Duke Blue Devils (2000: 0-11)
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Coach and programThe contrast between Duke's two revenue sports was never more obvious than on the afternoon of March 31, 2001.
Just after noon that day, Carl Franks put the Blue Devil football team on display in front of a couple of hundred diehard fans at Wallace Wade Stadium who showed up for the team's annual spring scrimmage. A few hours later, in Minneapolis, Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devil basketball team faced Maryland in an NCAA Tournament semifinal in front of 46,000 spectators and a national television audience.
Krzyzewski's squad rallied from a 22-point deficit to beat the Terps, then knocked out Arizona two nights later to win the school's third NCAA men's basketball championship in 11 years. Throw in the fact that Duke's cagers have played in the national championship game six times in the last 12 years and it's easy to make the case that Krzyzewski has the nation's best program in his sport.
Unfortunately, it's also possible to argue that Duke's football program is the nation's worst, at least in Division I-A. The Blue Devils have won just nine games in five years. They have twice finished 0-11 in that span. Duke has had just one winning season in the last 11 years and will open the 2001 season with a 12-game losing streak -- the nation's longest.
"We played 23 freshmen and redshirt freshmen last year," Franks said. "They are the nucleus of our football team -- and they are going to get better. They've had some game experience. They've had another year in the weight room, of being in a conditioning program, of physical maturity."
Clearly, he expects some progress this season.
OffenseIf there was a bright spot to illuminate the doom of Duke's 2000 season, it would have to be the development of D. Bryant (6-3, 211), a junior, at quarterback. He came into his sophomore season as an unknown commodity and -- after a rather painful growing process -- emerged as a promising signal-caller.
Franks is hoping that Bryant, who finished with 1,448 yards passing, is now ready to provide the kind of quarterback play that his pass-oriented offense requires. He was delighted to see that Bryant continued to raise his level of play in the spring, earning the award as the team's most improved offensive player.
Despite losing both starters to graduation, Duke's running game should improve as sophomore Chris Douglas (5-10, 178) gets more work. Douglas led the Blue Devils in rushing and scoring last season, despite getting less carries than starter Duane Epperson.
The Blue Devil receivers struggled to get open last year and when they did, they often dropped the ball. While the school didn't keep statistics on drops, a reporter who followed the team all year estimated that the Devils usually dropped between five and 10 passes a game.
Lack of depth and experience may have played a part in last year's failures. Franks was forced to use several freshmen extensively and even the returning upperclassmen had never been more than backups in the past.
One exception to the rule was senior tight end Mike Hart (6-6, 246), who led the team with 31 catches for 540 yards. A big target with good speed and excellent hands, Hart was voted the team's MVP and earned second-team All-ACC honors.
Defense and special teamsNobody's comparing the Devils' front three to the Steel Curtain or the Purple People Eaters, but the unit could have been worse -- it could have been the disaster area that Duke's secondary became.
Instead, seniors Tryan Grissom (6-4, 273) and Charles Porter (6-4, 249) laid the groundwork for a defensive front that Franks believes will be even more solid and aggressive this season.
Duke's youth was nowhere more evident last year than at linebacker, where a number of first-year players were forced to learn on the job.
None learned faster or better than sophomore Ryan Fowler (6-3, 223) who found himself in the starting lineup less than a month after arriving on campus. Instead of redshirting or playing a supporting role as a freshman, he became a seven-game starter who led the team in tackles (87), tackles for loss (13) and sacks (seven).
The Blue Devil secondary came up with eight interceptions, but surrendered 21 touchdown passes. Duke's cornerbacks were credited with just seven pass breakups in 11 games. The safeties managed four.
Franks can only hope that maturity will help his younger defenders improve. He also has high hopes that the addition of junior B.J. Hill (5-11, 206) at strong safety will provide a solid anchor for his secondary.
Franks has to replace All-ACC punter Brian Morton, who finished his career with more punting yards than any player in ACC history. It won't be easy making up for his average of 45.2 yards a kick.
Bottom lineAfter a year of turmoil at the quarterback spot, Bryant appears ready to solidify the single most important position in Franks' offensive scheme. There's also reason to expect better play at running back (where Douglas could be a star), on the offensive line and along the defensive front.
But all of that will be for naught if Duke can't show significant improvement at wide receiver and in the defensive backfield. There is little evidence over the course of last season that the Blue Devils were improving in those areas.
Realistically, Franks can't be asked to turn the program around in his third season. The Blue Devil program was too far down when he arrived to revive quickly. But this is the season that his program should begin to show progress.