CFN: 2009 Wake Forest Preview

No longer a cute little story, Wake Forest has proved it's the real deal with staying power. Can good playmakers like RB Josh Adams get the Demon Deacons back into the ACC title hunt?

Head coach: Jim Grobe
9th year: 54-44
Returning Lettermen
Off. 26, Def. 17, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 19

Ten Best Wake Players
1. QB Riley Skinner, Sr.
2. NG Boo Robinson, Sr.
3. CB Brandon Ghee, Sr.
4. DT John Russell, Sr.
5. RB Josh Adams, Jr.
6. OT Chris DeGeare, Sr.
7. C Russell Nenon, Jr.
8. TE Ben Wooster, Sr.
9. RB Brandon Pendergrass, Soph.
10. DE Kyle Wilber, Soph.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2009 Results: 0-0

9/5 Baylor
9/12 Stanford
9/19 Elon
9/26 at Boston College
10/3 NC State
10/10 Maryland
10/17 at Clemson
10/24 at Navy
10/31 Miami
11/7 at Georgia Tech
11/14 Florida State
11/28 at Duke

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Results: 8-

8/30 at Baylor W 41-13
9/6 Ole Miss W 30-28
9/20 at Florida St W 12-3
9/27 Navy L 24-17
10/9 Clemson W 12-7
10/18 at Maryland L 26-0
10/25 at Miami L 16-10
11/1 Duke W 33-30 OT
11/8 Virginia W 28-17
11/15 at NC St L 21-17
11/22 Boston Coll L 24-21
11/29 Vanderbilt W 23-10
EagleBank Bowl
12/20 Navy W 29-19

At the end of April, two Wake Forest defenders, LB Aaron Curry and CB Alphonso Smith, were selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. It was tangible proof of how far this program has come under Jim Grobe…and how far it’ll have to go to remain there in 2009.

In the midst of their best run in school history, the Demon Deacons simply want to maintain a level of success that’s becoming customary in Winston-Salem. To do that, they’ll need more help from the offense and some duct tape for a defense that’s missing seven of last season’s starters.

On offense, steady QB Riley Skinner and the rest of his teammates need to evolve after averaging just 21 points and 308 yards a game in 2008. While Wake Forest is never going to be confused with Texas Tech, it should be more potent, considering the quarterback is a fourth-year starter and the backfield goes three-deep. Success will depend on the play of an offensive line that underachieved a year ago, but has enough returning veterans to turn the corner.

Defensively, the Deacons are going to lean heavily on the front four as the back seven adapts to six new starters and a very inexperienced two-deep. The unit will still be tough and stingier than most, but it’s unlikely to be taking over as many games as it did in recent years.

Maintain. That’s the operative word around the program heading into the 2009 season. Even without two of the best to ever play for the school, Wake feels it has the right mix of underrated talent and coaches to return to the postseason and even contend in the ACC Atlantic.  

What to look for on offense: The offensive line. This is ground zero for the fortunes of Wake Forest in 2009. If the unit can’t rebound from last year’s horrible performance, the Deacons might struggle to make it into the postseason. If, however, it gels, you never know what Jim Grobe and his staff are capable of concocting. The encouraging news is that everyone returns from a year and the group consists predominantly of upperclassmen. The line should be improved. The line has to be improved.

What to look for on defense: Fewer turnovers. In the past, the Demon Deacons were built on disruption and big plays, but that’s about to change as the back seven gets a more youthful look. It’s not that the replacements don’t have upside because they do. LB Hunter Haynes and safeties Alex Frye and Chyl Quarles, in particular, are going to be good ones in time. However, inconsistency and instability are pretty much built into the equation when all three linebackers and three-quarters of the secondary are first-time starters.

The team will be far better if … the offense can do some heavy lifting for a change. For years, the defense and special teams have been the catalysts of this program’s rise to notoriety. However, both units are undergoing makeovers, so it’s time for the offense to step out of its comfort zone. At a bare minimum, the Demon Deacons need to improve in the running game and in time of possession in order to give that rebuilt defense longer breaks on the sidelines.

The Schedule
: Wake Forest appears to be addicted to playing against smart schools with Baylor, Stanford, and Navy in non-conference play, to go along with a tune-up against Elon. The key to the season will be holding up with the week off not coming until November 21st. Along the way, there's a nasty run of three road trips in four weeks going to Clemson, Navy, and Georgia Tech, with the home game not exactly a breather against Miami. If that wasn't a tough enough stretch, it's followed up by a game against Florida State before finally getting the week off. The time off comes before the regular-season finale at Duke.

Best Offensive Player: Senior QB Riley Skinner. To understand and appreciate Skinner, you’ve got to throw out the numbers, which will never be Heisman-caliber. He’s the poster-child for Wake Forest football, playing fundamentally sound and putting his team in the best possible position to win. An outstanding leader with a contagious work-ethic, he owns a 26-11 career mark as a starter, the best measure of his importance to the program. 

Best Defensive Player: Senior NG Boo Robinson. Senior CB Brandon Ghee may be better by NFL standards, but Robinson is going to be the tone-setter up front. A rarity among 300-pound interior linemen, he can stuff the run as well as rush the passer, leading last year’s team with six sacks. The push he generates up front tends to make everyone behind him a little better.     

Key player to a successful season: Senior LT Chris DeGeare. In the big picture, Wake Forest has to take a quantum leap from last year’s disastrous play of the offensive line. Holding the key to that turnaround is DeGeare, who sat out 2008 for academic reasons. If he can provide stability to the left tackle spot, it’ll have a 335-pound ripple effect that allows other linemen to shift to more natural positions. As the defense transitions, the offense simply can’t average less than three yards a carry for a second straight year. And DeGeare is a man on a mission, determined to honor the memory of his mother, who died of breast cancer in March of 2007, while getting noticed by NFL scouts.

The season will be a success if
... Wake Forest extends its school record of eight-win bowl seasons to a fourth consecutive year. In a year when so many key players need to be replaced on defense and special teams, the Demon Deacons getting to the postseason would be a sign of strength and long-term stability. Heck, if Wake can endure after losing the likes of Aaron Curry and Alphonso Smith, it’d be almost as telling as the 2006 ACC championship season.

Key game: Nov. 14 vs. Florida State. Not only will this game have some impact on the Atlantic Division race, but it’s become an interesting little rivalry, with the Deacons winning the last three meetings. Florida State simply can’t stomach losing to such a small school, which makes it doubly delicious for Wake Forest. Another win over the ‘Noles would be further evidence of how far the once mighty have fallen.

2008 Fun Stats: 
- Red zone scores: Opponents 32-of-34 (94%) - Wake Forest 34-of-45 (78%)
- Punt return average: Wake Forest 6.3 yards - Opponents 0.8 yards
- Interceptions: Wake Forest 18 - Opponents 7 Top Stories