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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 71: Wake Forest

You ready for a miracle? Wake has surprised us before, but 2010 might not go heavenly.

Wake Forest’s string of winning seasons ends at three, though five losses by a field goal or less dictated Wake’s sub-.500 record. In fact, in only game – a 38-3 loss to Clemson – were the Demon Deacons truly outclassed; Wake drew within 10 points of Florida State in the second half of a 41-28 loss in November, the only other defeat to come by more than that field goal margin. As that F.S.U. setback illustrates, Wake was not terrible on offense. In fact, last year’s team scored more points than both the A.C.C. championship-winning team of 2006 and the eight-win team of 2008. However, the Deacons slipped to 65th nationally in scoring defense.

Atlantic Coast, Atlantic

Winston-Salem, N.C.

Demon Deacons

Returning starters
13 (6 offense, 7 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 69

2009 record
(5-7, 3-5)

Last year’s

No. 74

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 2
  • Sept. 11
  • Sept. 18
    at Stanford
  • Sept. 25
    at Florida St.
  • Oct. 2
    Georgia tech
  • Oct. 9
  • Oct. 16
    at Virginia Tech
  • Oct. 30
    at Maryland
  • Nov. 6
    Boston College
  • Nov. 13
    at N.C. St.
  • Nov. 20
  • Nov. 27
    at Vanderbilt

Last year’s prediction

I am worried about the special teams; though the team does return Popham, the team will greatly miss Swank’s strong leg and confidence in late-game situations. Most importantly, I am concerned about the welfare of the Wake Forest defense, whose ability to force turnovers cannot be overlooked. Not that Wake Forest will be bad, but I don’t think this team can win the Atlantic. All told, I predict a 6-6 mark, 4-4 in conference. A lot depends on how Wake fares in non-conference play; a 1-3 mark against non-A.C.C. opposition will make it very hard for this team to reach bowl eligibility.

2009 recap

In a nutshell The most troubling aspect of last year’s defense was its inability to force turnovers: Wake finished the season ranked 83rd in turnover margin, though the team’s 19 giveaways was the 31st-best mark in the nation. Yes, the defense was not terrible, merely below the standard set by Wake in recent seasons. Yet it was evident that Wake was losing games that, in year’s past, it would have won. Not a great way for the deep class of seniors to go out, though that group still concluded its career with the most wins (33) by a senior class in school history.

High point A 24-17 win over Stanford. The first of four wins in a five week span in the early season, the victory stood up as Wake Forest’s most impressive of the season. The Deacons held Stanford’s Toby Gerhart to 82 yards rushing, his lowest output of the season.

Low point Those narrow losses, including two — Miami and Georgia Tech — in back-to-back weeks against Top 25 competition. The loss to Miami was perhaps the most painful, as it was the only one of the five in which the Deacons led in the fourth quarter. The Hurricanes scored two touchdowns, the second of which came with little more than a minute remaining, to escape with the win.

Tidbit Wake Forest’s five losses by three points or less last fall set a new school record, breaking the previous mark of four set in 1980. That team, coached by John Mackovic, lost by three points to Virginia, two to Clemson, one to Maryland (in what must have been an unforgettable 11-10 masterpiece) and one to then-No. 14 South Carolina.

Tidbit (decade edition) A season-ending win over Duke allowed Wake Forest to end the 2000s with a 61-60 mark, its first winning decade since 1940-49. The 61 wins also set a new 10-year program-high, eclipsing the 57 wins posted in the 1940s. The Demon Deacons did not win more than 46 games in any decade from 1950-99, bottoming out with a 27-72 record from 1960-69.

Tidbit (100-word preview edition) Today’s guest writer is loyal reader jjtiller, whose correct answer to a quiz in the Arizona State preview earned him the opportunity to write a 100-word preview of his favorite team. His team? Wake Forest. He also opted to take advantage of the chance to write his preview in a foreign language, in jjtiller’s case Hungarian. Take it away, jjtiller:

A Wake Forest szintjén az 5-7 nem olyan rossz mérleg, de a peches vereségek és a sikeres irányító, Riley Skinner elvesztésének tudatában mégis fájó emlék lehet a tavalyi szezon. Ráadásul a csapatnak idén sem lesz könnyebb dolga, elég csak a menetrendre tekinteni. Jim Grobe 2010-nek tehát új QB-val kénytelen nekivágni, ami mindjárt a támadórendszer irányváltását is jelenti, a passzok helyett a futásokra helyeződik a hangsúly. Részben azért, mert egyelőre nincs biztos válasz Skinner pótlására, ellenben a futó és az elkapó poszt egyaránt igen telített. Ezeken kívül talán még a védelem hátsó része az, ahol minden rendben van, szóval nem éppen a legfényesebb a helyzet. A keret hihetetlenül fiatal (pl. mindössze egy végzős a támadófalban, a center Russell Nenon), és az elvárások továbbra sem magasak, ám a biztos Bowl meghívó eléréséhez óriási fejlődés szükségeltetik a tavaszi edzések során látottatkhoz képest. Vezéregyéniségek nélkül ez szinte lehetetlennek tűnik, bár az A.C.C.-ben, a “gyengébb” Atlantic divízióban bármi megtörténhet.

