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College Football Countdown: No. 41 Wake Forest

College FootballCollege SportsFootballAtlantic Coast ConferenceWake Forest Demon DeaconsClemson Tigers

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.

2012 Schedule

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:

No. 43 Virginia

No. 44 Northwestern

No. 45 Miami

No. 46 Southern Miss

No. 47 USF

No. 48 North Carolina

No. 49 Illinois

No. 50 Tulsa

No. 51 California

No. 52 UCF

No. 53 Pittsburgh

No. 54 Arizona

No. 55 BYU

No. 56 Ohio

No. 57 Temple

No. 58 Purdue

No. 59 Arkansas State

No. 60 Vanderbilt

No. 61 Connecticut

No. 62 Arizona State

No. 63 Wyoming

No. 64 Northern Illinois

No. 65 Utah State

No. 66 Louisiana-Lafayette

No. 67 Marshall

No. 68 Western Michigan

No. 69 Louisiana Tech

No. 70 Kentucky

No. 71 Air Force

No. 72 Western Kentucky

No. 73 UCLA

No. 74 Toledo

No. 75 FIU

No. 76 San Jose State

No. 77 North Texas

No. 78 Iowa State

No. 79 Nevada

No. 80 Eastern Michigan

No. 81 Hawai’i

No. 82 East Carolina

No. 83 Texas Tech

No. 84 Washington State

No. 85 San Diego State

No. 86 Ball State

No. 87 Navy

No. 88 Tennessee

No. 89 Kent State

No. 90 Louisiana-Monroe

No. 91 Bowling Green

No. 92 Syracuse

No. 93 Minnesota

No. 94 Boston College

No. 95 Kansas

No. 96 Oregon State

No. 97 Rice

No. 98 Ole Miss

No. 99 Colorado

No. 100 New Mexico State

No. 101 Duke

No. 102 Idaho

No. 103 Army

No. 104 Maryland

No. 105 Colorado State

No. 106 Miami (Ohio)

No. 107 UTEP

No. 108 Troy

No. 109 Fresno State

No. 110 Central Michigan

No. 111 Indiana

No. 112 Memphis

No. 113 Middle Tennessee

No. 114 UAB

No. 115 Buffalo

No. 116 Tulane

No. 117: FAU

No. 118: UNLV

No. 119: Akron

No. 120: New Mexico

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