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Getting back to a bowl: Duke

Duke coach David Cutcliffe is entering his fourth season and has made a significant impact on the program in a short time. Over the past three seasons, Duke has won 12 games -- two more than Duke managed in the previous eight seasons.

Even Duke fans, though, want more.

Duke hasn’t gone to a bowl game since 1995 and it’s a realistic and fair expectation for any coach entering his fourth season to reach the postseason. Duke has a talented quarterback in Sean Renfree and some of the best receivers in the ACC in Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner. But the passing game can’t get it done alone. Aside from beating Wake Forest for the first time in 11 tries, here are the top three things that Duke needs to do this fall in order to get to a bowl game:

1. Win the turnover battle. These are the stats that probably pain Cutcliffe the most: Duke lost four games by six points or less last season, and in those four games, Duke combined for three lost fumbles and seven interceptions for 10 turnovers. Duke ranked 112th in the country in turnover margin last year. Duke won three games last season. If it hadn’t turned the ball over almost a dozen times in those four losses, the Blue Devils probably would’ve gone bowling.

2. Make vast defensive improvement. From stopping the run to pressuring quarterbacks, Duke needs to make some major strides. It starts up front, as Duke ranked 113th in the country in sacks, and 109th in tackles for loss. They ranked 113th in rushing defense.

3. Run the ball. Boston College running back Montel Harris averaged almost as many yards alone last year (103.6) as Duke did as a team (110). In 2009, Duke ranked 120th in the nation in rushing offense. Last year, the Blue Devils ranked 104th. Baby steps. There’s plenty of depth at the position, as starter Desmond Scott returns along with Josh Snead, but in order for them to reach their potential, Duke has to get better protection up front.