Tidbit (Internet translation edition) Not sure what jjtiller just wrote? Well, neither am I. So I decided to turn to the Internet, where I found an Hungarian-English translator (a Web site, not an actual person). Here’s the translation:

If we measure from the standard Wake Forest viewpont the 5-7 also not the bad mark but the thought of the luckless puncture and the loss successful quarterback Riley Skinner the last season can cycle back painful memorize. In addition this year will be no easy task to this team again just take the look at the schedule. Jim Grobe belly to starts the new era in with the new QB which also means the changing of the offensive philosophy: more running, downed passing (optics attache). Strand because he belly no sure answer to Skinner’s replacement on the other hand there are bunch of useful skill playback mainly the RB position also highly saturated. Beyond these maybe the secondary are in the good shape so the situation also not exactly the brightest. The squad also extremely young, example only one seniority in the offensive linear the cents Russell Nenon and the expectations are remain low but the big improvement from the sprint training’s shape also highly recommended. Reaching the bowl seems to be impossible without transmit although in the A.C.C. in the weaker Atlantic division anything can happen.

Former players in the N.F.L.

21 LB Stanley Arnoux (New Orleans), OT Tyson Clabo (Atlanta), TE Desmond Clark (Chicago), LB Aaron Curry (Seattle), OG Chris DeGeare (Minnesota), CB Brandon Ghee  (Cincinnati), C Steve Justice (Carolina), CB Eric King (Detroit), WR Kenny Moore (Carolina), FB Ovie Mughelli (Atlanta), LB Calvin Pace (New York Jets), DT Fred Robbins (St. Louis), DT Boo Robinson (Philadelphia), LB John Russell (Green Bay), QB Riley Skinner (New York Giants), CB Alphonso Smith (Denver), LB Jeremy Thompson (Green Bay), LB Jyles Tucker (San Diego), C Steve Vallos (Seattle), S Chip Vaughn (New Orleans), LS Joe Zelenka (Atlanta).

Arbitrary top five list

Alliteratively-named college mascots
1. Blackburn Battlin’ Beavers.
2. S.E. Oklahoma State Savage Storm.
3. Canisius Golden Griffins.
4. Erskine Flying Fleet.
5. Wake Forest Demon Deacons.


Jim Grobe (Virginia ’75), 59-51 over nine  seasons. He is the first Wake Forest coach in more than 50 years to have a career mark over .500, joining Peahead Walker, who went 77-55-6 from 1937-50. Prior to taking the job, Grobe spent six years at Ohio University, compiling a 33-33-1 record from 1995-2000. While that record might not knock your socks off, consider this: in the six years prior to his arrival, the Bobcats won a total of nine games. After going 2-8-1 in 1995, Grobe never again slipped below five wins, including an 8-3 finish in 1997 and a 7-4 mark in his final season. His job with the Demon Deacons has been equally commendable, if not more so. Wake has finished over .500 five times, including a memorable run to the A.C.C. title in 2006 and a combined 22 victories from 2007-8 — 17 of those wins from 2007-8. The 2006 squad, picked to finish last in the conference in the preseason media poll, made an F.B.S.-best seven-game improvement over its 4-7 season in 2005. The 11-3 finish marked the program’s first season with double-digit victories and its second A.C.C. championship (1970), earning the Demon Deacons a B.C.S. trip to the Orange Bowl. What most fans will recall from 2006, beyond the A.C.C. title, was a 30-0 whitewashing of Florida State in Tallahassee, the Deacons’ first road win in the series since 1959. For the season, Grobe was named both the A.C.C. and national coach of the year. Wake followed that up with a 9-4 finish in 2007, giving the program — when combined with eight wins in 2008 — 28 victories from 2006-8; the next most successful three-year period outside the Grobe era was a 19-win stretch from 1944-46.

Players to watch

The quarterback job will go to junior Skylar Jones, who takes on the tall task of replacing four-year starter Riley Skinner. Jones has more mobility than his predecessor, partly explaining why Wake Forest will transition to a even more run-based option attack in 2010. Unfortunately, while the Deacons will be slightly more athletic at the position, Jones brings into his junior season no playing experience. Quite a change: Skinner was one of the most experienced and accomplished quarterbacks in the A.C.C. over the last handful of seasons. We all know Jones can do the job — and then some — with his feet; let’s see if Jones is able to form a more well-rounded game, making opponents respect the new Wake Forest passing game.

