Editor’s note: This is the seventh of a 12-part series previewing Virginia’s 2013 opponents.
On Oct. 20, 2012, Wallace Wade Stadium was witness to a rare occurrence.
The final scoreboard read Duke 33, North Carolina 30. The field was flooded with Duke students. The win count was six.
Yes, the Blue Devils were bowl eligible for the first time since 1994.
“I’ve never seen a group have more fun, and they deserved it,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said afterward. “A great win and an incredible atmosphere in Wallace Wade. All the Duke fans who came – thank you, thank you, thank you. All the Duke students who came – thank you. I think they found out it can be fun. That atmosphere can be fun for them.”
These were, no doubt, the best of times for the Duke football program. Forget just being bowl eligible, the Blue Devils, at 3-1 in the ACC, had a legitimate shot at taking a conference crown.
But then reality set in.
Duke more than limped to the finish of the 2012 season. It followed its monumental win over UNC with a 48-7 back-to-Earth whipping at Florida State and a 56-20 waxing to Clemson to spark a year-ending five-game losing streak.
Sure, the Blue Devils got their bowl bid, but even that ended in disappointment after a late turnover led to Cincinnati’s pull-away touchdown in a 48-34 Bearcat win in the Belk Bowl.
Nonetheless, it was still a celebrated 6-7 campaign for Duke. Cutcliffe was named the ACC Coach of the Year. Receiver Conner Vernon became the ACC’s all-time leader in receptions. Quarterback Sean Renfree became the first Blue Devil to be selected in the NFL Draft in nine years.
So, what’s left for an encore?
Well, it’ll start with Vernon and Renfree’s replacements. The good news is the cupboard is not bare.
Junior Jamison Crowder now becomes the top target. The 5-foot-9, 175-pounder made 76 catches for 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns last season, including the game-winner with 13 seconds left against the Tar Heels. Can he find openings this season without the luxury of defenses keying on Vernon?
Crowder’s quarterback will be Anthony Boone. The mobile junior appeared in 10 games last season, including one start — against Virginia. Boone had his way with the Cavaliers, tossing for 212 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran seven times for 41 yards in the 42-17 Blue Devil rout in Durham.
The Duke running back group is deep, headlined by senior Juwan Thompson (352 yards, touchdown in 2012) and junior Josh Snead (496 yards, two scores). The Blue Devils return four starting offensive linemen.
Defensively, Duke has five starters back, including All-ACC corner Ross Cockrell (five interceptions in 2012). At safety, it adds Jeremy Cash, a talented Ohio State transfer who shined in the spring.
Three-fourths of the line is back, including defensive end Kenny Anunike (five sacks).
But is a bowl-bound season back? Duke, missing powers Clemson and Florida State from its schedule, will have its chances for six wins.
Duke Blue Devils
Coach: David Cutcliffe (21-40 in five seasons at Duke)
2012 record: 6-7 (Lost Belk Bowl to Cincinnati)
Aug. 31 N.C. Central
Sept. 7 at Memphis
Sept. 14 Georgia Tech
Sept. 21 Pittsburgh
Sept. 28 Troy
Oct. 12 Navy
Oct. 19 at Virginia
Oct. 26 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 9 N.C. State
Nov. 16 Miami
Nov. 23 at Wake Forest
Nov. 30 North Carolina
Offensive players to watch (2012 stats): QB Anthony Boone (531 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions, 52 percent complete); WR Jamison Crowder (76 catches, 1,074 yards, eight touchdowns); RB Juwan Thompson (75 carries, 352 yards, touchdown)
Defensive players to watch: DE Kenny Anunike (44 tackles, six for loss. five sacks); CB Ross Cockrell (71 tackles, sack, five interceptions); LB C.J. France (60 tackles, 1.5 for loss, interception)