Fred Roland and Cameron Goldberg, should be fine, putting the pressure on new center Bryan Morgan and guards Rob Schirmann and Jarrod Holt to pull their weight.

The Schedule: For anyone else, the first half of the season wouldn't be that bad with home games against James Madison, Northwestern and Navy, conference home dates with Virginia and Miami, a road trip to Vanderbilt, and two weeks off before November. But there's a price to pay with a stretch of four road games in five weeks starting with the date against the Commodores and continuing with trips to Wake Forest, Clemson and Virginia Tech wrapped around the NC State game. The Blue Devils will play seven straight weeks without a break to close out the season.

Best offensive player: Senior WR Eron Riley. The single most dangerous player on the Blue Devil roster, Riley has averaged over 20 yards a catch in each of the last three seasons despite playing in a feeble attack. Fundamentally sound and very fast at 6-3 and 200 pounds, increased stability under center means he’ll be even more lethal this fall.     

Best defensive player: Junior DT Vince Oghobaase. Since coming to Duke as one of the most heralded recruits in school history, Oghobaase has not disappointed. Even the added nuisance of double teams couldn’t keep him from ringing up 49 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and four sacks as a sophomore. This best is yet to come for No. 3, a sure-fire NFL Draft pick when he decides to come out.

Key players to a successful season: The defensive backfield. While it’s not obvious from last year’s final numbers, there is talent on the front seven, and two or three players capable of copping all-league honors. The key on defense is a porous secondary that’s too soft in coverage, especially on third down. If the pass defense can somehow start making plays and batting down balls, the Blue Devil D will finally have a chance to escape the ACC cellar.  

The season will be a success if
... at least one of Duke’s three wins comes against an ACC opponent.  It’s been almost four years and high time that the Blue Devils finally win a conference game. After coming so painfully close on four occasions last year, the presence of Cutcliffe and so many veteran players should give the program the boost it needs to finally get over the wall.

Key game
: Sept. 27 vs. Virginia. This might be the Blue Devils’ best chance all season to cop that elusive ACC victory, so they best be prepared. The game is at Wallace Wade Stadium, on two weeks rest, and against a rebuilding Virginia team that’ll spend the first two months of the season trying to find itself. If Duke delivers in front of the home crowd, it has the potential to be a momentum-builder for Cutcliffe in his first year in Durham.

2007 Fun Stats: 
- Second quarter scoring: Opponents 122 – Duke 49
- Third down conversions: Opponents 80 of 183 (44%) – Duke 57 of 180 (32%)
- Rushing yards per game: Opponents 180.2 – Duke 64 Top Stories