Depth at running back is no concern. Senior Josh Adams, entering his fourth season as the team’s lead back, will again earn most of the significant action. He’s been somewhat disappointing over the past two years, however, battling injuries in 2008 before never finding his groove in the running game a year ago; nevertheless, he still rushed for a team-best 541 yards while adding 28 receptions — fourth on the team — for 307 yards. Look for his totals to significantly increase in 2010, as Adams is likely to take on an even larger role in Wake’s slightly tweaked offensive scheme. Junior Brandon Pendergrass, good enough to start for most teams, will again serve as Wake’s top secondary option. He rushed for 399 yards last fall, slightly down from his team-leading 528-yard freshman total, though he did average a career-best 4.8 yards per carry. Wake Forest must replace fullback Mike Rinfrette — who doubled at tight end late last year — with sophomore Tommy Bohanon, the rare true freshman to play under Grobe, currently holding the top spot on the depth chart.

It’s almost unfortunate that Wake plans to somewhat deemphasize the passing game, as this team looks very good at receiver. Wake returns its top three pass-catchers from a year ago — top four if you include Adams: senior Marshall Williams (60 catches for a team-best 867 yards and 6 touchdowns) and sophomores Devon Brown (team-leading 61 receptions for 671 yards) and Chris Givens (45 for 629 and a team-leading 8 scores). A very solid trio. Brown also made an impact on the ground, rushing for 150 yards — fourth on the team — and a touchdown. Senior Jordan Williams will be a leading reserve, while Wake, as always, will have a handful of youngsters ready to contribute coming off redshirt seasons.

As noted earlier, perhaps the most stunning aspect of last year’s Deacons was the ineffectiveness of the defense, whose 315 points allowed was the program’s most since 2005; as one would expect, that was Wake’s last losing season. The run defense in particular took a sizable step back, giving up 164.3 yards per game and 4.6 yards per rush, two of the worst totals in the conference. It is a concern, therefore, that Wake must replace starters Boo Robinson and John Russell on the interior of the line. In order to show improvement, the Deacons must land an inspired effort from thus-far unproven contributors currently littering the roster at tackle and on the nose. Two youngsters entered the summer atop the depth chart: sophomore Ramon Booi is poised to start at nose guard, redshirt freshman Frank Souza at tackle. Booi is an intriguing prospect, as he’s a taller — he’s listed at 6’6 — than most nose guard prospects. Barring a position change, Wake will enter the season with only freshmen and sophomores in the middle of the line.

The Demon Deacons do return both starters at end, led by junior Tristan Dorty. He played well last fall, his first season earning significant playing time, posting 41 tackles (6 for loss) and 3 sacks. Of course, it will be on Dorty to replicate — let alone improve upon — last year’s numbers with multiple-year starters like Robinson and Russell drawing attention in the middle. Kyle Wilber, a five-game starter in 2009, entered the summer leading fellow junior Gelo Orange (32 stops, 3 sacks) in the battle to start opposite Dorty. Even if Orange does not earn the starting nod, look for the junior to remain an important cog in Wake’s defensive end rotation.

Seniors Hunter Haynes and Matt Woodlief, two of last season’s starters, return at linebacker. Woodlief alternated time between the middle and weak side last fall, eventually finishing fourth on the team with 52 tackles. Haynes spent most of last season on the weak side, starting the first six games of the year before moving into a secondary role. However, Haynes spent most of the spring in the middle, where he currently stands above Woodlief on the depth chart. This is a bit surprising; perhaps Wake Forest wants to get sophomore Riley Haynes, Hunter’s younger brother, on the field — he’s penciled in on the weak side. Sophomore Joey Ehrmann, a three-game starter as a rookie, will replace Jonathan Jones on the strong side. Ehrmann made 25 tackles (5.5 for loss) and 3.5 sacks, the latter total good for second on the team.

Losing Brandon Ghee hurts, but Wake Forest hopes that three returning starters — as well as a handful of solid contributors — can help it land an improved effort against the pass in conference play. There will be one slight change in the secondary: junior Josh Bush, who made 25 tackles and an interception last fall, will move from free safety — where he made seven starts — to cornerback, stepping in for Ghee. That move will allow senior Alex Frye to step into a full-time starting role at safety. Frye will team with junior Cyhl Quarles, whose 62 tackles in 2009 ranked second on the team. There will be some competition at the second cornerback spot, where Wake returns both Michael Williams and Kenny Okoro, who split time at the position a year ago. Okoro — who had a team-best three interceptions — ended last season in the starting lineup, but it was Williams who left the spring atop the depth chart. Both will earn significant action.

