Wake Forest went seven years losing more games than they won from 2009 to 2015, but after a slow start to his tenure, Dave Clawson has turned things around for the Deacs, securing a winning record three years in a row.
Clawson has a history of being a master rebuilder, but he’s always gotten hired to a better job before truly having a chance to see if he can make it stick. That’s really what this year is about as the roster undergoes some key changes, especially on defense and in the receiving corps.
Despite splitting time between Sam Hartman and Jamie Newman due to Hartman’s midyear injury, the offense was solid last year, in a large part due to two incredible options in the passing game that now depart, Greg Dortch and Alex Bachman. The two combined for over 1,600 yards last year, but now some people are going to have to step up. Sage Surratt (581) is the top returner, but I’m interested in senior Scotty Washington, someone who shined as an underclassman but took a step back last year due to injuries. Freshmen Nolan Groulx and Donavon Greene could also challenge for playing time, and a solid option at tight end is back in Jack Freudenthal.
RB Cade Carney was really good last year, topping 1,000 yards on a 5.3 yard per carry average. His #2, Matt Colburn, is gone but backup Christian Beal-Smith should step into a bigger role after 4.9 YPC last year.
The line is solid with three starters back, but there are holes on the interior where two sophomores will start. It’s hard to say much about the offense without knowing who the quarterback will be. I thought Newman (60%, 7.7 YPA, nine TDs, four INTs) was the better option but it was close enough that Wake might stick with Hartman (55$, 6.8 YPA, 16 touchdowns, eight INTs) because of the extra year of eligibility.
Wake’s defense has slowly deteriorated since star coordinator Mike Elko (now DC at Texas A&M) left, from allowing 5.3 YPP and 22.2 PPG in his final year to 5.6 and 28.3 in the first year after his departure, to 5.9 and 33.3 this most recent year.
After firing their coordinator midyear in 2018, the new guy is Lyle Hemphill, who won’t have a lot to work with. Junior end Manny Walker is a name that entices me after two sacks and two TFL as a backup. The only guy with more sacks returning will be the guy starting opposite him, Carlos Basham (4.5 sacks, 6.5 TFL). Wake also brings in some young talent in the pass rush department between freshman Shamar McCollumn and sophomore Mike Allen who both should see bigger roles, but the inside could struggle after the departure of Zeek Rodney.
Both outside linebackers return but the middle will be up in the air. A similar situation will play out in the secondary where the corners could be one of the best duos in the conference but the safety spots are complete unknowns. This defense will take a step back with just five starters returning.
Eight of 12 games are projected within six points (including two within one point) so there’s a lot of different ways the year could go for Wake Forest. I feel pretty low on the Demon Deacons compared to some others and my model. If things go well this team could be 5-1 going into the back half of the year, but trip up early and this could be a team struggling to make a bowl by year’s end.
|at Boston College
|at Virginia Tech
Average Projected Record: 6.8 wins, 5.2 losses (3.6 wins, 4.4 losses