Inside Carolina's Vote – 3rd in the Atlantic Division
2006 record (11-3, 7-2 ACC)
Head coach Jim Grobe's coaching ability has never been criticized during his seven years in Winston-Salem. The only question has been whether he would ever be successful enough on the recruiting trail to challenge the athletes that the elite ACC programs put on the field -- and that subject was answered decisively last season with a conference championship. Now the question becomes: Was the 2006 campaign the start of a new era at Wake Forest, or was the title run simply a fluke? After all, the Deacons had to steal victories away from Duke, UNC and NCSU – three teams that combined to finish 4-20 in the league. On the flip side, Wake walked into Doak Campbell Stadium and handed Bobby Bowden his first home shutout in 31 seasons with a 30-0 pounding. Look for Grobe and Co. to use the media's preseason poll as locker room material.
Offense: The Demon Deacons' offense will never be mistaken for a high-powered unit, but OC Steed Lobotzke has designed an attack that perfects efficiency. Wake averaged only 307 total yards of offense last season, good for 96th nationally. But a solid ground game (149.9 ypg), a smart passing attack (passing efficiency was tops in the ACC) and the ability to limit turnovers (turnover margin was 6th nationally) proved to be a winning formula for the Deacs. RS sophomore Riley Skinner (65.8% comp, 2,051 yds, 9 tds, 5 ints) returns along with seniors WR senior Kenneth Moore [pictured, right] (32 rec, 314 yds, 1 td) and TE John Tereshinski (16 rec, 201 yds, 2 tds). Senior RB Micah Andrews returns from injury and should have an excellent final season behind a veteran offensive line, including preseason All-ACC C Steve Justice.
Defense: Similar to the offense's statistical numbers, DC Dean Hood's group was not a dominant unit, ranking ninth in the ACC in total defense (322.5). But the Deacons were opportunistic (31 forced turnovers) and kept their opponents out of the endzone (15.4 ppg was 12th nationally). The 2007 defense took a hit this summer when potential starting LB Eric Berry (26 tkl) was ruled academically ineligible, but LBs Aaron Curry (83 tkl, 5.5 tfl) and Stanley Arnoux (69 tkl, 7 tfl) hope to build on last season's success, despite returning only five starters. Seniors DE Jeremy Thompson (30 tkl, 3.5 tfl) and DT Zach Stukes (42 tkl, 2.5 sacks) anchor the line, while the secondary returns juniors CB Alphonso Smith (48 tkl, 3 ints) and SS Kevin Patterson (44 tkl, 2 ints).
Special Teams: Junior Sam Swank is back as the ACC's top kicker, earning distinction last season as the only player to be named a semifinalist for both the Lou Groza and Ray Guy Awards. He will man the punting (41.2 avg.) and placekicking (23-31 on field goals) duties. The Deacons will miss Willie Idlette on punt returns (9.2 ypr), but senior Kevin Marion will resume his role on kickoff returns (22.3 ypr). This unit has the potential to be tops in the ACC.
Schedule: Wake Forest faces a tough OOC slate in 2007, with Nebraska at home and road trips to Navy and Vanderbilt. The ACC schedule is as docile as one could hope, with the Coastal rotation consisting of the bottom-three teams from last season – Virginia, UNC and Duke. Away games at Boston College and Clemson will help to decide the Atlantic Division, and the Deacons better bring their A-game when FSU comes to town looking for revenge on Thursday night, Oct. 11th.
Top Newcomer: QB Skylar Jones. The Middletown, Ohio native boasts sub-4.5 speed, and while it may be a few years before he sees the playing field, it looks as though he is the perfect fit for Grobe's run-oriented offense.
Key Game: Vs. Nebraska on Sept. 8. The Cornhuskers embarrassed Wake 31-3 in Lincoln two years ago, and if the Deacons are looking for a shot to earn some national respect, then this game presents that opportunity. Nebraska will roll into Winston-Salem as a top-25 program, and it helps that Wake will have already played a tough game (at BC on Sept. 1).
Grobe on experience winning games: "I think the past couple of years we were 4-7 and had a pretty good football team. I think in this league you can have a real good football team and have nothing to show for it record-wise. Over the last few years we lost some games that went down to the last few plays of the game and some of the kids made the mistakes that got us beat when they were younger. Now I don't think there's any question that the thing that made the difference for us last year was the maturity of our football team."
Justice on continuing last season's success: "The one thing that coach has really harped on is that you can't be too high and you can't be too low. I think we're coming into the season, and that's what we're trying to do. You can't be too high with your confidence saying, ‘We're great, we're ACC champs, blah, blah,' and you can't be too low, saying 'That was a one-time fluke.' We have to come in and say we can do this, but we have to do like we did last year."
Word from the Beat: "How will Wake Forest handle success? Grobe told an audience last spring that the Deacons could be a better team in 2007, yet finish with a worse record. In terms of experience and personnel, Grobe's team does look better on paper today than it did going into last season. But one thing that 2006 championship season demonstrated was the fine line between success and failure. In the season's second game, Wake Forest was outplayed by Duke and had to block a last-second field goal to edge the ACC's worst team. A fluke play cost the Deacons a loss in a game they probably deserved to win against Clemson, but Grobe's team was 7-1 in close games, and that was a difference between a pretty good year and the best season in school history. The growing maturity of Riley Skinner, the return of Micah Andrews and the continued influx of talent from Grobe's underrated recruiting efforts give Wake Forest a real chance to defend its ACC title in 2007. But the Deacs don't have the talent to overwhelm their opposition. To succeed, they'll have to be as tough, as smart and as lucky as they were last season." -- Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook
S. 1 at Boston College
S. 8 Nebraska
S. 15 Army
S. 22 Maryland
S. 29 bye
O. 6 at Duke
O. 11 Florida State
O. 20 at Navy
O. 27 UNC
N. 3 at Virginia
N. 10 at Clemson
N. 17 NCSU
N. 24 at Vanderbilt
(Photos Courtesy Getty Images)