In 2013, the Duke Blue Devils were the country’s biggest surprise.
Just a season after finally returning to a bowl game, the Blue Devils finished 10-2 in the regular season and although they lost their last two games, falling to the Florida State Seminoles 45-7 in the ACC Championship and to the Texas A&M Aggies 52-48 in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, simply winning the Coastal Division Championship was a huge accomplishment.
Like most smaller programs that have success, the Blue Devils lost an important piece of their coaching staff following the season. Florida Gators’ head coach Will Muschamp, who fired former Gators’ offensive coordinator Brent Pease, hired Blue Devils’ offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to the same position.
Roper has a nice track record, having worked at Duke with head coach David Cutcliffe since 2008 and under Cutcliffe with the Ole Miss Rebels from 1999-2004. He was also a graduate assistant with the Tennessee Volunteers when Cutcliffe was the offensive coordinator, so he’s clearly been a big part of Cutcliffe’s success.
The offense, however, is Cutcliffe’s by design. He is the one who tutored Roper over the last 18 years and he is the one who has been named the ACC’s Coach of the Year in each of the last two seasons.
The Blue Devils promoted from within, naming Scottie Montgomery their new coordinator. Montgomery played for the Blue Devils 1996-1999 and after stints in the NFL and the Arena Football League, he returned to the Blue Devils as the wide receivers’ coach in 2006. He left in 2010 to take the same job with the Pittsburgh Steelers and returned as the Blue Devils’ Associate Head Coach and Passing Game Coordinator last year.
The promotion should make for a smooth transition and the Duke players are already buying into Montgomery as a coordinator.
“What I like most about coach Montgomery is his fire,” rising senior offensive guard Laken Tomlinson told Laura Keeley of The News Observer. “I like his fire a lot. And he does a really good job of motivating the guys. Whatever he’s doing, he’s doing it great.”
The biggest question for the Duke offense is how to replace quarterback Brandon Connette, who transferred to Fresno State to be closer to his ailing mother. Connette passed for 1,212 yards, rushed for 337 yards and was responsible for 27 total touchdowns. Duke will need Anthony Boone, who completed 206-of-322 passes for 2,260 yards with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2013, to take the next step if they would like to compete for another division title in 2014.
Helping Boone will be wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who returns after making 108 catches for 1,360 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
Duke also returns Josh Snead, who rushed for 651 yards last season, at running back, but lost Jela Duncan to academics.
In total, Duke has eight starters back in 2014 and should be one of the most experienced offenses in the country, giving them a real chance to compete for a second consecutive Coastal Division title.