Position battles to watch

Offensive line As is the case at quarterback, Wake Forest goes from having one of the nation’s most experienced offensive lines in the country heading into last fall to having a very inexperienced, largely unproven group in 2010. This is a bit of a concern. Two of last season’s starters do return, however: senior Russell Nenon, whose 25 career starts is the most of any returning Demon Deacon, remains at center; and fellow junior Joe Looney returns at left guard. A third junior who has started in the past, Doug Weaver, will start at right tackle. Expect a heated competition as Wake Forest attempts to fill holes at left tackle and right guard. When it comes to the blind side tackle — where Weaver could also earn snaps — the Wake coaching staff is high on redshirt freshman Steven Chase, who held the edge over junior Dennis Godfrey as the Deacons left spring practice. Godfrey seems to be a better fit on the strong side, however, though Wake could also turn to redshirt freshman Devin Bolling on the left side. A trio of sophomores are battling to replace the tandem of Barrett McMillan and Jeff Griffin at right guard: Gabe Irby, Michael Hoag and Bryson Dunmeyer. Irby currently stands atop the depth chart, though Hoag has the most experience of the group — all of one game, unfortunately.

Game(s) to watch

The schedule grabs Wake Forest in mid-September and doesn’t let go. The difficult slate of home games from October on means that Wake Forest cannot afford to go any worse than 2-2 on the road in A.C.C. play. In that vein, games against Maryland, Duke and Vanderbilt are must-wins.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Wake Forest is always capable of exceeding expectations. In fact, it is surprising to see these Grobe-led Demon Deacons not surpass their projected finish, as the program has shown a number of times over the last half-decade. Having said that, I feel this is the right spot for this team, which must address a few issues before being considered a viable A.C.C. contender. The first is the quarterback spot: give Jones credit for landing the starting role, but he remains an unknown commodity. The offensive line is also a concern, with its three lost starters largely unproven — especially at right guard. The same can be said of the interior of the defensive line, where Wake plans to replace a pair of multiple-year starters with a handful of second- and third-year players. Here’s the good news: Grobe always — well, nearly always — delivers. He’s perhaps the best coach in the country at making something out of nothing; this team is far from nothing, for lack of a better word, yet Grobe will have his hands full. I’m giving the Demon Deacons some credit — most are predicting less, I’ve noticed. I think this a borderline bowl team — perhaps six wins, though it won’t be pretty.

Dream season In a surprise equal to Wake’s run to the A.C.C. championship in 2006, Wake upends a handful of higher-ranked conference opponents en route to a second B.C.S. bowl trip in five years.

Nightmare season The Deacons slip to 4-8, giving the program successive losing seasons for the first time since 2003-5.

In case you were wondering

Where do Wake Forest fans congregate? You can find in-depth football and basketball recruiting coverage at Deacons Illustrated and Deacon Sports. For a blog’s take, take a trip to Blogger So Dear and My Take on Wake, the latter a blog from the Winston-Salem Journal’s Dan Collins.

Up Next

Who is No. 70? Myerberg Shain & Associates has two branches: one in the New York City area and another in this university’s home state.

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  1. DivePlay says:

    Shameless plug by our fearless writer…Hawaii is up next.

    Also, Jim Grobe is a great coach and Wake will definitely surprise a ranked team at some point in 2010.

  2. jjtiller says:

    I think Russell Nenon is (redshirted) senior, as I stated in my preview.

    BTW Grobe is an awesome coach, of course, but I’ve tried to be realistic about my dear WF…

  3. visib says:

    Great post! I hope the Demon Deacons will get Bowl invitation in this year and we can see many-many victories in the future. It’s a young team with a great coach! GO WF!

  4. Jeff says:

    “Alliteratively-named college mascots
    1. Blackburn Battlin’ Beavers.
    2. S.E. Oklahoma State Savage Storm.
    3. Canisius Golden Griffins.
    4. Erskine Flying Fleet.
    5. Wake Forest Demon Deacons.”

    For the full alliteration:

    Connecticut College Camels
    Cabrini College Cavaliers
    Coker College Cobras
    Clearwater Christian College Cougars
    College of Charleston Cougars

    University of Utah Utes!

  5. [...] Conference. Speaking of the ACC, Pre-Snap Read continues its countdown, including Navy opponents Wake Forest and Duke. Mouse Davis, father of the modern Run & Shoot, is back on the staff at Hawaii. Some [...]

  6. Fantastic preview. Posted to BloggerSoDear to link here. I can tell you know football very well and thank you for taking the time to do a thorough preview of a team in Wake Forest that many people often skip over.

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