Just when you thought it was safe to believe Duke could win the Coastal Division again, the football gods have conspired against the Blue Devils.
Duke good in football?
Over the span of a week, Duke has lost starting tight end Braxton Deaver and starting middle linebacker Kelby Brown to torn ACLs. If they were the only two losses, that’d be enough. But going back to the end of last season, Duke has lost four key contributors from its record-breaking 2013 team.
Running back Jela Duncan is academically ineligible; backup quarterback Brandon Connette, who had 27 touchdowns passing and rushing a season ago, has transferred to Fresno State to be closer to his ailing mother.
So all told, Duke has lost players who had a hand in 34 of the team’s 54 total offensive touchdowns last season, plus its lone All-ACC linebacker in Brown, who had 114 tackles as the heart of the Duke D.
Given the latest setbacks, it is hard to peg Duke as a favorite in the Coastal now. A program like Florida State can lose a few starters and reload. A program like Duke is still working to build adequate depth across the board. The Blue Devils are certainly capable of winning the division, but their task just got significantly harder.
You know what that means: The Coastal Division just got even crazier. You thought that was impossible? Try picking a favorite from this motley crew.
Duke not only has holes to plug on offense and defense, it has to replace its two biggest leaders from a year ago in Brown and cornerback Ross Cockrell, who is now playing with the Buffalo Bills.
Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech have no starting quarterback.
The Tar Heels, Canes, Georgia Tech and Pitt have questions on defense that need to be resolved.
Yet you could make the case for all six teams to win the Coastal. Or maybe even finish in a wacky six-way tie where 40 tiebreakers must be used to determine who gets into the ACC championship game against preseason favorite Florida State.
Every team needs a little bit of luck on the way to a championship. Duke had some luck on its side last season. The Blue Devils had relatively good health and found ways to win -- four of their victories were by a touchdown or less.
Less than three weeks into camp, the Blue Devils do not seem as fortunate. David Cutcliffe has proven he knows how to get the most out of his players. But with the losses to date, does he have the players he needs to keep building on the foundation set last year?
The Coastal may hinge on that.