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New season brings a new position for Desmond Scott

DURHAM—Desmond Scott first heard that he was switching positions on Twitter. The day before Duke opened its preseason practice, though, the senior—who had been listed at the starting running back on the preseason depth chart—received the official word.

“Coach (Kurt) Roper said, ‘you’re no longer a running back, you play wide receiver,’ and that was that,” said Scott, adding that he had worked a bit at the position in the spring. “No reluctance at all. I embraced it with open arms. I played it in high school. Of course there’s a difference between playing in high school and playing in college, but with this move, goals that I have are so much closer.”

Five August questions for football

On the eve of Duke's first practice, here are five questions the Blue Devils need to address before their Sept. 1 kickoff against Florida International:

 

1 . Can Sean Renfree continue to improve?

Renfree, a fifth-year senior, was much more effective as a junior, trimming six interceptions off his sophomore year total and throwing multiple interceptions only in the 14-10 loss to Virginia Tech. In order for Duke to improve, though, Renfree will need to take another large step forward in his development, cutting down even further on the turnovers. He threw interceptions in each of Duke’s last seven losses last year).

Cutcliffe, who knows a fair amount about quarterbacks (he advised Peyton Manning, whom he coached at Tennessee, during Manning’s offseason rehab), has said that Renfree has NFL potential.

“He’s got to handle pressure,” Cutcliffe told ESPN in May. “He’s got to do the things that at times have been a problem for us. Is he a pro prospect? Definitely. I think he will get drafted. To what level depends upon this year.”

2. Other than Connor Vernon, to whom will Sean Renfree throw?

Vernon, who is set to become the ACC’s all-time leading receiver this year, is the clear No. 1 of the group. After that, though, there are a lot of question marks.

Gone is Donovan Varner, Duke’s all-time receptions leader. Brandon Braxton, the second-leading returner behind Vernon, has been moved to safety, and Blair Holliday, a projected starter, suffered critical head injuries in a personal watercraft accident July 4. That leaves sophomore Jamison Crowder (14 receptions, 163 yards) and redshirt freshman Nick Hill as second and third options for now. Only one other receiver listed on the preseason depth chart—redshirt junior Corey Gattis—caught a pass last season, and his lone reception went for minus-three yards.

Duke has two true freshmen with decent size – Max McCaffrey (6-foot-2) and Anthony Nash (6-foot-5) – who will be in the mix, along with Jack Wise and Brandon Watkins.

Click here to read the rest and to see what head coach David Cutcliffe thinks about the possibility of a bowl game. 

Blair Holliday making progress, will transfer to rehab hospital

For the first time since sophomore Blair Holliday’s July 4 jet ski accident, his parents have provided an update on his condition. The wide receiver will transfer next week to the Shepherd Center, an Atlanta rehabilitation hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord and brain injuries, the family said in a statement.

Duke football schedule, ranked in order of difficulty

With football practice commencing in Durham on Monday, let’s take a spin through Duke’s schedule this season. My much wiser colleague, Andrew Carter, did this for UNC earlier this week, so I decided to repurpose his idea for my using. 

First, the Blue Devils’ schedule:

Introducing the News & Observer's new Duke beat reporter

Two of the happiest moments of my life: May 2007, when I found out I was coming to the great state of North Carolina, and June 2012, when I found out I was coming back.

In between, I did a fair amount of what I’m about to do now: cover Duke sports.

ACC Commissioner John Swofford discusses new scheduling formats

The ACC announced on Friday new scheduling formats that will take effect when Pittsburgh and Syracuse begin league play, officially making the ACC a 14-team conference. Among the changes:

-A nine-game conference schedule in football.
-And an 18-game conference schedule in basketball, in which each of the 14 teams will play twice a year against one permanent partner. Games between permanent partners are only ones that will be guaranteed to happen twice per season. Given that North Carolina’s permanent partner is Duke, that means that in two out of every three seasons North Carolina and N.C. State will play just once during the regular season.

John Swofford, ACC Commissioner, spoke on Friday with The News & Observer about several issues related to the announcement of the new scheduling formats. Here’s the Q-and-A:

North Carolina beats rival Duke 37-21

Updated 10:05 p.m.

CHAPEL HILL – Bryn Renner didn’t let the moment escape.

After everything the Tar Heels had been through this year – the nine NCAA violations, their coach being fired before the season began, and losing four ACC games in a little more than a month – Renner wanted to thank his leader, the man who he said pushed the Tar Heels to another win: coach Everett Withers.

UNC’s 37-21 victory over rival Duke on Saturday afternoon at Kenan Stadium increased the Tar Heels' postseason bowl prospects, and it allowed them to keep the Victory Bell. But this win also allowed Renner to thank Withers and give him a game ball in front of his teammates in the locker room.

Duke falls to Georgia Tech 38-31

Updated 6:25 p.m.

DURHAM – The odds favored Duke on the play. Tight end Cooper Helfet knew it. That’s why quarterback Sean Renfree threw the ball to Helfet.

With less than three minutes left, Duke was driving for a game-tying touchdown against Georgia Tech. That’s when Renfree threw up a jump ball to Helfet, who is 6 feet 4. Guarding him was 5-10 cornerback Jemea Thomas.

Helfet jumped. Then Thomas leaped over Helfet. Thomas’ interception sealed Georgia Tech’s 38-31 victory over Duke on Saturday afternoon.

Hokies hold on for 14-10 win over Duke

Updated 7:25 p.m.

DURHAM – Duke coach David Cutcliffe has told his told players these are the games, the close ones, that are most telling. He tells his Blue Devils he loves close games, because you’re right there, one play away from victory.

Saturday afternoon at Wallace Wade Stadium, the Blue Devils needed a play against No. 15 Virginia Tech, one that could be the biggest highlight under Cutcliffe’s four-years.

Duke loses to BC 21-16

updated: 5:15 p.m.

DURHAM – It took Duke more than 2 ½ quarters to record a rush of more than 3 yards Saturday – and quarterback Sean Renfree’s 7-yard scramble only managed to push the Blue Devils’ running total back to “zero” at that point.

It was that kind of day for the Blue Devils, who snapped their two-game winning streak – and thwarted any bowl hopes that may have arisen from that two-game winning streak – by losing to Boston College 21-16 at Wallace Wade Stadium.

“I told our team after the ballgame, ‘We prepared really well, we were emotionally ready to play, we competed,’” coach David Cutcliffe said. “[But] we didn’t do the fundamental things it takes to win the game. When you don’t, in close football games, it ends up biting you.”

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