ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Tanner Price and the Wake Forest Offense Must Get Back on Track This Year to Get Back to a Bowl

Tanner Price and the Wake Forest Offense Must Get Back on Track This Year to Return to a Bowl

Team: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

2012 W-L: 5-7 (3-5)

Head Coach: Jim Grobe (73-74; 13th season)

Returning Starters: 15 (7 Offense, 8 Defense)

Despite what’s perceived as an unprecedented level of program success under his stewardship, Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe finds himself on a bit of a hotseat this fall. The Deacs have missed the postseason in three out of their last four years, and have not won more than six since 2008. After the high-water mark of the 2006 ACC Championship, Wake has actually become a program that expects to be winning six or seven games every year. It’s not the easiest place to do that, of course, but when you set expectations (even lightly), it becomes hard for folks to shake that notion you’re falling short. Hence Grobe’s current position.

If this feels like a broken record in these ACC preivews, it sort of is: Wake Forest’s offense struggled mightily last season. Plenty of teams can’t move the ball effectively, but it does take a special kind of ineptitude to average just 18.5 points per game — nevermind the fact that they also managed to win five of those contests somehow. For what feels like the umpteenth season in a row, Wake’s offensive line simply could not stay healthy (that’s what happens when you’re undersized) and it wreaked havoc on this team’s ability to put up points. While that lack of health is certainly a concern this fall too, it could also be seen as an opportunity. With so many injuries, there’s a large number of Deacs O-linemen with extensive experience and that makes for a more polished rotation at those positions. They’ll need fresh legs given the level of pass-rushers in the conference, and also in order to keep the running game going. Averaging just 100 yards per game, last year’s rushing attack may as well have not existed and part of that falls on the line’s inability to push the pile forward. The other part of that equation are the actual backs though, and it’ll be interesting to see if Josh Harris‘s dismissal-turned-reinstatement this offseason was the type of jolt he needed to finally live up to his potential.

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ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

is Jim Grobe on the Hot Seat in 2013? This Spring May Help Decide His Fate

is Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe on the Hot Seat in 2013? This Spring May Help Decide His Fate

As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.

Team:  Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Spring Practice Start Date: March 19

Spring Game Date: April 20

After what can only be described as a frustrating 2012, Wake looks to right the ship for next season, starting here in the spring. But with 16 starters returning, along with head coach Jim Grobe and both coordinators, will anything change? While Grobe’s reign has involved consistency and apparent stability, he’s also come under some fire for the last few years of mediocrity. So will things be radically adjusted this spring, or is Grobe going to hope this veteran group can simply right the ship on their own? His job may depend on the answer.

As mentioned during the 2012 Wake Forest season recap, last season sure felt like 1-11, despite the fact that the Deacs went 5-7. And that was no more apparent than on offense. Wake finished 120th in total offense, 116th in scoring and only managed 21 points or more once from the beginning of October through the rest of the season. Despite all that, offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke is indeed back for his 10th season at the position, hoping that the offensive line can stay healthy and consistent in front of senior quarterback Tanner Price. After a strong start to his career, Price’s accuracy and confidence appear to have fizzled amidst increased pressure and uncertainty on the line, along with a variety of unreliable targets. Michael Campanaro‘s efforts last year were impressive, sure, but he’ll need to take a leap starting this spring if he hopes to develop into one of the conference’ elite targets. Price will also be in dire need of both another dependable receiver and a legitimate rushing attack if the offense hopes to reverse last year’s fortunes. Even with extended time in this system over the last three years, Josh Harris still hasn’t taken the lead at halfback, and it’s now or never for him as he enters his senior year. The one-dimensional attack was a key part of last year’s struggles, and he’ll be called upon to do more to help Price out this year.

