ACC 2012 Season Preview: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

After a Disappointing Second Half of 2011, Wake Forest Looks to Rebound While Also Replacing Their Top Passing Target

Team: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

2011 W-L: 6-7 (5-3)

Head Coach: Jim Grobe (68-67; 12th season)

Returning Starters: 11 (4 Offense, 7 Defense)

Little was expected of Wake Forest in 2011, yet they managed to start off 4-1, including a big (customary) upset of Florida State early on. And if it weren’t for a late field goal by Clemson in November, we would have seen that Demon Deacons team play for the ACC championship. Seriously. So while the 6-7 record appears paltry and non-descript, trust us, a lot went on down in Winston-Salem last season. Despite the fact that they lost two of their three best players from last year’s team, there’s a good chance Jim Grobe’s squad still has some magic left for this season, too.

Through five games last year, the Wake offense was a delight to watch. The Tanner Price-to-Chris Givens connection was running on all cylinders, and averaging well over 30 points per game, racking up three big league wins in the process. And yet, it all seemed to fall apart after running back Josh Harris‘s injury against the Seminoles. While replacement Brandon Pendergrass was serviceable enough and continued to move the team’s ground game along, he didn’t scare defenses all that much. With defenders more focused in on the pass, Price now had less lanes to throw into, and less time to get rid of the ball. Still, he threw for 60-percent accuracy and 20 touchdown passes, along with over 3,000 yards and zero picks. In his 13 games as a starter last year, Price threw for 200 yards in nine of them, and over 250 in six. Accurate and methodical, he was the picture of poise for a team that needed a leader on the field.

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ACC Preseason Top 25 Players of 2012: #17, Merrill Noel

Wake Forest’s Merrill Noel is #17 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 25 Players for 2012

As part of our 2012 season preview, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC for this season, from 25 to one. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective, so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.

No. 17, Merrill Noel, CB/Wake Forest

The 2011 season was a big one for first-time starters in the ACC. And while Noel may not have been the loudest arrival in the conference, he made his presence felt nonetheless. As a freshman last year, the cornerback managed to pay huge dividends against the pass, defending a total of 21 passes (tied for most in the nation). This, even with now-departed counterpart Josh Bush also roaming the secondary along with him.

Not to be slated as a high-risk, deflections-only corner, Noel also racked up 66 total tackles, recording at least five stops in all but one of his final seven contests. Still, his smarts reacting to the ball in the air were among the best in the nation last season, even though he only recorded two picks. If there’s one glaring error in his game after his first year, many would point to that factor. He’s obviously a difference-maker in coverage, but that difference must be turned into possession and points. Obviously, that’s what currently separates Noel from the likes of NC State‘s David Amerson most of all… holding on to the football. Continue reading

ACC Football 2012 Payback Games: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

After Losing to Clemson on a Last-Second Field Goal Last Year, Wake Forest Is Anxious For Redemption in 2012

Every team in the ACC has a couple games they wish they had back from 2011. Whether they didn’t bring their A-game, or the other guys just got lucky, every school would love another shot at an opponent, for the ability to prove it won’t happen again. Luckily, because of conference play and parity in the ACC, many will get a chance at redemption immediately, with rematches already on the books for 2012.

As part of our 2012 college football season preview, we’ll be running through the biggest “payback” games for each school. As no team finished with just one loss, there are likely multiple choices for each — none more “right’ than another, necessarily. Still, every selection should help provide some extra motivation for fans as they gear up for this season’s slate of games.

Team: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Opponent: Clemson

Last Year: Loss, 31-28, @ Clemson

This Year: October 25, vs. Clemson

Despite what ended up being a very up-and-down season, Wake Forest still entered their November contest with Clemson holding a pretty good chance at their second Atlantic Division crown in six years. “All” they had to do was upset the Tigers, and then take care of business with lowly Maryland, and they’d be playing for a BCS bid. Through three quarters, it appeared that coach Jim Grobe might have done it again — flummoxed yet another highly-ranked opponent, en route to an extremely improbable upset. But the porous Wake defense couldn’t hold out forever, and in the end, it was a field goal that sent the Deacons home unsatisfied. Continue reading

Far-Too-Early 2012 ACC Football Power Rankings (May 15)

For the Time Being, Florida State’s Still in the ACC, and Currently Sit Atop Our Power Rankings

As we creep along further into the lengthy college football offseason, we also have another installment of our early power rankings for the entirety of the ACC. As always, we take into account what’s happened both on and off the field (WHY, SAMMY WATKINS?!). This will be revised monthly throughout the offseason.

1. Florida State Seminoles (LW: 1): Based on recent news, you’d think FSU was more of a marketing opportunity than a football team, yet this years’ ‘Noles actually look pretty good. As we’ve given thought to previously, it’s all about how E.J. Manuel responds to the pressures of being a top-10 squad that will make or break them.

2. Clemson Tigers (LW: 2): Clemson remains at number two, only because the distance between this team and numbers three through 14 is a much wider gulch than most will let on. Even if the Tigers’ drop their Watkins-less opener against Auburn, there’s little that says this team can’t run through much of its remaining slate.

