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Getting to know Duke football

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Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski talks with his team during the Blue Devils’ 76-60 victory Jan. 15 against Virginia. Ranked No. 3 in the country but sure to fall after Sunday’s 93-78 loss to St. John’s, Duke is the early betting favorite to win the NCAA championship, but the field is so wide-open, the Devils’ 3/1 odds seem a bit of a stretch.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski talks with his team during the Blue Devils’ 76-60 victory Jan. 15 against Virginia. Ranked No. 3 in the country but sure to fall after Sunday’s 93-78 loss to St. John’s, Duke is the early betting favorite to win the NCAA championship, but the field is so wide-open, the Devils’ 3/1 odds seem a bit of a stretch.

We all know about the Duke men’s basketball program and the powerhouse coach Mike Krzyzewski has built in Durham, North Carolina. But how well do you know Duke football?

Until last season, there weren’t many reasons to pay attention to the Blue Devils on the gridiron. But then, in his sixth year, coach David Cutcliffe led Duke to a 10-2 regular-season mark, an ACC Coastal Division title and a berth in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Quickly, this return game from 2009 became much more intriguing and challenging for a downtrodden Kansas program in search of its first road victory in 27 tries.

If the Jayhawks (1-0) want to win their first road game since Todd Reesing was their quarterback and Mark Mangino was their coach, they’ll have to knock off a Duke team (2-0) that is receiving votes in both the AP and USA Today polls.

In a far better place than KU right now, Duke has gone to two straight bowl games — a program first. Cutcliffe, currently in Year 7 with the Blue Devils, has a 33-44 record. In the eight seasons before he arrived, Duke went 10-82. The Blue Devils are 25-9 under Cutcliffe when they score at least 30 points.

If there is one promising statistical nugget for KU against Duke, it is this: The Blue Devils are 1-5 against power-conference teams outside of the ACC during the regular season under Cutcliffe. Duke’s lone win in that category came in 2008 against Vanderbilt. The Blue Devils have lost to Northwestern (2008), Kansas (2009), Alabama (2010) and Stanford (2011, 2012).

But, as we all know, Saturday’s game — 2:30 p.m. (Central) kickoff at Duke’s Wallace Wade Stadium — will be decided by the current players and coaches. So here are five Blue Devils to watch.

No. 3 — Jamison Crowder, senior WR

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4jF1-gCG0E

His 5-foot-9 frame hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the biggest targets in ACC history. Crowder ranks sixth all-time in the conference with 212 career receptions. That number also ranks him fourth among active players, nationally.

When he gets the ball in space, he usually hits a speed the defenders around him can’t match. Crowder has two or more catches in 30 consecutive games and 25 career games with five or more receptions. In his last six games, he has seven TD grabs.

Oh, yeah. As Charlie Weis put it earlier this week, he’s a “pain in the butt” on punt returns, too. Crowder has 608 career punt-return yards and a pair of special teams touchdowns.

No. 27 — DeVon Edwards, sophomore S

Duke's DeVon Edwards (27) runs against North Carolina during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Duke's DeVon Edwards (27) runs against North Carolina during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Through two games, the 5-foot-9 safety leads the Blue Devils with 21 total tackles on defense to go with a couple of pass breakups and two forced fumbles last week at Troy, but he is even scarier with the ball in his hands.

He picked off two passes against N.C. State last season and returned them both for touchdowns.

Also in 2013, against North Carolina, he returned a kickoff 99 yards for a TD. This is just his second season at Duke and Edwards already has 22 returns for 673 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He averages 30.6 yards per touch on returns.

No. 7 — Anthony Boone, senior QB

Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe talks with quarterback Anthony Boone (7) in the second half of an NCAA college football game at Veterans Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, in Troy, Ala. (AP Photo/ Hal Yeager)

Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe talks with quarterback Anthony Boone (7) in the second half of an NCAA college football game at Veterans Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, in Troy, Ala. (AP Photo/ Hal Yeager)

Duke’s two-time captain is on the watch lists for the Manning, Maxwell and O’Brien awards. When he starts at quarterback, Duke has a 12-2 record — 12-0 in the regular season.

He threw for 427 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-48 shootout loss to Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel in the Chick-fil-A Bowl this past New Year’s Eve.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHHwWqPvUuQ

In two games this season, Boone has thrown for 515 yards and five touchdowns.

No. 17 — Issac Blakeney, senior WR

Duke WR Issac Blakeney pulls away from a defender during a recent Blue Devils' victory (AP Photo)

Duke WR Issac Blakeney pulls away from a defender during a recent Blue Devils' victory (AP Photo) by Matt Tait

If you haven’t already, check out Matt Tait’s breakdown of just how challenging a matchup the 6-foot-6, 225-pound receiver figures to be for Kansas and corner JaCorey Shepherd.

Off to a hot start this season against lesser competition (Elon and Troy), Blakeney has 135 yards and three touchdowns on nine receptions. Only five players in the nation entered this week with more TD grabs.

With just seven career starts in his 29 career games, Blakeney has 60 receptions, an 11.2 yards a game average and seven touchdowns. Boone hit him for a 49-yard score at Troy last weekend.

No. 77 — Laken Tomlinson, senior RG

A preseason All-America selection by FOX Sports and second-team All-America pick by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele, the 6-foot-3, 330-pounder from Chicago also landed on the Lombardi and Outland watch lists.

Tomlinson is one of the most experienced offensive linemen in the nation, with 41 consecutive starts. That streak ties him for first among active FBS players, with Kansas State’s B.J. Finney, Houston’s Rowdy Harper and Marshall’s Chris Jasperse.

One of five team captains, Tomlinson has played 3,133 career snaps in a Blue Devils uniform. You’ve got to game-plan for a big man like that as much as you do the skill players.

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