September 20, 2004 DURHAM Ted Roof is a no-nonsense guy. In his first full season as the head coach of a Duke team that has been on the bottom for so long that it has forgotten how to win, he said after the first ACC game, a predictable 41-17 loss at Virginia Tech, "We got beat by a better football team."
That wasn't exactly revealing. Obviously, it was something everybody knew going in. Even the betting line jumped from 25 to 27.5 points. But until you see it up close and personal, sometimes it is not apparent to everybody.
Roof has done a lot of things right since replacing the outclassed Carl Franks at midseason in 2003. He even won a couple of ACC games last fall, although that might be difficult to repeat this time around. But he's hired the best Duke staff since at least the gone-forever Steve Spurrier days, and he's in the process of recruiting fairly well.
It's just that there is so far to go, as the Hokies proved conclusively in their first-ever ACC contest, replete with those 50,000 wooden nickels they gave away before the game in Blacksburg.
Thus far in three losses, Duke has played hard if not well. It was talented enough to play even against 3-0 Navy if it had executed better offensively. The Devils squandered a good start and didn't do that. Mishaps in the kicking game were serious, and against Connecticut, another team that couldn't out-talent Roof's guys, a missed field goal in the last six seconds proved fatal.
Against Virginia Tech, there was no chance despite a fast start built around trick plays, a fake punt that produced a first down and then an exciting Deon Adams reverse that gave the Blue Devils a 7-0 lead. Their other touchdown was scored after it was 41-10.
What Duke saw in Blacksburg was what a program built over more than a decade can become. A sell-out audience of 65,000. Constantly refurbished facilities. A big-time quarterback (whose name is not Vick). And a recruiting style that never, ever will be possible in Durham. At least 15 Hokies attended either prep school or junior college. Even when they are young, and almost all of the Tech receivers are freshmen, they are a year older than Duke's rookies ever will be.
That simply suggests just how tough the situation is for Roof. But the coach doesn't believe it is impossible, merely difficult. It also probably will take quite a while.
Tech's Bryan Randall showed Duke what a big-time quarterback can accomplish, much as Philip Rivers did for N.C. State. Roof continually has said that's his No. 1 goal in recruiting this year, to recruit somebody like that. Maybe 6-4 Gene Delle Donne from Delaware or 6-3 Zack Asack from Massachusetts will become that person, say by 2007. Yes, 2007. In all likelihood, that's the sad reality.
The irony is that one of the top prep quarterbacks in the nation, Greg Paulus, is coming to Duke next year but only to play basketball.
Roof's needs are everywhere. Let's start with health. Duke began the game against Tech with six starters out with injury, and quarterback Mike Schneider joined the red-cross unit early in the second quarter with a concussion.
Some were players at the most critical positions. Cedric Dargan ran for more than 100 yards in the first half against Navy, then got dinged up. He didn't play in the next two games. Duke instead used sophomore Aaron Fryer and true freshmen Justin Boyle and Tim Ball, with very little success. The two top receivers among a very inexperienced group, Senterrio Landrum and Deonto McCormick, a converted defensive back, also missed the Tech game.
The program's best (by far) defensive lineman, Phillip Alexander, was lost for the season against UConn with a broken leg, which happened as the Blue Devils were returning an interception for a touchdown. Junior college transfer Brian Sallee moved into a starting spot on the line, then got hurt and didn't play against Tech. The most experienced cornerback, Kenny Stanford, was hurt against Navy and hasn't played since.
When the Blue Devils scored their second touchdown in the fourth quarter, they had five freshmen on the field. They may not be ready to play, but they're trying nonetheless.
Franks was fired, for all intents and purposes, when his team quit on him during an embarrassing 42-0 first half against Wake Forest. Roof's inheritance played hard and well in four of five games after that. They haven't shown any signs of a mental letdown yet.
But the truth is that this is a very young team. There are only 12 seniors. Alexander, who never redshirted, is all but certain to seek (and get) a medical redshirt from the NCAA for 2005. That would be a blessing to a program that needs any jump-start it can get.
Where Duke is now is at home for the first time this season, against Maryland, which is coming off an overtime loss at West Virginia. The stands are not likely to be full. The Terps normally don't travel well to Durham, and Roof and company understandably haven't convinced the local doubters yet.
The Blue Devils will be in a division in the future that will include Miami, Virginia and Virginia Tech, meaning they'll have to play them every season. It won't be easy; maybe it's not possible. Nobody will know that for another few seasons. In 2004, every Duke win will be a blessing. Other than against The Citadel, a Division I-AA foe, the Devils will be underdogs every time out.
Basketball: Love Returns To Mix
As for the sport that makes Duke fans constantly optimistic, the good news involved a walk-on. Not just any walk-on: Reggie Love. After being cut by the NFL's Green Bay Packers, Love returned to Duke to pursue a second undergraduate degree and to join the basketball team.
It's not that he's a great player, but he's certainly more than a typical walk-on. Love actually performed well for the Blue Devils on their 2001 NCAA championship team. He played a key role after starting center Carlos Boozer broke his foot in the penultimate game of the regular season.
Love was an excellent high school player in Charlotte. He's just 6-4, but he's now a buffed 240 pounds, and he can play inside, as he did in 2001. That's a relief for a team that has only two scholarship big men, juniors Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph.
The bonus is that Love will be with the team at the start of practice, rather than playing catch-up in December after football. (Obviously, he has exhausted his college eligibility on the gridiron.) Love should be able to provide some productive minutes off the bench for a team that has just eight recruited players. At the very least, he'll make practice far more competitive than it would have been without him.