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2012 report cards: Duke

DUKE

OFFENSE: Duke’s passing game continued to be its strength, as veteran quarterback Sean Renfree and record-setting receiver Conner Vernon were again the highlights of the program. Vernon, the ACC's all-time leader in pass receptions and receiving yardage, finished the season with a single-season school record 85 receptions for 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns. Duke was the only team in the nation with three players with 65-plus receptions last season. The success in the passing game once again helped compensate for an inability to generate a consistent running game. Grade: B

DEFENSE: This has been a consistent trouble spot for the Blue Devils, and this season was no exception. Duke ranked No. 107 in the country in scoring defense, No. 105 in total defense, No. 114 in pass efficiency defense and No. 101 in rushing defense. In each of Duke’s seven losses, the Blue Devils allowed at least 42 points. In three of their losses, the opponent scored at least 50. In the first half of the season, Duke’s success on defense was a major factor in the program’s 5-1 start. The players seemed more comfortable in coordinator Jim Knowles’ 4-2-5 scheme, and the defense was recording sacks and forcing turnovers. And then the competition got better, and Duke’s defense was quickly humbled. Grade: D+

OVERALL: This was an important season for ACC Coach of the Year David Cutcliffe and his program. Duke became bowl eligible for the first time since 1994, but the luster from that milestone faded a bit after Duke ended the season with five straight losses. Duke was the first team in the Coastal Division to become bowl eligible in 2012, but the Blue Devils couldn’t take advantage of a weak division race that included two ineligible teams. Duke had the misfortune of playing top-15 Atlantic Division opponents Florida State and Clemson in back-to-back weekends after the 33-30 win against North Carolina that solidified the team’s bowl eligibility. Duke never quit, though, hanging with Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl until late in the fourth quarter, but a costly turnover inside the Bearcats' 10 was a difference in the game. The fact that Duke got over the hump and into a bowl game can’t be undervalued, but the fact that Duke couldn’t do more shouldn’t go ignored. Grade: B

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