The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. We’ll take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Today at No. 41: Wake Forest
Coach: Jim Grobe (68-67, entering 12th season at Wake Forest, 101-100-1 overall)
2011 record: 6-7 (5-3 in Atlantic Coast Conference, fourth in ACC)
Look back: After starting the year 4-1 and looking poised for a potential ACC run reminiscent of their 2006 conference championship year, the Demon Deacons hit a wall to end the 2011 campaign. Immediately following their early-season 4-1 mark, the Deacons finished the year losers in six of their last eight games, including a pivotal contest at Clemson. Had they held on for a victory during the Nov. 12 game in “Death Valley,” the Deacons would have kept alive their ACC title hopes and helped prevented the Tigers from ultimately going to Charlotte, N.C. and claiming the year’s conference crown. The combination of Tanner Price (quarterback) and Chris Givens (receiver) was a big reason why Wake Forest was even in position to have a winning season.
Offensive starters lost/returning: 8/3
Defensive starters lost/returning: 4/7
Key losses: RB Brandon Pendergrass, WR Chris Givens, WR Danny Dembry, TE Cameron Ford, G Joe Looney, DE Kyle Wilber, DE Tristan Dorty, SS Cyhl Quarles
Top returnees: QB Tanner Price, WR Michael Campanaro, C Garrick Williams, DT Nikita Whitlock, LB Joey Ehrmann, CB Merrill Noel
Strengths: Once again, Wake Forest’s strength could lie in its ability to fly under the radar. With its best receiver and three of its best defenders from last season’s team now gone, Wake isn’t largely expected to have a strong 2012 season. That underdog role is one the Deacons embraced last season, and it’s one Grobe will certainly try to coax out of his players once again this fall. Entering his junior season, Price now has two years of solid quarterbacking experience, and could be a big reason why Wake Forest will turn heads in its rather balanced conference this season. If they pass early tests with North Carolina and Florida State, the Deacons could find themselves very much in the ACC’s driver’s seat.
Weaknesses: The schedule does present a fairly large weakness for Wake. In addition to the tough conference games three weeks into the season, the Deacons also go on the road to Virginia in October, take on Clemson on a Thursday night, have back-to-back November road games at North Carolina State and Notre Dame, and close the year with a contest against a surging Vanderbilt team. Wake’s path to the ACC championship and a hopeful BCS bowl will not be easy. The fact that a key playmaker like Givens is gone could make matters even more difficult for the Deacons.
Outlook: While last year had many successful moments in it, the Deacons likely will be hard-pressed to call 2012 a similarly strong overall season. The personnel losses and difficult schedule facing the group will make it tough to build upon last year’s work. If, however, the Deacons can make it through the first three weeks mostly unscathed, they have a chance to reverse last year’s second-half woes. The benefit of last year’s difficulty could be the fact that they now know they have to finish out a season before crowning themselves kings of anything. Expect a solid team that may produce similar results to last season’s.
Sept. 1 Liberty
Sept. 8 North Carolina
Sept. 15 at Florida State
Sept. 22 Army
Sept. 29 Duke
Oct. 6 at Maryland
Oct. 20 at Virginia
Oct. 25 Clemson
Nov. 3 Boston College
Nov. 10 at North Carolina State
Nov. 17 at Notre Dame
Nov. 24 Vanderbilt
Rest of the countdown: