Duke looks to finally snap bowl drought

The streak has haunted Duke for years. No bowls, no winning

seasons, not much of anything to celebrate in nearly two

decades.

For too long, the Blue Devils have played by the book and

received too little results. So to finally snap that string of

futility, they’re getting creative.

Move a top running back to slot receiver? Put multiple

quarterbacks on the field at the same time? Sure, why not?

Duke wants its top playmakers on the field – no matter the

position – and hopes that sort of outside-the-box thinking will

bring a welcome end to the nation’s longest bowl drought.

It certainly can’t hurt.

”You look at who we are. Obviously, we have five offensive

linemen and we have a quarterback,” coach David Cutcliffe said.

”Then, you’ve got five positions surrounding that quarterback that

have to be playmakers, and we think we’ve got competition and

quality in that regard. … That’s encouraging. We couldn’t always

say that.”

Cutcliffe hopes his fifth year at Duke ends differently than his

previous four – and, for that matter, the 13 before that. Not since

1994 have the Blue Devils won more than they lost, or finished the

season in a bowl game.

This marks a pitvotal year for Cutcliffe. The program is stocked

with players he recruited and immersed in his training regimen.

Sean Renfree is starting at quarterback for the third year. The

media guide lists 16 starters back from a second straight 3-9 team,

but Cutcliffe says because of injuries, a total 29 have made at

least one start.

The Blue Devils may have been a last-place pick in the Atlantic

Coast Conference for the 12th time in 13 years, but Cutcliffe

doesn’t think this is a last-place team.

”This team is the best at a lot of things. Best-looking squad

we’ve had. It’s the strongest squad we’ve had and it’s the fastest

squad we’ve had,” Cutcliffe said. ”So regardless of what people

say or don’t say about our team, we go in with great expectation.

Not anticipation. There’s a difference, and I want our team to

understand what expectation means.

”We’ve been good. We haven’t been a bad football team. We’re

not a stumbling, fumbling, bad football team. I’ve seen those. You

guys that have covered us and have a lot of experience in football

know that. It’s quality ball played out there, but not good enough

to win.”

After losing four games by a combined 14 points in 2011, the

Blue Devils hope those new wrinkles will make them even tougher to

defend this year.

Short-yardage specialist quarterbacks Brandon Connette and

Anthony Boone could wind up at several spots on the field; during

one spring scrimmage, Connette took handoffs at running back while

Boone caught some passes at receiver.

Desmond Scott, Duke’s second-leading rusher last year with 367

yards and two touchdowns, has been moved to the slot to better take

advantage of his speed and versatility.

”I’m not going to say it’s been easy, because it hasn’t, but

I’m embracing it,” Scott said.

They give a few more weapons to a passing game that ranked

second in the ACC last year, averaging 272 yards.

Renfree threw for 240 yards per game and enters his senior

season with an outside shot at becoming the school’s career passing

leader. He has 6,352 yards through three years and will break the

record if he averages 286 yards and Duke reaches the postseason and

plays a 13th game. Conner Vernon needs 34 catches and 842 yards

receiving to break two ACC career records.

Vernon says his main goal, unsurprisingly, ”is to play in

Charlotte (for the ACC championship) at the end of the year … and

I know if that’s the case, the other records will definitely come

with it.”

The Blue Devils dealt with a rash of injured players this

offseason – but none more significant or more unifying than

receiver Blair Holliday.

The projected starter suffered head injuries in an accidental

watercraft collision with a teammate July 4 on a central North

Carolina lake and has been transported to an Atlanta center to

continue his rehabilitation.

The team will wear a sticker with Holliday’s No. 8 on their

helmets.

”As a receivers group, we’ve come closer as a unit and that’s

definitely helped him along the way,” Vernon said. ”We’re letting

him know we’re here for him, we’ve got his back