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Wake Forest seeking football success in post-expansion ACC

Sporting News writer Mike DeCourcy explains why he labeled Wake Forest one of the six biggest conference realignment losers earlier this week.

Wake Forest is one of the biggest conference realignment losers, according to Sporting News writer Mike DeCourcy.

The Deacs are the only team of the six included in his column that didn’t actually change conferences, yet DeCourcy makes the point that the ACC now isn’t the same conference it once was after adding Pittsburgh, Miami, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Boston College and Syracuse.

“When the ACC voted to expand then, I wrote that no one would regret the decision quite so much as Wake Forest,” DeCourcy wrote Tuesday.

DeCourcy, who limited his Wake Forest discussion to just football, told Demon Deacon Digest this week that success is possible for the Deacs, depending on how success is defined.  

“You’re a small, private school in a league full of large, state universities. It’s really hard to compete in that environment over the years,” DeCourcy said. “‘Competitive’ is kind of a tricky word. Will they ever get to roughly a .500 record that gets to a bowl game because there’s so many bowls? I couldn’t put that out of anybody’s reach.”

That’s exactly how many Wake Forest fans would define success, according to Robert Reinhard, managing editor of Wake Forest fan blog Blogger So Dear.

“Wake has made like 10 bowl games in its history, so it’s sort of a big deal when Wake makes a bowl,” he said. “In its current state (the ACC), you ignore the results against Florida State and Clemson, and hope for the best against Louisville.”

He said that leaves historically winnable games against the likes of North Carolina State, Boston College, Duke, Syracuse and a rotating opponent from the Coastal Division.

“You determine how your program stands by how you do against those teams,” Reinhard said. “If Wake is going to be competitive in the ACC, those are the teams they’re going to have to beat in recruiting, which we’ve seen. And those are the teams they’re ultimately going to have to beat on the field.”

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson consistently takes it a step further, arguing that the Deacs will soon compete for conference titles, despite the current run of success by ACC Atlantic foes Florida State and Clemson.

“Right now, they’re the class of the conference, and not just in our division, but in the whole conference,” Clawson said during ACC Kickoff. “I think it’s one of those things that if we can continue our development, can we get ourselves to a place where we can be competitive with those teams and win a game in the fourth quarter against them.

“People ask if that’s a pipe dream. It’s been done before. Jim Grobe led Wake Forest to the Orange Bowl and won the ACC in 2006. When that happened, Florida State still had a football team and Clemson still had a football team.”

Wake shut the Seminoles out in 2006, defeating Florida State in Tallahassee 30-0. Bobby Bowden’s team finished 7-6 after an Emerald Bowl victory over UCLA that season, finishing 3-5 in the ACC.

That same year, Clemson topped Wake in Winston-Salem 27-17 in front of the sixth largest crowd (35,920) to ever watch a game at BB&T Field. The Tigers, however, fell out of the rankings after back-to-back ACC losses to Virginia Tech and Maryland and finished 8-5 (5-3 ACC).

“What people don’t understand is that Clemson and Florida State were screwing it up then. They were getting it wrong. You’re never surpassing those two unless they’re screwing it up,” DeCourcy said. “Nobody else in the league can get to where they are, unless they’re doing it wrong. They have to be doing it really, really wrong to even get in the game. I don’t mean you can’t beat them once in awhile, but I mean be at the top of the league.”

“You can say they already were there (in 2006), but what I’m saying is you didn’t need to add one or two more of them. If you already have two huge obstacles, you don’t go ahead and put another huge mountain in front of you.”

Reinhard actually argues the ACC expansion has been good for Wake football.

“Wake plays Syracuse and Boston College every year in football, and this year, I would say those are our two most winnable (conference) games,” he said. “I think Wake has benefitted from those two additions. It’s been a net positive, especially since Clemson and Florida State were already in our division.”

But being in the ACC means a ton of money for the program, especially in light of forthcoming ACC Network revenue. That income stream would enable the Wake Forest athletic department to further invest in top-of-line facilities across the board.

“You have great facilities? That’s like me having a computer,” DeCourcy said. “I can’t do my job without it. That doesn’t make me better because I have a computer. If you have really good facilities, that means you’re like everybody else. As a fan of particular teams, I want them to not go broke.

“It doesn’t make me feel better if the Steelers turn a $100 million profit in a year. It doesn’t make any difference to me. What I care about is if they play in the Super Bowl. How any college sports fan changes that — I don’t get it, and I don’t think I’ll ever get that.”

Most fans enjoy Wake being a part of the ACC, Reinhard believes.

“It’s ultra competitive at the top, so we’re not going to perennially compete for conference championships,” he said. “But with redshirting and development, you can be competitive for a conference championship if things align just right on a given year.” 

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