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Wake Forest Football: Demon Deacons Continue to Struggle Without Key Playmakers

Key Injuries to Players Such as Michael Campanaro Have Prevented Wake Forest From Living Up to Its Potential

I’d embed the video if it were possible, but over on ESPN’s ACC blog, Heather Dinich posted a quick piece on Wake Forest‘s issues as a result of key players missing time. Most notably, she cites the absences of Merrill Noel, Michael Campanaro and Nikita Whitlock as the primary concerns, while also noting that QB Tanner Price (their other big playmaker) has managed to play in every game. There’s also the matter of off-the-field issues, which left the team short-handed in its matchup with Maryland nearly two weeks ago. Heather believes this team can make it to the postseason with everyone healthy, but are we already too far gone for that?

I actually believe that may be the case, and it’s the reason why I left Wake out of the blog’s most recent postseason projections, too. Coming into the season, I felt that the Deacs would record sure losses in the following games: Florida State, Clemson, NC State, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt. Thus far, they’re 0-1 in those games, so with four “sure losses” still to go, they already have three on the board. Obviously I can’t predict the future, but the odds aren’t great to get to six wins. It also assumes they win both of their other two games (Virginia and Boston College) when Price has literally no one to throw to. The junior QB’s passing numbers are down across the board since Campanaro’s injury versus Duke, so until he gets back, the offense will likely continue to struggle.

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ACC Football Preview 2012: Preseason Defensive Unit Rankings

North Carolina Hopes a Transition to the 4-2-5 Defense Helps Kevin Reddick Become a True Star

We’re literally one day (and some hours) away from the start of the 2012 season, so obviously, we’re rolling out tons of arbitrarily ranked lists to peruse before kickoff. The focus of this particular list? Every ACC defense. Along with the ranked list, we’ll provide some background to legitimize said arbitrary ranking. Don’t agree with us? Voice your opinion in the comment section.

Want more lists? Be sure to check out our offensive unit rankings earlier today, and the coaching ranks later on.

ACC Defense Unit Rankings (Preseason)

1. Florida State Seminoles: FSU will possess one of the most frightening pass-rushes in all of college football. And return nine starters from the fourth-best scoring defense in the country last year. And be the guiding force behind a resurgent season back in the BCS spotlight for the Seminoles.

2. Virginia Tech Hokies: Aggressive and ball-hawking, the Hokies’ defense will be leaned on quite a bit this season, and I give them credit as a group capable of carrying that heavy burden. If they continue to force turnovers with pressure as they have in the past, they’ll be one of the country’s most impressive units yet again.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels: The new 4-2-5 scheme should have this group looking like an unconventional version of the two teams ahead of them on this list. Agile and focused on pressure and turnovers, senior leader Kevin Reddick should excel here, as will his defensive cohorts who’ve all waited a long time to be let loose in a set like this.

4. NC State Wolfpack: Some may murmur about linebacker concerns, but the focus for the Wolfpack will be on the talented secondary. David Amerson and Earl Wolff should run things as they have in the past, with Amerson gunning to add to his record-setting total of picks from last year.

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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 Standout Senior 2012: Wake Forest

Wake Forest’s Scott Betros (Left) is Looking to Deliver on Untapped Potential in His Senior Season

While we won’t be naive (and/or like Rick Reilly/Peter King/insert-your-own-cliched-columnist) and claim there’s some sort of pristine or pure honor in playing out your four years that other players just don’t get to experience, we’d still like to point out the senior players that are likely to stand out in 2012. These players have put in the time during their college careers, and now serve as the cornerstones of their respective teams’ potential success this season.

We’ll be going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his team, and why. Have a different thought on the matter? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.

At first glance, Wake Forest‘s defensive effort may have looked fairly mediocre in 2011, and rightfully so after allowing over 27 points per game. Despite last year’s apparent shortcomings, however, the seven starters returning in 2012 are looking to prove they’re better than that. A lot of that comes with experience, and for a group who returns an all-senior starting linebacker corps, they’ve obviously got plenty of it now — all centered in on MLB Scott Betros. Though inconsistent at times last season, Betros will now be one of the key factors for Wake in improving a young defense, hungry to put some doubts aside. Continue reading