Rare losing season has Duke thanking seniors, focused on '17

Duke's players now must deal with something new to them but disappointingly familiar to the program: A losing season.

The current Blue Devils have known nothing but finishing above .500 and making bowl trips - until now.

Duke capped its first losing season since 2012 with a 40-21 loss at Miami. It concluded a 4-8 campaign that will be remembered for losing three captains to serious injuries and the losses that followed on the field.

Consider it an unwelcome coda to the legacy of a group of seniors who redshirted during the 2012 Belk Bowl, were redshirt freshmen when Duke reached the 2013 Atlantic Coast Conference championship game and went on to play in the Sun and Pinstripe bowls the following two years.

They turned around the culture of a program that endured 18 straight losing seasons between 1995-2012, going winless four times in that stretch.

''I hate that this year and this record gets wrapped up into'' the seniors' legacy, coach David Cutcliffe said.

There were some high points, most notably Daniel Jones' emergence as the likely centerpiece of the program in 2017 and beyond, leading all freshmen in the ACC in total offense (276.8 ypg). Young linebackers Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris - both ranked among the league's top six tacklers - should be the anchors of the defense moving forward.

Behind them, the Blue Devils rallied to beat Notre Dame for what athletic director Kevin White - the Fighting Irish's former AD - called the proudest moment of his career. Their lone ACC victory came when they knocked off then-No. 15 North Carolina 28-27 in the final home game for the seniors.

There just weren't enough healthy bodies for Duke to have more success.

Injuries were without question the dominant theme for a Duke team that had three of its four captains go down with season-ending injuries.

Quarterback Thomas Sirk was the first to be sidelined, rupturing his Achilles tendon during a conditioning workout in February and then re-injuring it during preseason practice. Cornerback and kick returner DeVon Edwards tore ligaments in his knee during the Notre Dame victory, and top rusher Jela Duncan ruptured an Achilles tendon at Georgia Tech.

Without them, Duke went on to lose five of its final six games - and making it more frustrating, one more victory would have sent the Blue Devils to a bowl with a 5-7 record because of their high APR scores and a lack of six-win teams across the FBS.

''We had some great moments this year, but we also had to overcome a lot of adversity as a team,'' center Austin Davis said. ''We're going to look back at this year as overcoming adversity and learn from it. I'm so thankful for these seniors and everything they've done for this program. They really set the standards high for us and now as someone as returning next year, we have to continue to grow this program.''

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More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

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