Trouble Spot #12 – Wake Forest

Our unique look at Notre Dame's toughest games for the 2011 season takes into account far more than the opponents' collective talent level.

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Trouble Spot No. 12 – Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons finished 3-9 last season, winning over Vanderbilt in the season-finale after previously dropping nine straight, eight by double digits. After a run of success, Wake Forest was a poor team last season, the worst of the last five years under head coach Jim Grobe.

Situation (date, time, location): November 5 in Winston-Salem at BB&T field (capacity 31,500). Kick-off time has yet to be determined.

Opponent's/Irish Game Slot: Wake faces North Carolina prior to the matchup with Notre Dame and travel to *Clemson one week later. The Irish square off with new-nemesis Navy in South Bend seven days prior to battling the Demon Deacons and travel to Baltimore to take on Maryland in a "neutral site" game, the week after.

*Of note: Rival Clemson has ripped Wake Forest repeatedly during the last decade, though it's unlikely the Wake program won't be completely focused on the Irish for this unique matchup.

Numbers/National view of Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons put up ugly season-end statistics last fall, finishing 110th in Scoring Defense and 91st in Scoring Offense (a tough combo to overcome).

Phil Steele ranks Wake last (6th) in the ACC Atlantic while Athlon's slots the Demon Deacons at #83, nationally. Lindy's similarly ranked Wake as its 80th best team.

My view of Wake Forest: Similar – I haven't watched the Demon Deacons play since reviewing the Stanford game tape (a 68-24 annihilation) in preparation for the Cardinal/Irish game last September. After three straight seasons of bowl appearances (2006-08), Wake has fallen off the college map, losing 16 of its last 24 contests.

Update: Two defensive starters, cornerback Kevin Johnson and defensive end Kevin Smith won't be with Wake Forest as expected next fall (Johnson has academic issues and Smith was dismissed from the team, according to a June 11 report from the Sporting News.

They're the 12th best team on the Irish schedule entering the season with a ceiling around No. 10 if things break right.

Coach Quotient: I lived in the south during Jim Grobe's rise from "who's he?" to "coach who does the most with the least." The Associated Press coach of the year in 2006, Grobe will nonetheless land on the internet hot seat in the irrational world of college football (one in which Wake Forest is expected to somehow regularly contend) should he finish sub-.500 for a third straight season in 2011.

Grobe has a 62-60 record at the school after the program had previously lost 81 of 120 games. He guided Wake Forest to 11 wins in 2006 (Wake Forest + 11 wins = miracle-worker), earning a 10-year contract extension in the process and has helped place 12 former players on current NFL rosters.

With good health and the continued development of a young defense that was hammered last fall, the Demon Deacons can contend for a lower-tier bowl because of Grobe.

Trap Game Quotient: Maybe 3-4 on a scale of 1 to 10. The game could include the dreaded, sleepy noon-time kick-off, and Wake will likely be sub-.500 entering the contest. This is one scenario in which the Irish would likely fair better in prime time battle, despite a more volatile crowd, as it can be hard for a vastly superior team to click on all cylinders in regionally-televised noon kick-offs – though truly great teams find a way, regardless of the circumstances.

Unique Aspect of Offense/Defense: If sophomore quarterback Tanner Price remains upright and promising redshirt-sophomore runner Josh Harris picks up where he left off (241 yards vs. Virginia Tech as the highlight) Grobe's varied offense (using elements of the option/flexbone) will again keep his overmatched squad in the majority of their games. Wake was blown out just three times from 2006 through 2008 – it's not an easy offense to corral when operating with quality pieces.

Advantage Irish: Notre Dame will have faced Navy seven days prior and Air Force's Triple Option one month earlier in preparation for the Demon Deacons. Though not a true option attack, Grobe's best teams have employed option principles when talent allows. Wake's final depth chart included a traditional fullback/flanker/tight end last November.

Wake is expected to feature a base 3-4 defense with co-defensive coordinators Brian Knorr and Tim Billings, both were on staff last fall.

Relevant Storyline: It's the first meeting between the programs and I'll guess the folks in Winston-Salem would consider a win over the Irish among the three greatest in program history. In other words: the same storyline whenever Notre Dame travels someplace for the first time…

Puncher's Chance for an upset? Low – unless Army, not Navy, was the "aberration" last season for the Notre Dame/Bob Diaco defense vs. an option-based attack. The Deacons are a sophomore-based squad, likely one season away from week-to-week consistency.

Grobe is 11-22-1 as a home underdog over the last 10 seasons, winning 35 and losing 28 at BB&T overall.

Wake Forest/Irish in (November): Notre Dame famously swept through the season's final month in 2010 after dropping at least one game in November in 16 of its last 17 seasons. Brian Kelly has won 15 of his last 16 final month contests, including 12 straight.

Wake Forest finished 2010 with a 1-3 November and posted the same mark in 2009, though in close contests vs. tough competition. Over Grobe's three best seasons (06-08), Wake finished a collective 7-5 in its final four contests.

Final Verdict/Prediction: Expect a blowout win by the Irish over a Wake Forest team that doesn't have the overall depth of developed talent to compete with a quality team in November after facing a taxing October slate (at BC, Florida State, Virginia Tech and at UNC, included).


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