Duke Blue Devils: Five must-win football games for 2015

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Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

If the Duke Blue Devils are going to make it back to the ACC Championship Game this year, these five games will be the difference.

Over the past few years, the Duke Blue Devils have turned their football program around. David Cutcliffe became the head coach in 2008 and over the next few years would turn Duke from an easy matchup to a fierce competitor.

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In 2012, Duke finished the regular season at .500, making their first bowl game since 1995; though they would go on to lose by 14 to Cincinnati, making the bowl was a huge step forward. In 2013, the team finished 10-3 in the regular season and made another bowl. They yet again experienced failure, but finished a whopping seven games over .500. The next year Duke would go 9-3 in the regular season and would upset division-rival #22 Georgia Tech. Cutcliffe struggled yet again in the bowl game, losing by five to #15 Arizona State.

Though their success in bowl games has yet to occur, Duke has become a strong football team and a difficult matchup for even the teams in the top 25. This year, the Blue Devils will lose the quarterback that led this offense to success in Anthony Boone. However, they will now look towards junior Thomas Sirk, who in limited snaps, exceeded expectations.

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Sirk would complete 71.4 percent of his passes in 2015, throwing for 67 yards and three touchdowns. He only threw 14 times, but was a major factor in Duke’s run game last year. In 47 rushes, he rushed for 238 yards and eight touchdowns. Sirk has the potential to lead this Duke team to another successful year and another bowl appearance. He is a dual-threat quarterback and his ability to scramble out of the pocket will keep defenses thinking.

One of Duke’s specialties on offense is their run game. Two running backs that experienced success and dominated competition was Shaquille Powell and Shaun Wilson. Powell is the No.1 running back on the depth chart, finishing last season with 618 yards on 134 attempts and two touchdowns. He also caught 18 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown. He did not find as much success as Wilson – 7.7 yards per carry, 598 yards and five touchdowns – but he has two more years of experience on the now-sophomore and has proven to be a reliable back for coach Cutcliffe.

Senior Max McCaffrey and junior Johnell Barnes will take over for Jamison Crowder and Isaac Blakeney, who left for the NFL Draft. Both receivers have experience in college and will make the next step towards becoming Duke’s top two targets.

On the other side of the field, Duke’s secondary is back and members will have another year of experience in college. With strengths come weaknesses and Duke’s weakness is their defense line and linebackers. With linebacker Kelby Brown out for the season and Carlos Wray being the only returning starter on the line, the Blue Devils still have some holes to fill before taking the next step towards building a dominant defense.

Duke’s schedule is on the easy side, but there still remains some tough teams to beat.

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