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