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Danowski: Greer Decided Against Duke In The Fall

Over at Inside Lacrosse, Jon Brand has a Q&A with Duke head coach John Danowski about Zack Greer’s decision to play his fifth year at Bryant, in which Danowski says Greer decided not to use his extra year at Duke last fall and looked at graduate school opportunities throughout the year. Greer considered playing hockey and lacrosse and Danowski says he visited Denver and Ohio State and thought about St. Lawrence, a school closer to his home in Ontario.

“Zack and I had talked in the fall and he had said he was not going to come back to Duke,” Danowski told IL. “The whole thing, in the end, has to be viewed from an academic aspect. This game’s just a means to an end and it’s about looking at how you can position yourself the best way possible…He could have gone straight into the NLL; he didn’t have to play college lacrosse again… Our conversations [in the fall] were about what is going to make you happy, what are you going to get out of a fifth year and we talked about his options.”

Another point of note: Brand asked Danowski about the possibility of adding Bryant, led by former Duke head coach Mike Pressler, to the schedule. His response:

“I don’t think so, not this year. With the lawsuit pending and so many distractions, I don’t think it’s the right timing for the sport. We need to get away from the distractions of the situation right now, but maybe one day, when everything goes away–not that it ever really will–it will could happen.”

–by Ben Cohen

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Boyette Leaves Scrimmage With Injury

David Cutcliffe was happy with his team’s energy and effort in its first preseason scrimmage Saturday night. One more story emanating from the 80-play intrasquad could not have pleased him.

Re’quan Boyette, Duke’s top returning running back, left the game with a leg injury early in the scrimmage. The extent to the injury is not yet known, as he is still receiving evaluation. We’ll bring you more information when we hear it, but if this injury is serious, it could hinder Duke’s offensive attack and affect its ability to post 30 points per game, one goal Cutcliffe has vocalized.

MORE: So much for all of those gaudy preseason polls. The Blue Devils were ranked as high as No. 79 in the country by Sports Illustrated, a media outlet that also predicted Duke to finish second-to-last in the Coastal Division in front of Georgia Tech. But The Wizard of Odds, which dubs itself “A college football site for winners” and is managed by former LA Times employee Jay Christensen, ranked Duke as the 24th-worst team in the country. Wendell Barnhouse writes that Duke’s two most winnable games are James Madison and Navy (no argument here), but we think we can name more than 24 teams that will fare worse than the Blue Devils. Can you?

–by Ben Cohen

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Cutcliffe Garners More Praise

As we said yesterday, expect a decent amount of linking to Heather Dinich, ESPN’s ACC blogger whose posts tend to fill our inboxes with Google Alerts and keeps our Google Reader on alert. (Hint: Embrace Google products, thank us later.) Today, she ranks the ACC’s coaches, putting David Cutcliffe fourth of 12 coaches. Not bad for a man fired from his last head coaching job (albeit for petty reasons and not necessarily linked to on-field success) who has yet to win a game at Duke. Her description:

While he has yet to prove anything in the ACC, Cutcliffe’s experience in the SEC speaks for itself. He led Ole Miss to four bowl games in six seasons and finished with a .603 winning percentage there. Cutcliffe also built an impressive resume during his time at Tennessee.

The reason we’ve linked to this poll, of all posts? First, the fact that Cutcliffe is deemed a better coach than most ACC coaches is noteworthy, given that Ted Roof surely would have finished dead last in this poll, as his teams did in conference standings. Second, Cutcliffe was ranked considerably higher than first-year Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, the only other newcomer on the list, the former Navy man who Duke actively pursued before he decided to take his triple-option offense to Atlanta. Remember: As highly as Cutcliffe is revered now, he would never have been offered the job had Johnson thought higher of Duke.

And last, it’s worth questioning how much Cutcliffe’s public relations and confident words contributed to this relative honor. Yes, Cutcliffe’s resume is impressive enough to warrant Dinich’s praise. (Did you know he tutored the Manning brothers?) But now he’s at Duke, not Ole Miss. He’s at a program with little football tradition past 1938, whose biggest accomplishments in the last 70 years were hosting the Rose Bowl in 1942 (previous error edited out) and launching Steve Spurrier to stardom. Cutcliffe’s categorical refusal to acquiesce to past mediocrity is refreshing, both for outside perception and internal demeanor, and it, along with recruiting coups and other factors, has something to do with Duke’s newfound respect in the media–even if it’s not yet respect, at least Duke Football isn’t always the punchline of a joke.

–by Ben Cohen

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ESPN’s Dinich Answers Duke Questions

Heather Dinich is ESPN’s ACC correspondent, part of the Worldwide Leader’s new college football blog network, consisting of seven bloggers to cover every major conference. In just a few weeks, Dinich’s blog has become a go-to source for any ACC football fan, and the sheer bulk of posts usually guarantees at least a quip about Duke every day. Today, she answers three questions that will define Duke’s season:

  1. How will progress be measured in David Cutcliffe’s first season?
  2. How productive can the combo of quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and receiver Eron Riley be?
  3. How many games can Duke win this year?

