As ACC teams begin to start practicing again, Heather and I will have a quick preview of each team to get you caught up on the basics. Next up to open camp ...
Start date: Today.
Predicted finish at media days: Last in the Coastal Division.
Biggest storyline: Does Duke have what it takes to make it back to a bowl game? During ACC media days, defensive end Kenny Anunike and receiver Conner Vernon talked with confidence about their team's expectations to make it back into the postseason. I don't need to remind you that Duke has a 17-year bowl-less streak, dating back to 1994. But there are reasons for raised hopes. For one, Duke was close in nearly every game last season, losing five by a touchdown or less. Finishing games has been a huge point of emphasis for the Blue Devils this offseason. For another, they have 17 starters returning, including four players who should form a pretty good offensive line. Then there are quarterbacks Sean Renfree and Vernon, an All-ACC preseason selection. Coach David Cutcliffe has repeatedly said Renfree has pro potential. Now he just has to let the game come to him and cut down on the mistakes. There is talent here, but is there enough to get to six wins?
Biggest position battle: Duke has been hit particularly hard by injuries over the last few years, especially on defense. So the recent news that projected starting nose guard Jamal Bruce is out indefinitely following foot surgery means the Blue Devils are going to need to find another inside presence. Steven Ingram was listed as Bruce's backup, but the Blue Devils are particularly thin inside, with only five healthy nose guards or tackles on scholarship headed into camp. There has been no timetable for Bruce's return. The play along the defensive line is critical this season, because the Blue Devils have to get better pass rushing. After Anunike got hurt last year, that pass rush was nearly nonexistent. As for other injuries, linebacker Kelby Brown (torn ACL), tight end Braxton Deaver (knee) and receiver Blair Holliday (head injuries from jet-ski accident) also are sidelined.
Who needs to step up: Renfree. Cutcliffe has some pretty high expectations for Renfree, who has been a good quarterback already for the Blue Devils. But Renfree also had 11 interceptions last season, a number Cutcliffe knows can be cut down. In fact, Cutcliffe points to the touchdown-to-interception ratio as one that has kept Renfree from getting more headlines. If Renfree makes better decisions and cuts down on the mistakes, he has a chance to place himself into the discussion as one of the top quarterbacks in a league brimming with outstanding signal callers.