3. Virginia Tech Hokies (LW: 3): We still have no idea about this offense as it’s currently comprised. Will the O-line mature quickly enough? And the run-game? The pistol offense will be getting some play time during games, but we’re unsure how much. Just a lot of uncertainty for the Hokies, much of which gets glossed over because of its defensive strengths.

4. NC State Woflpack (LW: 4): If you read anything this offseason, you’d think the Pack were a two-man team. And you’d probably be right. Mike Glennon and David Amerson run things on their respective sides of the ball, and as long as no one messes up that dynamic, this will be a fun team to watch. The opener versus Tennessee should tell us a whole lot. Continue reading

2012 NFL Draft Preview: Wake Forest

Wake Forest’s Chris Givens Has Seemingly Proved Doubters Wrong With a Strong Showing Leading Up to the NFL Draft

Leading up to this month’s NFL Draft, we’ll be taking a look at each ACC‘s school’s prospects and where they’re slated to be chosen. While 43 ACC players were invited to the NFL Draft Combine, those not in attendance also have ample opportunity to hear their name called between April 26 and 28.

Wake Forest benefits from having a young team to build off of from 2011, however, that doesn’t mean they still won’t lose some key pieces. On both sides of the ball, the Deacons’ most productive player departs, something not to be taken lightly. While the projected draft positions for these players may very wildly, don’t mistake their value — both to their former team, nor the future NFL squad they’ll call home.

Chris Givens, WR, Junior

There was some initial confusion as to why Givens, only a junior, declared early for the draft. However, it appears he’s cleared all of that up in the lead-up to the big day(s). Clocking in at 4.41 in his 40-yard dash, showing off some impressive leaping ability and even some surprising upper-body strength for his 5’11”, sub 200-pound frame, he’s vaulted himself into the first two rounds. In that regard, it’s debatable whether another year of college ball would’ve really helped him any more. After catching over 80 passes for nine scores and over 1300 yards, his stats at that level have likely peaked, though his route-running and football IQ may still have some developing to do. Beyond his size though, the big concern will be his big-play ability. His longest scoring play in college was just 22 yards — low for the speed he’s displayed in workouts. While that type of ability may work in the slot, the potential for that type of play needs to be there at the NFL level. Still, he’s a second-round pick that can jump in and immediately be productive. Continue reading

ACC 2012 Spring Practice Expectations: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Wake Forest's Josh Harris Gets a Chance to Play a Much Larger Role in the Offense As It Aims for Balance This Year

As spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing what needs to happen for the teams and players of the ACC, culminating with notes on all 14 spring games.

Today’s featured team: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

With ample weapons at their disposal last year, the 2011 Wake Forest offense took advantage by employing an explosive passing attack that ranked among the country’s top 40. It was easy, what with hotshot sophomore QB Tanner Price connecting with star wideout Chris Givens all day. Unfortunately, this spring will be all about trying to replicate that same success — which began to peter out come the season’s second half — but with completely different personnel. The Demon Deacons return just five starters on the offensive side of the ball, and must not only replace Givens, but all but one spot on the offensive line. Granted, Wake’s run game finished a putrid 99th nationally in 2011 and Price was sacked the second-most times in the league, so maybe it’s a good thing. Nevertheless, with an inexperienced line to develop this spring, it may gloss over the progress of rising-junior running back Josh Harris. Harris has shown he’s effective as a reserve back, but now, with the show all to himself, there’s concern in the Deacs’ camp. Most importantly, with limited assistance from the line and run-game, Price must work on his quick release and which receivers he can rely upon to make the necessary grabs as pressure bears down. Last year’s second-leading receiver Michael Campanaro looks to be the best candidate, however rising seniors Tommy Bohanan and Terence Davis should have ample opportunities to prove themselves this spring as well. Continue reading

2011 ACC Season Recap: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Receiver Chris Givens Was a Big Part of Wake Forest's Passing Success in 2011

Team: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

W-L: 6-7 (5-3)

Postseason: 23-17 Music City Bowl loss to Mississippi State

Top Offensive Performer: Tanner Price, QB

Top Defensive Performer: Merrill Noel, CB

After choking away a late lead against Syracuse in the season opener, Wake Forest fans should’ve known they were in for a difficult year. Yet, with a 4-1 start, including a victory over early ACC-favorite Florida State, it appeared that first loss would just be a bump in the road. Five bowl teams in their final seven games thought otherwise, however, as what was a high-flying Demon Deacons passing attack was suddenly subdued and their defense was finding it increasingly difficult to contain opponents. Still, the team saw itself just a field goal away from a shot at a conference title — a division crown Clemson grasped away in the final seconds of their mid-November tilt.

Even as it struggled toward the end of 2011, Wake’s passing game, behind quarterback Tanner Price and receiver Chris Givens, still ranked among the nation’s top 40. Lacking any true balance, however (they’d average just 114 yards per game on the ground), predictability gave way to stalled drives and missed opportunities. And after topping 27 points in each of their first five games, Wake would only do so twice more — once in defeat, and again against lowly Maryland. On a more positive note, Price, a sophomore managed to throw for over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns on 60 percent passing, all among the best marks in the ACC. Givens also ranked in the conference’s top three or so in nearly every individual receiving category, propelling him to all-league honors and his probable first- or second-round selection in the upcoming NFL Draft. Continue reading