The story of Duke's misfortunes in football could fill volumes. And yet, during the decade of the 50's and early 60's, Duke enjoyed a modicum of success under the leadership of head coach Bill Murray (not the comedian). During Murray's 13 seasons, Duke had 11 winning seasons. Unfortunately, since his departure in 1965, the Blue Devils have had a mere ten winning seasons. That's right, ten winning seasons in the past 40 years. Keep in mind that two of those seasons occurred during the reign of current University of South Carolina head coach, Steve Spurrier.
So what will be different about the 2006 season? Will Duke end its current streak of sub .500 football? Will fans in Durham soon forget about the successes of Coach K on the hardwood?
Not a chance!
Coming off of last season's 1-10 record, the 2006 season looks to continue the current slide of 11 consecutive losing seasons. The bottom line: there just aren't enough quality athletes for the Blue Devils to be competitive in the very strong ACC.
As evidence of this, simply examine the roster of the All-ACC Football Team for 2005. Of the 75-man roster, including Honorable Mention designees, only one Duke player was selected and that was junior defensive back John Talley. Talley's selection as a first-team pick was no fluke. His accomplishments are notable, as he stands fourth in the ACC in career interception return yardage and is tied for the lead in career interceptions among all returning defensive backs for the 2006 season.
Third-year head coach Ted Roof, a Georgia Tech alum and experiencing his second tour of duty at Duke, will have to replace 12 starters going into fall camp. He did start seven freshmen last year. So he does have a core group of seasoned youngsters to bolster the 2006 squad.
Hardest hit by graduation was the Blue Devil offensive line where five starters graduated. The lone returning starter on the offensive line is junior center, Matt Rumsey. That's good news for the returning starter at quarterback, Zack Asack. At least he won't have to adjust to a new snapper for 2006.
Duke does return its top three rushers from a year ago, who combined for 12 touchdowns and just over 1,000 yards rushing. Running backs Justin Boyle, Ronnie Drummer and Re'quan Boyette should take some of the pressure off of Asack. Asack finished the season with nearly 966 yards passing and six touchdowns.
If there is a bright spot for the Blue Devils in 2006, it would have to be their defense. Duke returns seven starters, including All-ACC performer John Talley and the nation's leading freshman tackler in 2005, linebacker Michael Brown. Sporting News magazine tabbed Brown as the ACC Freshman Defensive Player of the Year, supported by Brown's team-leading 84 tackles, allowing him to finish ninth in the conference in total tackles.
Special team performer Joe Surgan was another bright spot for Duke last season. The freshman kicker converted 75 percent of his field goals (6 for 8; 4 for 5 over 40 yards) He'll be needed to help bolster an offense that only averaged 16 PPG in 2005.
Duke's schedule for this season doesn't offer them many breathers. Sure, they open at home with Richmond and then travel to perennial doormat Wake Forest. The chances for early success rest with their first two games. During weeks three through seven, Duke must face Virginia Tech, Virginia, Alabama, Florida State and Miami respectively. A murderous tilt at best.
If your beer mug is half full, 2006 may provide Duke fans with three wins: Richmond, Wake Forest and Vanderbilt. Realistically, Duke may surpass 2005's futility and finish 1 – 11.
Time for the 5 critical questions:
1. Duke's defense needs to improve if the team is to be competitive. Giving up 37 PPG won't keep them in many ball games. How will the defense respond?
2. Fifteen freshmen have started for Duke during the past two seasons. Are they talented and experienced enough to make a real difference in 2006?
3. Duke's rushing attack was anemic at best in 2005, gaining almost 1,400 yards. And while the offense was fairly balanced, how much more offensive production will be needed to keep opposing offenses off of the field?
4. The defense has the most experience and a couple of standout performers in Talley and Brown. Who else will step up their play to stop the onslaught?
5. Finally, this will be head coach Roof's third season. His six predecessors have averaged three seasons and out. Is the Georgia Tech alum the next in line to depart? Or will his squad show improvement, thus allowing him to learn his way around Durham without a GPS device?