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A Realistic Look at Duke Football's '09 Season

Mike KlineAnalyst IAugust 21, 2009

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 29:  Jabari Marshall #1 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts on the field during the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Wallace Wade Stadium on November 29, 2008 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Duke will kick off the '09 football season in a familiar place-- picked dead last in the ACC.

There is one striking difference though following last year's mini-resurgence, no one should overlook the Blue Devils this year and if they do so it will be at their own risk.

David Cutcliff has breathed life into a long believed dead program and after last year's team discovered a pulse, this year's team is looking to crawl its way out of the cellar and into the conference if not national spotlight.

It would be easy to believe that last year and potentially this year could be a one time thing like the 1994 season that saw first year head coach Fred Goldsmith lead Duke to a Bowl game and a 7-0 start, only to see that success quickly fade over the rest of the decade.

It has been nearly 15 years and three coaches since the excitement that circulated that 1994 season has been anywhere near Duke Football, but low and behold Cutcliff has performed his best Dr. Frankenstein imitation.

Last year he inherited a team beaten, out of shape, with zero confidence and barely a win to their name and put together a team at the very least that earned some respect.

This year looks to build on that growth with improved speed, strength, and higher quality of recruits that Cutcliff is bringing to Durham. This year is full of what-ifs but is should prove to be more positive than negative.

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Everything starts with Thad Lewis at quarterback.

Lewis, a four year starter is in his second year under Cutcliff's tutelage which can only be a good thing. Lewis was good before Cutcliff got to Durham, but this year he has a chance to be a special player capable of breaking some records at Duke and potentially taking home some hardware by season's end.

Duke also should prove to have a very solid backfield.

They return Re'quan Boyette from injury and he should provide an explosive offensive weapon both running and catching out of the backfield.

They also bring back Jay Hollingsworth who got valuable experience as a freshman last season and they also add exciting freshman runner Desmond Scott, whose athleticism will assure he gets time on the field this year.

There are also some weapons in the receiving game.

Despite the loss of Eron Riley, Duke does have talent in the receiving corps. Johnny Williams could prove to be the go-to-guy for Lewis, along with his tight ends Brandon King and Brett Huffman and wide receiver Austin Kelly.

None of these guys may prove to be as talented as Riley, but they do offer Cutcliff and the Blue Devils some legitimate weapons downfield and in the short passing game.

Defensively, the Blue Devils bring back some solid players in Vince Oghobaase, Vinny Rey, and Leon Wright. They still have to fill some vital holes left by graduation, but with a mix of some youth and returning experience they should continue to improve.

The offensive line may be where Duke needs the most work. They only return one player, Bryan Morgan, who is playing the same position.

If Cutcliff can put together a line that can protect Lewis and give the running backs room to run then Duke's offense should be pretty solid this year.

Ultimately, you have to figure in the x-factor in the Duke equation: David Cutcliff. Cutcliff has quickly become the face of Duke Football and he wears it well.

Duke couldn't have picked a better guy to resurrect the program. His intensity and steadfast belief that this year's core of Blue Devils will make a bowl appearance has many scratching their heads and others quietly wondering if this year might be the start of something very exciting.

While I'm not one to argue with Coach Cutcliff, I'd have to err more on the side of caution.

Duke will be better this year. They will win more games but I think they may come up a bit short of the necessary seven wins it will take to be bowl eligible.

Duke's schedule starts off promising enough, games against Richmond and Army. Both are very much winnable. How they perform in game three against Kansas may prove to be the litmus test for this year's teams.

Kansas has been a very good team over the last couple years and does not want to fall by the wayside anytime soon. If Duke can pull out a victory against the Jayhawks, then there may be something to Cutcliff's prediction that this Duke team is bowl bound.

The finish up their  non-conference schedule with cross-town foe NC Central which is a first-time meeting of the schools. Should prove to be interesting and exacting, but shouldn't be much of a contest if Duke is truly getting closer to their goal.

My prediction for the non-conference record would be 3-1, which would put the Blue Devils in a good spot to make a run at a bowl.

The conference schedule also shows promise, but keep in mind thanks to them playing two D-II schools, the Devils must potentially win four games in conference, something they haven't done since 1994 to make a bowl.

This year's conference slate doesn't contain Florida State, or Clemson, which is the good news. The games against Wake Forest, Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina are all winnable as they typically are competitive.

Even the N.C. State game could be interesting as it is a rival game, but ultimately asking a team just getting used to winning again, to knock off some teams they haven't in a very long time may be just a bit much to ask.

Duke isn't a deep team, so any injury to significant contributors could sink the bowl plans for this year but the fact that anybody is mentioning Duke and bowl in the same breath is impressive.

My prediction is they get three ACC wins and finish the season 6-6. That would be a realistic and respectable season for Duke. Anything more would be gravy.

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