If you’re just joining us, this series is categorizing the unranked teams in the ACC as either contenders or pretenders heading into the 2013 season. We’re leaving out Florida State and Clemson because they are the only two teams from the ACC expected to be ranked this preseason. Those rankings automatically qualify them as contenders.
We move on to Duke.
Why they're a contender: Sure, the Blue Devils lose Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon. But this is a team that is going to have a vastly different look on offense in 2013, one that could make it quite powerful on the ground. And any time you can run the ball successfully, you are going to give yourself a shot to win every game. Anthony Boone takes over at quarterback, and the Blue Devils plan on using more option principles with him behind center. They have great depth in the backfield as well, as their top six rushers return. That group includes their top three running backs -- Jela Duncan, Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson -- who combined for 1,401 yards on 283 attempts. The offensive line should be a strength as well, as center Brian Moore is the only starter lost. Duke should also be better up front defensively with the return of seniors Kenny Anunike, Justin Foxx and Sydney Sarmiento. Depth should be improved as well, as 11 defensive linemen who earned varsity letters in 2012 are back. If Duke is able to be strong in the trenches, watch out.
Why they're a pretender: Let's be real. Losing guys like Renfree and Vernon is going to hurt. Boone is a first-year starter who has only played spot duty. This is an offense that has featured a pro-style scheme for years. At this point, Boone is a question mark behind center, considering who he is replacing. At receiver, Vernon was about as clutch a receiver as there was in the entire country. Jamison Crowder returns but there are some serious depth concerns at the position. As for the running game, Duke may have its top rushers returning but this group ranked No. 98 in the country in rushing offense. Can the Blue Devils actively rely on the run this season, when Renfree isn't around to pass them out of trouble? As for the defense, this is a group that showed inconsistency last season and now has to rebuild its secondary, where three starters are gone. Questions linger about whether this group as a whole can take the next step.
Final verdict: Pretender. Duke has a tall task to replace some of the most prolific players in school history while playing a more difficult schedule and trying to continue its upward trajectory. Given how strong the Coastal Division looks as a whole heading into 2013, it is tough to envision the Blue Devils in contention for a division crown with a first-year starter at quarterback.