Duke opens key follow-up season against Elon
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Duke spent the past few years climbing to the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division.
Now the challenge is to stay there — and it begins Saturday night when the Blue Devils open a pivotal follow-up season against Elon of the Championship Subdivision.
Duke rose from perennial doormat to two-time bowl team in 2012 and ’13, reaching its first ACC title game last year.
The Blue Devils don’t want to be seen as two-year wonders.
“Two years ago, they said, we went 6-6 — it’s a fluke,” running back Josh Snead said. “So last year, we go 10-4. Is that a fluke? It’s something you have to prove every year.”
Making quick work of the rebuilding Phoenix would be a good start.
Elon, which is coming off a 2-10 season, has both a new coach and a new conference. The Phoenix brought back Rich Skrosky, a first-time head coach who was an assistant here from 2006-10, to lead the program into the Colonial Athletic Association.
“We’re definitely a work in progress,” Skrosky said. “There’s a reason that we’re here, and we had a tough year last year ... and the personnel and the overall numbers (aren’t) where we need (them) to be. ... I’m very confident that each and every day, we’re headed in the right direction.”
That may not be enough to keep the Phoenix competitive with a Duke team that is aiming for its unprecedented third straight bowl berth despite a rash of injuries and exits at key spots.
Among the players lost for the year are linebacker Kelby Brown and tight end Braxton Deaver, who both tore knee ligaments.
“Although it’s emotional and you’re hurt, you don’t miss a beat,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “It happens, and it can strike you anytime, anywhere. ... You already have those moves in place, and people ready to go play football.”
Some things to know about Duke’s opener:
— SIRK WORK: Thomas Sirk has the tough job of filling in for Brandon Connette, the record-setting short-yardage quarterback who transferred from Duke to Fresno State to be closer to his mother as she fights cancer. Connette left with a school-record 31 rushing touchdowns. Cutcliffe says the redshirt sophomore beat out redshirt freshman Parker Boehme to be Anthony Boone’s backup, calls Sirk “maybe the fastest quarterback I’ve had at this point” and says both Sirk and Boehme may play.
— UNBEATEN BOONE: Boone — the only current ACC quarterback to have started a game for his current school before 2013 — has never lost a regular-season start. The only blemishes on his 10-2 record as a starter came in neutral-site postseason games — to Florida State in the ACC title game and to Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
— NO STRANGERS: Duke and Elon are separated by a 40-mile stretch of Interstate 85 in North Carolina. The Blue Devils hold a 7-0-1 series lead with the last meeting coming in 2010, when a Duke team bound for a 3-9 finish claimed a 41-27 romp. Skrosky was the offensive coordinator for that Phoenix team and says “I thought we matched up, skill-wise” back then.
— START OF SOMETHING BIG? This game marks the start of what probably should be a 4-0 start for Duke. The Blue Devils travel to Troy next week and welcome Kansas and Tulane to Durham before they play their ACC opener at Miami on Sept. 27.
— FCS PLAYERS: Elon does have a few transfers from FCS schools on its roster. They include DB Chris Blair (Ball State), RB Karl Bostick (Akron) and DL Marquis Wright (Rutgers).
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