COACH: David Cutcliffe (4-8 in one season; 48-37 in seven seasons overall).
LAST SEASON: 4-8 overall, 1-7 in ACC (sixth in ACC Coastal).
FINAL 2008 RIVALS.COM RANKING: 79th.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Re'quan Boyette led the Blue Devils in rushing in 2006 and '07, but he sat out the '08 season with a knee injury. If he stays healthy, Boyette could help awaken a dormant rushing attack. Duke hasn't averaged more than 3.2 yards per carry and hasn't featured a 500-yard rusher since 2003.
STAR POWER: Senior QB Thaddeus Lewis enters his fourth year as a starter having thrown for more than 2,000 yards in each of his first three seasons. He leads all ACC active players in career passing yards (6,735), touchdown passes (47), 300-yard passing games (four) and total offense (6,609). After getting picked off 16 times as a freshman, Lewis has had a 36-to-16 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the past two seasons. Lewis faces an additional challenge this season as he looks for a new favorite target following the departure of Eron Riley.
STRENGTHS: Lewis gives Duke one of the better quarterbacks in the ACC, though the losses of Riley and Raphael Chestnut in the receiving corps could hinder the passing game. DT Vince Oghobaase is one of the nation's most underrated defensive linemen; he has 29 career tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks, which ranks him below only North Carolina State DE Willie Young among active ACC players. Duke's biggest strength may be its coaching staff. Cutcliffe's arrival has helped give Duke a sense of legitimacy that was apparent in the Blue Devils' improved record. Cutcliffe's arrival also has paid off on the recruiting trail, which eventually should make Duke more competitive within the conference.
WEAKNESSES: Duke has struggled to run the ball for the past five years and likely won't be able to leave the Coastal Division basement until it can establish some semblance of a rushing attack. The Blue Devils could struggle to solve that problem this season with only two returning starters on the offensive line. Duke also must do a better job of stopping people after ranking last in the ACC in pass efficiency defense and 11th in run defense last season.
THE BUZZ: Duke clearly is on the right track. By going 4-8 in Cutcliffe's first season, the Blue Devils matched their win total from the previous four years combined. The question is whether Duke can take that next step by challenging for a bowl bid. That goal might be a bit too ambitious this season. The Blue Devils lack experience on the offensive line and in the receiving corps, and their defense could have a tough time replacing star LB Michael Tauiliili. Duke ought to win three of its first four games before beginning its conference schedule, but the Blue Devils could have a tough time winning more than one league game.