In a little over a month, the Syracuse Orange will open their 2011 football season in the Dome against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (assuming the game actually exists). There's a lot of practice, roster additions, position-battles and depth charts to sort out between now and then. In the meantime, Riley over at Wake Forest blog Blogger So Dear was kind enough to answer some questions for us (and I answered some for him as well). Let's learn a little bit about these Deacs now so we can properly learn to despise them come September 1st...
In five years, you guys went from 11 wins to 3. Wa'happun?
Well essentially we came back down to Earth. Wake Forest has never been a football school, and despite what some fans think, one fantastic year is not going to change that. Expectations were raised after 2006 (which they should have been), but it has also caused some people to look at Wake Forest football a bit unrealistically.
Of course I would love it if we won 10 games every season and competed on the national stage year in and year out, but that is not very likely for a school like Wake Forest at all. Consistency is really all that I look for in our team, and a goal that I believe to be achievable is over any number of given years (say 10), make the bowl at least 50% of the time. Other than the elite teams, college football is an extremely "ebb and flow" cycle. A team wins 6-7 games for 3-4 years, and then usually has a couple of down seasons.
Now I have deviated from the original question, but it gets me to my answer. I believe that we are experiencing that down cycle before we pull ourselves back up. People have questioned whether or not our recruiting paid off post-Orange Bowl, and while it is a valid question, there is a reasonable answer. The model of football that Jim Grobe has established over his 11 years here relies on experience and 5-year players (RS their freshman year) to get the job done. Our team was not very good at all last year, and Coach Grobe attributed that to a lackluster year of recruiting. If I am correct, things should pick up this year and we will be back in a bowl of some sort in 2012.
Is Jim Grobe still the man for the job or has his time come and gone?
While I am not somebody that believes a job is set in stone for life, Jim Grobe can stay here as long as he wants barring any scandals, or reverting back to 0- and 1-win seasons. The recruiting pipelines and the foundations that he has set for Wake Forest football are phenomenal given the perception of Wake Forest on a national scale. Just look at the expectations of our fan base: in a recent poll on Blogger So Dear, there are an astonishing amount of people that believe we are going to win 5, 6, 7, and 8+ games. While that would be fantastic, I think realistically that our ceiling is 5, and that would take a couple of big upsets. I would set the season O/U for Wake at 3.5, and have wavered in making my selection of that to this point.
How important is a good football team to Wake Forest fans?
Just like any other college in America, Wake Forest fans expect to have a good football team and a good basketball team consistently. As I have said before, the Orange Bowl appearance has raised the expectations of our fan base to the highest point it has been certainly in the past 40-50 years. For most fans though, basketball is king down here. You know all about Tobacco Road and how crazy North Carolinians are about basketball, and it is not exaggerated too much at all. We live, eat, and breathe basketball 24/7, and while I do not speak for the entire fan base and alumni when I say this, I certainly believe it--football season is good for one thing, it means that basketball season is coming soon.
Who is the one guy on offense and one guy on defense that will strike fear into our hearts?
The two players are pretty clear cut in my mind. On the offensive side you have sophomore running back Josh Harris, and on the defensive side you have RS-senior, defensive end converted to OLB, Kyle Wilber. Most people heard about Harris' outstanding game last year against Virginia Tech (240 yards rushing), but that counted for nearly 1/3 of his yardage all of last year. I expect that to change immensely this year. Coach Grobe stressed several times at the ACC Football Media Day on Monday that we were getting back to some hard-nosed running football. We have three guys on the offensive line that will have a shot at being drafted next year (Weaver, Looney, and Godfrey), and if we get Josh Harris over 200 carries then I fully expect him to eclipse the 1000 yard mark. If he can stay healthy, Harris has an outstanding chance at making a run at Chris Barclay's rushing records for Wake Forest.
A lot of people outside of Winston-Salem aren't familiar with Kyle Wilber, but if he has his way it won't be so by the middle of ACC season. Since Wake is currently undergoing a transformation from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense, Wilber has been moved to OLB, but will likely still see snaps where he can put his knuckles in the ground and go after some QB's. Wilber made Mel Kiper's top 5 returning OLB's for this year, and should continue the amazing influx of linebacker talent to the NFL that Wake Forest has brought in the past 3-4 years.
Another name to watch out for is Nikita Whitlock. Listed at 5'11, 260 by the Wake Forest official website (up to around 275 now), he is in fact our NT. Many people have gone on record as saying that Nikita is too small to play NT anywhere, I respectfully disagree. In one-on-one drills last year, Nikita shredded every single offensive lineman that he was put up against, and even when the coaches threw a curveball to him in terms of snap count, he took it in stride and beat the lineman anyway. In the 3-4 that we are converting to, Nikita fits it perfectly. Unlike the San Diego 3-4 that puts a big run stopper in the middle, Coach Grobe is converting to a defense that has more versatility in the front 7 and can get to the QB from nearly every spot up there. Rather than overpowering the middle of the offensive line and dominating the line of scrimmage, Nikita uses his speed, lower body strength, and agility to hit the gaps in the line before they know what hits them. The stats speak for themselves for Nikita (44 tackles, 10 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 FF), and all that was done as a true freshman on a team that redshirts nearly everybody.
How big of a Wake fanbase can we expect to see up in the Cuse?
Based on the message boards that I have seen, there will be a good amount of Old Gold and Black up there. Of course it is somewhat tempered by the fact that our definition of "big" likely vastly differs. We are one of the smallest schools in the BCS, and while we do have a fair share of alumni in the NY/Syracuse area, it will probably not seem like a lot to most Syracuse fans in the Carrier Dome. Take the time to talk to a few Wake fans though, they are some of the nicest people that you will ever meet. I encourage anybody reading this to invite a Wake fan over for a beer at your tailgate, it will be great conversation, a friendly bunch, and a good time all-around!
What's your way-too-early prediction of how the game will go?
I was scared you were going to ask me this question. Honestly I have not a clue of what to expect. I am going to attend a few practices over the next couple of weeks once they start up next Friday (the benefit of a smaller school is open practices at WFU), and that will give me a better idea of how much our team has grown since last year. Coach Grobe used the word "cocky" to describe our team last year, inexplicably so in my humble opinion given the fact that last year was one of the worst years I can ever remember seeing Wake Forest play. This year though, he has said that everybody is working harder than they ought to know how. That should help a lot, but we have a long way to go from last year.
I'm putting Syracuse as a 3.5-4 point favorite, but it could be more. Nassib will likely have a pretty good day against our secondary because of how far we play off the ball. I am eager to see your running back and see how our rush defense stacks up against him. I think it comes down to whoever can win the time of possession honestly. That means that the running game is working, and hopefully that team will be Wake Forest.
Just a note--the last time we played y'all to start a season was 2006, when you knocked Ben Mauk out for the year (which produced a freshman QB named Riley Skinner).We won that game 20-10, started the season 5-0, and went on to win the ACC for the first time in over 40 years. Let's just get through this game with no injuries, a hardnosed game of football, and hopefully y'all finish a close point behind on the scoreboard. Best of luck to Syracuse against Wake Forest, and I will be pulling hard for you in the Big East after our matchup. It has been a pleasure talking with y'all and exchanging Q and A's.!