The new-look offensive line is lighter and much more mobile than the 2003 version. This will allow for flexibility and creativity in blocking schemes. The wide receiver depth chart will be littered with younger players, including two or three true freshmen. All of the new players have game-breaking ability and so far do not play like freshmen.
In the backfield, Ced Dargan has patiently waited for 3 years to be the man, and now it is his turn to shine. The two X-factors in the offensive equation are both listed as quarterbacks. Starting QB Mike Schneider will need to complete a much higher percentage of his passes this season. Of course, it will help tremendously that the staff will put him in situations where he can succeed.
The other, QB Curt Dukes, could and probably will line up just about anywhere on the field. He is probably Duke's best all-around athlete, and the staff will find creative ways to use him.
Defensively, the Devils should be better than they were in 2003, especially in the back-7. The defensive line will miss Micah Harris, but sophomore Eli Nichols appears ready to step up and replace him.
Duke is deep at linebacker and should have no problems there. The returning defensive backs have loads of experience, and new starter John Talley played significant minutes last season. This should be Duke's best secondary since 1999, and probably will end up being better because of the cornerback play.
The schedule will be an issue, especially early on. Duke opens the year with three straight road games. The first two are against beatable non-conference opponents Navy and Uconn. Unfortunately, both teams are much better than anticipated when the games were scheduled, and Duke could easily lose both contests. Still, they must start 1-1 start at a minimum to keep the off-season momentum going.
After Navy and Uconn comes a trip to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech. This could be a very pivotal game for Duke. Despite their past reputation, the Hokies are a beatable opponent. A win here would really open some eyebrows around the country that the new-look Blue Devils are not to be taken lightly anymore. Next are consecutive home games against Maryland and the Citadel. Beating Maryland is probably a stretch, but the Citadel should be a relatively easy win.
After an open date, Duke faces the meaty part of the schedule, with games against Georgia Tech, Virginia, Wake Forest, Florida State and Clemson. Duke needs to come out of that stretch with 2 wins, but it will be tough as the two best chances for victory (Wake and GT) come on the road. After this stretch, the Devils will end the regular season against arch-rival UNC. This will be a litmus test to see how far Duke has come under the new staff. The Tarheel faithful are claiming their team is much improved from 2003 (Duke is making the same claim). This game will show who is actually telling the truth.
Bottom Line: Duke has too much inexperience at key positions on offense to shock the heavy hitters on the schedule. Duke will probably lose one of the early season games they should win. Conversely, there is good talent on this team and they will also win one or two games that no one is expecting them to.
The one thing that will be different this year, Duke will not be embarrassed by anyone on the schedule, FSU included. The 2004 Blue Devils will come to play every week, and the opponents that don't will come away with a loss. Exciting times are ahead for Duke football under Ted Roof. While 2004 might not be a banner season, the seeds of success will be sown this season.
Predicted Record: 5-6 overall, 3-5 in the ACC.