It seems odd to say this but the Duke Football team has a lot of experience heading into this coming season. In fact the Blue Devils have more experience than eight other schools in the ACC and are technically tied for second. So where do I get that from? Well based on ESPN.com ACC Blogger Heather Dinich Duke will be returning 17 starters from last season.
That is one less that Florida State who returns 18 starters from last season. Given that you have 22 starters overall, not counting special teams, with 11 on offense and 11 on defense, the Blue Devils only lost five from last season.
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I'm not sure if that five includes starting linebacker Kelby Brown who is probably going to miss the season after suffering a reinjury of his ACL prior to the beginning of spring practice. It doesn't include Duke's all-time leading receiver in Donovan Varner as well as second team All-American and first team All-ACC safety Matt Daniels.
The Blue Devils will have the hardest time replacing Daniels at safety and even have gone as far as moving wide receiver Brandon Braxton over to safety, a position he hasn't played since high school.
This isn't the first time David Cutcliffe has made that position switch as Johnny Williams was moved from wide receiver to corner two years ago with mixed results, though he did finish his career as a starter.
Still it is encouraging that Duke returns so many starters, and many are coming back off injuries from last season that cost them to miss a lot of games. That means that depth was built up and with the improved recruiting efforts the talent is improving and in some cases drastically.
How will this translate to wins and loses? Well I have written numerous times that I don't feel this will be the season that Duke breaks through with a .500 or better record, mainly because the schedule is, for lack of a better term, brutal.
Ten of Duke's 12 opponents this year were bowl eligible teams last year and one of those is an FCS school and can't play in a bowl. So unless Duke can beat a few teams they probably shouldn't it isn't going to happen.
But I think they are good enough for at least five wins based on the improvements and the returning experience they have. Who knows, that experience could end up helping them surprise some teams like I said, though I'm not holding out hope.
The talent gap is closing but is still significant, and for Duke to win they almost always have to play flawlessly and that has been the problem.
Perhaps the experience will help them eliminate some of those set backs that have cost the Blue Devils in the past.
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