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Season recap: Duke

Quarterback Sean Renfree experienced some growing pains in his first season as a starter, but he did get better, and that bodes well for the future. Turnovers were one of Duke’s biggest problems this year, though, as the Blue Devils ranked 112th in the country in turnover margin. When interceptions weren’t a factor, the passing game was the highlight of the season. Three different receivers had more than 400 yards each, and tight end Cooper Helfet gave Renfree another dependable option. Still, Duke struggled to run the ball and stop the run, and that added up to a six-game losing streak following the season-opening win against Elon.

Duke avoided taking a significant step back in David Cutcliffe’s third season by beating Navy and Virginia for a three-win season. Cutcliffe continues to prove he can win at Duke, but the staff must close the talent gap through recruiting if the program is going to reach the postseason.

Offensive MVP: Receiver Conner Vernon. He leads the ACC in pass receptions (73), receptions per game (6.08) and 100-yard receiving games (four) and is third in the league in both receiving yards (973) and receiving yards per game (81.1). His 73 receptions fell one catch shy of the school’s 40-year old single-season record of 74 set by Wes Chesson in 1970.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Abraham Kromah. He ranks second in the ACC with a team-best 129 tackles in 2010. He also led the Blue Devils with 9.5 tackles for loss while reaching double figures in the tackle column eight times including a career-best 20-stop performance in the season finale against North Carolina.

Turning point: If Duke was going to have a shot at its first bowl game since 1994, it had to beat Army, and when the Blue Devils lost at home, 35-21, it set the tone for the rest of the season. Duke’s five turnovers in that game also started a trend that was difficult for the Blue Devils to shake until later in the season.

What’s next: Recruiting will continue to be the top priority, but there are still signs of promise on the current roster, as Renfree returns along with Duke’s top receivers. The offensive line will return three starters, so some continuity there will help, but the defense must get better at putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and creating takeaways.