Duke

Great expectations for Blue Devils

The buzz is loud. The hype is heavy, and hopes are higher.

Now it's time for Duke's football team to perform, starting in the season-opener Saturday night against James Madison at Wallace Wade Stadium.

"We've done a lot of hyping and talking,'' senior receiver Eron Riley said. "We have to go out there [now], make plays and show people what we are talking about."

That means beating JMU, a veteran team ranked No. 6 nationally in The Sports Network Football Championship Subdivision preseason poll, formerly Division 1-AA.

"With all the optimism around campus, all the promotions, if we don't put on a good show for the fans, it'll be 'Same old Duke,' '' Riley said. "We need to make a statement."

First-year coach David Cutcliffe arrived in January to stir things up, to pump life into a losing program, to produce a winner. Bringing a successful 25-year resume and a spirited, enthusiastic approach, he rallied supporters and has many believing Duke can be good in football again.

"The biggest thing to begin with was just to generate the interest and have real expectations,'' Cutcliffe said Tuesday. "Thank goodness, there are expectations. I like that ... I've never been afraid of expectations. We welcome the challenge. The administration has declared that they want to change the culture of football at Duke and we are taking that seriously."

Cutcliffe is calling for a "Blue Out" Saturday, requesting all fans to wear Duke's color.

He is beckoning students to come early, have a good time and be in the stands for pre-game warmups.

And, he wants his Blue Devils to execute, saying, "Obviously, I know the importance of playing well, people coming back and people believing."

Since introducing his system at winter workouts in January, Cutcliffe has seen progress from a team that had vast room for improvement.

Specifically, the place-kicking and special-teams play, a passing attack built heavily on rhythm, pass coverage, and tackling all looks sharper. Depth on the offensive and defensive lines remain major concerns.

James Madison also creates some concerns.

The Dukes have 15 starters from last season's 8-4 team, including all-star senior quarterback Rodney Landers. A Tim Tebow-style operator, Landers ran for 1,273 yards, passed for 1,678 and had a hand in 25 touchdowns while orchestrating a multiple offense.

The defensive unit, which includes tough linebacker and former Enloe High standout D.J. Brandon, also has created some havoc with impressive tackling techniques.

What's more, Cutcliffe stressed, is that the Dukes are "used to winning ... know how to win."

Which is the trend and mind-set he's striving to develop at Duke.

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