Duke Football: 10 Reasons the Blue Devils Could Win the ACC Title in 2011
OK, so an ACC Title for the conference's traditional cellar dweller might be a bit of a stretch, but the best part of spring football is that anyone can dream big.
Although it might be a bit of a pipe dream, Duke Football is beginning to believe they can compete in the conference and beyond.
So what reasons would possibly exist to give a potentially delusional featured columnist or Duke's fans any hope of seeing the Blue Devils win the ACC Title in 2011?
Here is a look at 10 of them. Whether you choose to believe them or not that is up to you.
It may seem cliche to think the coach could be the difference in a team's success, but you'd have a hard time denying that Cutcliffe has made all the difference for the Duke Blue Devils.
Before his arrival the program was hapless and was beyond irrelevant. He has made them competitive on the recruiting trail, with facility improvements and on the football field.
He has dedicated himself to rebuilding a once proud program and heading into his fourth year he is establishing the roots of a winner. Will they be deep enough to pull off the type of miracle it would take to win a title though?
In David Cutcliffe's quarterback-oriented offensive, Sean Renfree is the man who will lead the Blue Devils.
A year removed from his first as the starter, Renfree is stronger and wiser and much more confident. It will also help that he will have gotten to participate in spring practice, something he missed out on last year due to injury.
Expect Renfree to build on his solid numbers from 2010 and throw for more yards, more touchdowns and fewer interceptions. If that happens it only means good things for Duke's chances.
For Renfree to have the type of year he needs to have he will need production out of his wide receivers.
Luckily for him and his fellow Duke teammates, he has two of the best receivers in the conference in Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon.
If Duke can get a third man, likely tight end Cooper Helfet, to be a consistent target for Renfree, Duke's offense will an opportunity to be difficult to stop at times.
While the Blue Devils didn't blow anyone away with its ground game last season, it was a marked improvement from the season before when Duke has the worst running game in the country.
Duke made strides in 2010 behind a combination of backs including Desmond Scott and Josh Snead among others.
If the Blue Devils can average at least 100 yards per game on the ground that will only help the passing game. Look more a strong effort to get the running game off and well running in 2011.
Improved Offensive Line Depth
Duke does lose its veteran anchor in center Bryan Morgan, but the return other veterans and a bevy or fresh faces that add depth to the O-line.
That depth should help Duke's running game late in games and ultimately help protect Sean Renfree.
The Defense Can Only Get Better
Duke once again goes into the season having lost its best defensive players from the previous season.
Of course as bad as the Blue Devils defense was at times last season it has nowhere to go but up. If Duke can get improved play in the secondary and the defensive front, expect an improved team overall.
Expect new defensive coordinator, Jim Knowles, to go with more of a 4-2-5 scheme rather than the more traditional 4-3 or 3-4 schemes looks from last year.
Duke has improved speed and strength but is still a little thin in the depth department and will have to avoid injuries, especially up front.
When David Cutcliffe arrived at Duke, the kicking game and special teams in general were more embarrassing than the team's lack of winning.
Duke fans cringed almost every time the Blue Devils had to kick and in several memorable or forgettable occasions a missed kick was the difference between a win and a loss.
Cutcliffe has successfully turned that aspect of their game around and even features a Lou Groza Award nominee in kicker Will Snyderwine.
There Is No Place Like Home
Duke may not be posting double-digit victories, but when they do win, at least in Cutcliffe's three seasons it has come at home.
The Blue Devils have seven home games in 2011, though some of those include the likes of Stanford and Florida State.
Still perhaps being at home most of the time will give them an advantage in most of the other games and who knows if an upset might be in the picture.
Duke Is Due for a Marquee Win
Duke has played in some marquee games against quality opponent before. If they are to win an ACC title in 2011 they must find a way to win one of those.
They will have opportunities in 2011 against both conference and non-conference foes. If a title is in their sights a win that would shock the conference or nation will have to become a reality.
The Blue Devils are due for an upset and have come close in Cutcliffe's tenure. Perhaps '11 will be a lucky number and year for the Dukies.
Stranger Things Have Happened
It wasn't that long ago when a perpetual ACC lap dog had its Cinderella story and won an ACC Championship.
That team was Wake Forest and despite having been picked last in the division in 2006, they went on to win the ACC Title.
That isn't to say Duke can do the same thing in 2011, but whose to say they can't until the games have been played?