The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday February 1st

ACC preview: Duke seeks stability after Sirk injury

In preparation for the North Carolina football team's season opener on Sept. 3, we've broken down everything you need to know about each team in the ACC. Check out the rest of our previews here.


David Cutcliffe (ninth year at Duke) 

Record last year:

8-5 (4-4 ACC) 

When do they play UNC?

Nov. 10 in Durham 

Where are they projected?

Fifth in Coastal Division 

How do they play?

Cutcliffe has always had his teams run an up-tempo style offense, and the key to running this type of offense is the quarterback. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, they will be without veteran leader Thomas Sirk for the 2016 season. 

Sirk finished last season ranked third in the ACC in total offensive yards per game (285.7), and through 12 starts he totaled 24 total touchdowns — 16 through the air and eight on the ground. However, just two weeks before Duke's season opener against North Carolina Central, Sirk was ruled out for the season after re-injuring his Achilles tendon — the same tendon he was rehabbing from a surgery in February. 

Who stands out?

Senior guard Tanner Stone is one of three returning starters to a talented offensive line — which has helped the Blue Devils to 4.8 yards per carry over the past two seasons. 

Unfortunately for Duke, Stone is still recovering from an offseason back surgery. Having three first-time starters at the guard and center positions protecting a backup quarterback could spell an offensive disaster this season — so Stone's health is crucial for the line's success. 

Senior cornerback Devon Edwards is a valuable player in the Blue Devils' secondary, because he can play either corner or safety. His versatility allows him to stay on the field for much of the game, which has helped him amass 298 tackles, 5.5 sacks, five interceptions and five forced fumbles during his career. 

What is their biggest weakness?

The defensive line will have to show dramatic improvements this season to carry what could be an anemic offense.

But that could be a tough task for a defensive line that only produced 17 sacks last season. If nobody stands out as the season progresses, Duke's defense could be as unreliable as its offense. 

Why could they win the ACC?

The Blue Devils have an experienced head coach who has spent the last eight seasons building a winning attitude around his program — a stark contrast to when he arrived.

On the field, Duke returns three starters in the secondary and boasts a linebacking group featuring two sophomores in Tinashe Bere and Ben Humphreys, who both showed plenty of upside last season. 

While the Blue Devils might struggle to find consistency this season, a solid showing in 2016 could continue the upward trajectory of the program.


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