This is a bittersweet parting for Duke.
Quarterback Brandon Connette, who accounted for a school-record 27 touchdowns last year, has been granted his release to transfer to a school closer to his home in Corona, Calif. Connette wants to be -- and should be -- near his mother, Nancy, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2013.
While it’s a huge loss for Duke -- significant enough to diminish the Blue Devils' chances of defending the ACC’s Coastal Division title -- it’s a monumental win for Connette, who has had to endure his mother’s struggle against cancer from a distance.
“Being away from my family during my mother’s illness has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to endure,” he said.
Connette, though, remained the consummate teammate, lining up at quarterback, running back, tight end, wide receiver and even safety during his redshirt junior season in 2013. He was clutch, accounting for five game-winning touchdowns (against Memphis, Troy, Virginia, NC State and Wake Forest). As a fourth-year junior, his experience alone was invaluable to the offense. He also led Duke in rushing touchdowns in three of the past four seasons.
This spring, he finally took every snap at quarterback and was relishing the opportunity to focus on one position alongside starter Anthony Boone. Now Boone is the undisputed starter, and redshirt sophomore Thomas Sirk will be No. 2.
Boone should be even better in 2014 as he will be in his second season as the starter, and he’s 10-2 in that role. He completed 64 percent of his passes last season and put on a thrilling performance against Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Not bad, but it’s like Batman without Robin.
Even without Connette, Duke can still win the Coastal Division -- the Blue Devils return 17 starters, including eight on offense -- but it’s impossible to ignore the offensive production that will have to be replaced. The fact that Connette wasn’t a full-time starter makes his numbers even more impressive.
Rival North Carolina, meanwhile, is quickly closing the gap, especially offensively. Duke will have home-field advantage against the Tar Heels this year, and it was Boone who led the game-winning touchdown drive against UNC in last year’s Coastal-clinching 27-25 win.
Connette’s departure is going to be tough to overcome, but it would be foolish to count the Blue Devils out because of it, especially considering the mediocrity that pervades throughout the rest of the division. Don’t forget, Duke was picked to finish last in the division in 2013. The Blue Devils are making a habit out of proving people wrong.
First, though, they have to prove they can overcome the transfer of one of their veteran playmakers.