Duke Football Coach David Cutcliffe is looking to improve on his 1-1 record in season openers Saturday night when the Blue Devils host instate foe Elon.
In his first season, Duke easily handled FCS foe James Madison, but fell short to Richmond last season. Elon marks the third consecutive season opener for Duke under Cutcliffe where the opponent came from college football's FCS division.
The Blue Devils kick off the 2010 season with high hopes of winning its first game on the way to at least six total. Six wins would make Duke bowl eligible for the first time since 1994.
Duke will be taking the field for the first time in four years with a new quarterback running the show. Cutcliffe has expressed a great deal of confidence in sophomore Sean Renfree who saw limited action last year before suffering a torn ACL late in the 2009 season.
Unlike last year, the Blue Devils will be mostly healthy. Last season, Duke lost several players at crucial points in early fall practice to the flu. Former quarterback Thaddeus Lewis missed significant time and looked shaky in the first few games before hitting his stride.
This season, besides a few minor hamstring injuries, Duke appears to be mostly at 100 percent with only junior college transfer Cooper Helfet questionable for the opener.
Despite the Elon Phoenix's FCS status they could present the Blue Devils with some trouble similar to how Richmond did last season.
They have a veteran quarterback in Scott Riddle who threw for more than 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.
Chances are Elon can keep it close, and if Duke can't hit their stride then the Phoenix could pull out the victory.
Duke will hope its defense, which will unveil a variety of new looks including a 3-4 scheme will, can limit the opportunities for the Elon offense. The Blue Devils offense including Renfree will demonstrate a lot of weapons.
Their offensive line is experience and deeper than it has been under Cutcliffe. If that unit can give Renfree time to find his targets as well as open up holes for the running attack which Cutcliffe says should be better then the Blue Devils offense could put up big numbers against an inexperienced defense from Elon.
Keys for Duke: The Blue Devils need to keep its offense on the field with more balance in the rushing and passing game. Duke has shown it can throw the ball and with multiple weapons at receiver, the Blue Devils will need running backs, Jay Hollingsworth, or Desmond Scott to have a solid day on the ground.
If Duke puts up big numbers on offense and limit mistakes then the Blue Devils should win with ease.
Keys for Elon: As Duke has improved its depth, speed, and talent, games like this should become less and less competitive. However, Elon isn't your standard cupcake FCS school.
They were ranked as high as 6th last season at the FCS level and are again predicted to be good again in 2010. If its offense can run the ball and put pressure on the Duke offense to score, then this could be a much closer game with Elon having a good chance of pulling out the victory.
Prediction: In the end Duke should have learned its lessons from last season's early season loss to Richmond. The Blue Devils are a group hungry for respect and a shot at a bowl. A win only helps them on the way to that goal and they should get one Saturday night.
Duke- 34, Elon- 17