Duke is coming off a memorable season. The Blue Devils went to a bowl for the first time since the 1994 season and had a player selected in the NFL draft for the first time since 2004. Another bowl and another draft pick are legitimate goals for this season. Sixth-year coach David Cutcliffe steadily has increased the talent level to where Duke should be able to annually contend for a bowl bid.
The Blue Devils aren't going to win any division titles or have any All-Americans, but there are a handful of NFL hopefuls on this season's roster and some of the younger talent looks promising. This season's schedule isn't overly daunting (Duke doesn't play Clemson or Florida State), and the Blue Devils play five of their first six games at home, meaning a fast start is a possibility. Last season's bowl appearance was only the third since the 1960 season, and Duke never has gone to back-to-back bowl games in school history.
Top senior prospects
DE Kenny Anunike: Anunike (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) was granted a sixth season of eligibility because of his injury history -- he had a knee injury as a true freshman in 2008, then another knee injury in 2011. In addition, he missed spring drills this season while recovering from ankle surgery. A former tight end, Anunike has good size and can run, and he has flashed some pass-rush ability. Can he stay healthy?
CB Ross Cockrell: Duke hasn't had a player drafted before the sixth round since 1999, but Cockrell (6-0, 185) could break that string. He redshirted as a true freshman in 2009 but has started every game since. He has good size, average speed and solid ball skills. He also is willing in run support. Cockrell had five picks and 13 pass breakups last season, but might not be able to duplicate those numbers this fall. Duke runs a 4-2-5 set, and he is the only returning starter in the secondary, so why throw his way?
OT Perry Simmons: He redshirted as a true freshman in 2009, and, like Cockrell, has started every game since. Simmons (6-5, 300) is strictly a right tackle. He runs well and is a solid run blocker.
WR Jamison Crowder: The graduation of mega-productive Connor Vernon (283 career catches) means Crowder will be Duke's go-to receiver. Crowder (5-9, 175), a junior, lacks top-flight speed, but runs good routes, has soft hands and is well-versed in Cutcliffe's offense. Crowder caught 76 passes last season and a repeat performance is a definite possibility.
K Ross Martin: He earned freshman All-America honors last season when he was 20-of-23 on field-goal attempts, including 7-of-8 from at least 40 yards. He also kicked two field goals of at least 50 yards. In addition, 38 percent of his 77 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Martin was a consensus pick as one of the nation's top two high school kickers in 2011.
P Will Monday: He was a touted high school kicker from the Atlanta area, and after redshirting as a true freshman in 2011, Monday led the ACC in punting last season with a 44.6-yard average. Twenty of his 67 attempts covered at least 50 yards, and 19 of them dropped inside the 20.
OG Laken Tomlinson: After redshirting as a true freshman in 2010, Tomlinson (6-3, 320) has started every game the past two seasons. He's a physical presence who is more advanced as a run blocker than as a pass protector. He's a good athlete who has a vertical leap of almost 31 inches.
Three must-see games of 2013
Sept. 21 vs. Pittsburgh: Cockrell will spend at least some of the day going against touted Pitt WR Devin Street (who is one of Gil Brandt's top five senior receivers). And the Panthers' experienced defensive line could cause some issues for Tomlinson.
Nov. 16 vs. Miami: Cockrell will be tested by Miami QB Stephen Morris and a solid group of receivers. Anunike will face an experienced offensive line.
Nov. 30 at North Carolina: Touted QB Bryn Renner and UNC's passing attack will pose a test for Cockrell. Anunike will spend the day battling UNC OT James Hurst, one of the best senior tackles in the nation. Crowder will see an experienced Tar Heels secondary.