State of the Program – A Q&A with @MikeKlineDSB on #Duke Football

DukeSOPnoboxEditor’s Note:  Good morning, Atlantic Coast Conference sports fans!!! Mike Kline (@MikeKlineDSB on Twitter) was kind enough to join us for a Q&A on Duke football for our State of the Program Series.  Enjoy!!

What’s the Season Outlook for Duke football?

Duke is coming off a 8-5 season and the program’s first victory in a Bowl Game (Pinstripe Bowl) in more than 60 years.The Blue Devils will be looking to maintain the momentum they have built over the last four seasons and in the David Cutcliffe tenure but Duke is no longer the team the rest of the ACC glosses over and they are now a respected football program that will be getting everybody’s best shot. Things get much more difficult with a schedule that will include a trip to South Bend to play Notre Dame and to Louisville where the Blue Devils will meet the Cardinals for the first time as members of the ACC.

On offense Duke returns key weapons in Shaun Wilson and Jela Duncan in the backfield. Coach David Cutcliffe is also expecting and prepping for injured quarterback Thomas Sirk to be ready for the season opener. Sirk who was a first time starter last season was a duel-threat weapon at the quarterback positions despite taking some criticism for his down-field passing accuracy. The issue for the offensive will be consistency at the wide receiver position. Duke has yet to find a guy or guys who can pick up the slack of Jamison Crowder and he left two years ago. Guys like TJ Rahming, Ryan Smith, and Anthony Nash have shown flashes but non have shown they can be the go-to-guy in the clutch.

Defensively the Blue Devils lose an All-American in safety Jeremy Cash, but return Breon Borders, Byron Fields, and DeVon Edwards, all experienced players in the defensive backfield. Duke will have an assortment of defensive linemen to work with including AJ Wolf and Allen Jackson but a lot of new faces will be waiting to step up on the line as well as at linebacker.

The focus offensively will be to grow from last season and be more consistent in the passing game. Duke proved they have weapons on the ground but wasn’t as effectively consistently through the air.  Defensively Duke was abysmal at times either stopping the run or pass and will be looking at being tougher up front and more consistent in the secondary.

Key Blue Devils to Watch

Thomas Sirk, if healthy will be the leader of the offense and obviously will be looking to build on some impressive numbers from the 2015-16 season. Sirk passed for more than 2,500 yards with 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He showed his biggest strength as a runner, rushing for 803 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Defensively and on special teams, DeVon Edwards will be the leader on the field with his ability to turn any play into an explosive for the Blue Devils. One of the best return men in the game, Edwards will be looked to help improve the Blue Devils pass defense.

Key Newcomer

Duke has done well under David Cutcliffe recruiting guys that can contribute right away in key positions and they have also been patient letting guys redshirt and learn the system and get bigger and stronger. A lot of fans have been excited about the prospect of Redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones who has shown promise but still expected to be no better than third behind Sirk and incumbent backup Parker Boehme. Also keep an eye on true freshman kicker AJ Reed who could very well be the starting kicker, something his predecessor, Ross Martin did as a freshman. It won’t be an enviable task for Reed to replace Martin, who was one of the best kickers in Duke Football history.

Predicted Record and Finish in Conference

There are a lot of question marks and concerns for this team as much as their is growing excitement over the consistent progress the program has been making. Duke’s schedule in the past few years has made it easier to post more impressive records but adding the likes of Louisville and Notre Dame ups the ante as well as the improvement of other ACC programs. Duke’s margin of error will be significantly smaller if they want to keep its string of bowl games alive. In a best case scenario Duke will go 3-1 in the nonconference schedule including a road victory in Evanston against Northwestern. Worst case scenario they drop the road contests there and at Notre Dame and come out of nonconference at 2-2 making ACC play that includes three games against teams will new coaches and who are all expected to be better. Add in the road contest at Louisville, a highly touted North Carolina team things could be a bit dicey if their road to a bowl game is to remain alive. Overall best case scenario I have Duke at 6-6 with victories over NC Central, Army,  Northwestern, Wake Forest, Virginia, and Virginia Tech. Worst case scenario I could see Duke finishing at 4-8 or 5-7 and missing out on a bowl game. Again with so many new faces and uncertainties, as well as a more difficult schedule the margin for error is smaller and Duke is now more a target than a joke making for one of its more challenging seasons in recent memory.

Editor’s Note:  We thank Mike Kline for joining us at All Sports Discussion!

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