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Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Pressure is on ... Duke?

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Expectations are shadowing just about every program in the ACC -- some more than others.

It's time Duke joined the club.

Those within the program have always had high expectations under coach David Cutcliffe, but now that he's entering his fourth season in Durham, the rest of the ACC should expect more from Duke this season, too. Cutliffe’s 12 victories in three years with the Blue Devils are two more than the program’s total in the previous eight seasons (2000-07) combined. It's time to take the next step.

Here are three reasons the Blue Devils will go bowling in 2011:

1. The passing game. Duke has an elite group of receivers and a promising young quarterback. Sean Renfree got better as the 2010 season progressed and has the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC this year. In 2010, Renfree's first season as full-time starter, the Blue Devils' offense produced an average of 381.3 yards per game -- Duke’s highest total since 1989. Renfree became just the fourth player in school history to throw for more than 3,000 yards. He's also got a seasoned group of receivers who are among the ACC's leaders to work with. Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon combined for 143 receptions last season. Duke can and will move the ball.

2. Welcome to Durham, Rick Petri. The Blue Devils hired a new defensive line coach with good reputation who should give them a boost where they need it most -- up front. Miami's loss was Duke's gain, as Petri is well-respected in the business and should help the Blue Devils become more aggressive. Duke ranked 113th in the nation in sacks last season and 109th in tackles for loss. Miami was ninth in the country in sacks and led the nation in tackles for loss. No, Duke won't make that kind of a leap, but there's no question it should be better.

3. Duke has three winnable nonconference games. At this point in Cutcliffe's career at Duke, games against Richmond, Tulane and Florida International should all be considered winnable games. If the Blue Devils can go 3-1 in the nonconference schedule, they should be able to find three more wins, but Duke is going to have to beat somebody in the league it's "not supposed to."