The final question, obviously, is the one most weighing on the minds of Duke fans, and over the past few days, Dinich has made it known that she believes Duke can win three games–specifically, the first three, at home against James Madison, Northwestern and Navy.

We’re still a few weeks away from unveiling our staff’s predictions, but one pressing objection: If the Blue Devils can, somehow, win their first three games (and it’s not as completely outrageous as it sounds), then confidence and momentum builds immeasurably. Then up-in-the-air games become realistically winnable; Duke could capitalize on a bye week and a buzzing campus to knock off Virginia at home in their fourth game, or Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech might be susceptible given possible problems in instituting a unique offensive system. Hypothetical, yes, and unlikely, probably. But if David Cutcliffe and Co. can notch wins in the first few weeks, it’s impossible to predict how the team will react.

How many wins do you think Duke is capable of?

–by Ben Cohen

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Media Guides Imitate Life

Aaron McFarling of The Roanoke Times has a light column up, ranking ACC teams’ media guides and using the appearance of the yearbooks to foreshadow that team’s season (Duke’s 2008 media guide isn’t online yet). His take:

A “D” in the middle and “2008 DUKE FOOTBALL” in small print on the bottom. That’s it. Oh, wait. There’s also a faint, bespectacled face on the left side.

Analysis: This is how you usher in a new era? With Cutcliffe the Friendly Ghost? Unreal. Freshly hired coach David Cutcliffe — highly respected by his peers and the SEC coach of the year just five seasons ago — ought to be splashed all over. Your logo isn’t that cool, Duke. And Lord knows this team needs all the hope it can get.

McFarling’s prognosis for Duke? Not one David Cutcliffe would be happy with: 0-12.

Ouch.

–by Ben Cohen

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How Cutcliffe Builds A Program

Which Duke-related topic will inspire more stories in the next month: How Mike Krzyzewski can win the Olympics by turning the Americans into an actual team, or how David Cutcliffe is turning his own program from a hopeless cause into a competitive force? We’re not going to link to all of the stories about the former–really, what more can you say?–and the latter will be abundant, with the same basic theme and different sound bytes, especially if the Blue Devils win their opener against James Madison Aug. 30. But in an interview with a University publication, of all outlets, Cutcliffe offered a morsel that proved too delectable for us to pass up.

Cutcliffe is billed as a quarterback guru, but it doesn’t take a genius of any sort (let alone coaching) to understand the basic principles of inheriting a bad program.

1. Knock the team down. To do this, you not only tell the team how disappointed you are and how losing will not be tolerated, but you tell anyone who will listen, including, of course, the media. In Cutcliffe’s case, he told numerous outlets that Duke was the worst conditioned team he had seen in 32 years. People will listen to that.

2. Slowly increase players’ confidence. Cutcliffe never insulted the virtues or heart of his players, knowing he would be extolling them later. Then slowly, starting in the spring, players began to buy into his schemes and the press listened again. (Earning testimonials from the Mannings doesn’t hurt, either.)

3. And now comes the last part of the plan: Tell everyone how good the team can be, which is exactly what he said to This Month at Duke:

Q: There’s not an ounce of doubt that you’re going to turn this into a winning program?

A: I have no doubt. Whatsoever. None. This is a staff with unbelievable ability. … (And) you’ve got to remember that we’ve got a lot of guys on our team that have played a lot of football. They haven’t won much football … but there is absolutely a different mindset on this football team right now than there was when we came in, in January.

Pretty powerful stuff. Now, the players start thinking they can win–a sense of confidence that will grow exponentially if they actually do, you know, win. And everyone knows the media (and, at that, students) will drink the Kool-Aid: no one enjoys a good Cinderella story more.

–by Ben Cohen

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Cutcliffe, Duke Earn More National Praise

Cbssports.com national columnist Gregg Doyel posted a piece on Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe this morning, but if you scroll down, you’ll notice a nice sidebar about Duke’s own David Cutcliffe in which Doyel calls the coach the best hire of the offseason.

The lede? How about…

Speaking of strange sights … what is David Cutcliffe doing at Duke?

…follow that with…

The Wake Forest job is hard. Duke is impossible. And Cutcliffe wasn’t desperate.

…add the zinger…

This man has a large resume. Duke has a miniature football program. Why would he go there?

…and you’ve got yourself a story we might be reading in about 100 different permutations once football season starts, particularly if that season includes wins. Whatever the results, though, Cutcliffe has made Duke Football into a national story, and not just because of Steve Spurrier’s annual farce of a top-25 vote.

by Meredith Shiner

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