In a world based in uncertainty, I’ve always found columns declaring such and such WILL happen as naive and desperate. What they are desperate for usually varies between hits, attention, validation, or simply to be bold. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Duke absolutely, without a doubt, will win 10 games this year, go to the ACC championship, and beat Alabama in the Chic-Fil-A bowl because in the immortal words of Seth Davis “Na Ga Happen” (Notice the date, if you haven’t seen that before.)
Of course, saying that it unequivocally will NOT happen is just as egregious as what I slammed in my first paragraph. There’s always a chance. Always. Duke very well could win 10 games, get in to the ACC title game, after Miami is finally given their punishment from the NCAA, and play an Alabama squad depleted by injuries that lost 2 games in the grind of the SEC. But it ain’t bloody likely.
So, what CAN happen? Really, with this schedule, anything and everything is on the table for the Blue Devils this season. The slate is a low hanging fruit for William Tell, teed up and waiting to be split. Every game is winnable, to varying extremes. Yet, it they are also potential pitfalls. With so many variables, how you determine what is likely and what isn’t? I’m here to help you out with my predictions of what I think will happen, against odds or in favor of them. I won’t stamp my feet as if they are definitive but here is what I see happening for Duke football in 2013.
1) Duke finishes 8-4 – Like I said earlier, the schedule is ripe for the taking and both Duke’s conference and non-conference lineups are as easy as they have been in years. Duke is at a level where wins over Troy, Navy, and Memphis should be commonplace. A perfect run in the non-conference is a legitimate likelihood and a necessity for a run at the division title. Wins in the conference have been harder to come by but Duke has exhibited the ability to beat every team on the schedule except arguably Georgia Tech. They have wins over NC State, Wake Forest, UNC, and Virginia in recent years, have played Miami close on a consistent basis, and jumped out to a 20 point lead last season at Virginia Tech. The only other games on the schedule are Pittsburgh, not exactly a world beater, and Georgia Tech, while remaining a difficult test, tends to struggle early on in the season. I see Duke sweeping the non conference portion and following it up with four wins over the options of Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, NC State, North Carolina, Miami, and Virginia leading Duke to an 8-4 season.
2) Jamison Crowder leads the ACC in receiving yards – I’m not going to get much credit nor flack for this as Crowder seems destined to be one of the top pass catchers in the conference. Sure, Rashad Greene and Sammy Watkins play in better offenses and Alex Amidon might see more targets but Crowder has the best combination of importance in the passing game, confidence from his quarterback, and lack of injury concerns. Splitting receptions with Conner Vernon, Crowder still managed to top 1000 yards last season and figures to be even more heavily leaned on this season with less sure options around him.
3) Jeremy Cash makes the All-ACC 1st Team – Cash is the real deal and I see him as our best defensive player this season. If Kelby Brown stays healthy all season, it will be tough to end more plays than the linebacker but Cash has that potential. With an experienced defensive line, hopefully Cash won’t have to act as the last line of defense like Matt Daniels and Walt Canty had to do so often. Still, Cash has the recognition skills to find himself in the right place at the right time and is an instant upgrade in the secondary. As a hawk, Cash has the opportunity to make many plays as quarterbacks happily test the young secondary with mid-range and deep passes. He’ll have the chance to come up big and I believe he will.
4) Anthony Boone rushes for over 500 yards – The zone read has received much coverage this summer from Duke media types but the actual impact it will have is entirely unknown. Still, what we’ve seen the last two years from Boone is an agile and powerful runner who has been effective in the red zone on designed runs. However, those runs were nearly all against defenses stacked on the run in goal line formations. Reduce that eight in the box to five or six, like the zone read does, and Boone will see more running lanes and less resistance at the line of scrimmage. I estimate his yards per carry will jump from 3 per game to over 4 per game and could see over 100 carries on the season in designed zone read runs.
5) Duke will retain the Victory Bell – Beating North Carolina was a difficult task last season but Duke was able to do it behind pounding the rock between the tackles and a timely last second drive. Not exactly the recipe to repeatable success. However, that entire stable is back. So is the player that made “The Catch.” Duke will be an entirely different animal this season, offensively, at least. There will be more spacing along the trenches as a result of the different formations utilizing Juwan Thompson and by the very nature of the zone read. Duke will be able to take advantage of a suspect UNC secondary and should be able to have similar success running the ball. I see Duke holding on to the Victory Bell for yet another year as it gears up to play in the Belk Bowl as the Devils exercise their demons in Charlotte.