Experts: Devils Exceed Expectations in 2008

Coaching changes are never easy - especially when you compete in a BCS conference. One area that is usually hurt by such changes is recruiting. However, from the second he took over head coach David Cutcliffe began working on several prospect. So how did the new Blue Devil head man do? TDD polled our regional and national experts for their opinions.

"All in all Duke did very well," said National Recruiting Director Jamie Newberg. "Anytime you are in a period of transition it's tough to recruit. It doesn't matter who you are. Whether you are Duke or Alabama, that first class will always be the toughest because recruiting is primarily about relationships and that's incredibly hard to build in just a few short weeks."

And still Cutcliffe was able to secure all but two players who had already verbally commited to Duke, but the real accomplishment came when Cutcliffe began landing his own recruits.

"Given the amount of time available on the road, it's tough to climb over last year record, but Cutcliffe and his staff did a great job," said Southeast analyst Miller Safrit. "They were able to keep the players on the radar that they wanted and they picked up something the Blue Devils have missed over the last few years -- an elite top 10 quarterback. Having already coached both Mannings, you can bet Cutcliffe will be able to make this a more regular occurence at Duke."

That quarterback, Arizona native Sean Renfree, seemed to signal an immediate change in fortune for a program that only broke the nation's longest losing streak on a last second pass deflection in September.

"Getting Renfree was absolutely huge for this coaching staff," said Newberg. "He's the kind of player you can hang your hat on and build around for the future."

But Renfree wasn't the only "get" the experts were excited about.

"I think Hollingsworth is going to be a quality back in the ACC, and Foster and Williams are going to give the Duke passing attack a lot of speed that will fit the kind of offensive game Cutcliffe runs."

While the offensive side of the ball was the focus on the later side of recruiting process, it was the early commits on the defensive side that sustained Duke through the coaching change. Led by Georgia standout safety Matt Daniels, the Blue Devil coaching staff(s) have assembled one of top classes of defensive backs in the conference.

"Both Matt Daniels and Randez James are great finds for anyone. And when you add in players like Lee Butler and Donvan Varner, Duke has a group that will sustain them for the next few years against the pass."

Lining in front of this group will be Louisiana native Trent Mackey, who has earned the reputation of a big time outside linebacker with his 4.5 speed and habit of hitting his opponents hard.

"I think Mackey could be the sleeper of the class and will probably end up as a fan favorite for Duke," said Safrit. "He's a little undersized, but he's also a guy who gives 110% on every play - and someone who flies around to the ball and he's not afraid to to come up and make a huge hit on a blocker - to say nothing of what he does to someone who actually has the ball."

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