It's not football season yet, I know. But it's 120 days away, for those keeping track. And that means we can start jumping into some initial prep for an all-important 2015 season at Syracuse. We start with our opponents, which are not as tough as they've been in recent seasons. Each week, we'll preview each team on the 2015 slate. Today, we continue with the:
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
School: Wake Forest University
Mascot: Demon Deacons
#BRAND Slogan: "Turn Who You Are Into What You'll Be"
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: "Wake Up Our Athletic Department." "Quit Deacon Around."
Recommended Blog: Blogger So Dear
Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
Coach: Dave Clawson, second year. Dave was born in our own New York State (Youngstown, N.Y. to be exact), went to college at Williams (smart guy!) and coached at FCS powerhouse Fordham. He also has MAC ties, like pretty much the entire Syracuse staff.
2014 Record: (3-9) (1-7)
Recapping Last Season:
Clawson's first-year in Winston-Salem was not exactly smooth sailing, though there was some improvement in terms of competitiveness for sure (except against Syracuse -- BURN). There was also this terrifying affront to football. But beyond those points, 2014 was very much a transition year for the Deacons.
Wake Forest only managed to score 14.8 points per game (127th in FBS) and just 216.3 yards per game (128th in FBS). As you've probably figured already, that's second-to-last and last in the country. So offensively, there were definite struggles tied to a combination of lack of size on the line, lack of experience at QB and receiver, and typical deficiencies with the running game.
Defensively, there were positives, as evidenced by the 62nd-ranked scoring defense in the country, and 41st total defense -- equal parts influenced by the team's own accomplishments on that end and a collection of opponents that also had their own issues moving the ball. Clawson's identity was smart ball-hawking and creating defensive stops, and for better or for worse, the Demon Deacons committed to that from the start of the season.
History with Syracuse: After not facing one another for over 100 years, these two teams have faced off four times in the last decade -- and every year for the foreseeable future if the current ACC divisional structure holds. The Orange hold a 3-1 lead in the series, including wins in the last three matchups (2014, 2013 and 2011, respectively). You probably tried to forget those first two since they were less than pretty on both sides. But the 2011 game... that was a phenomenally thrilling bit of football that made you love and hate that team all at once (though you'd simply hate them by season's end).
2015 Season Outlook:
John Wolford's back at quarterback and ESPN's David Hale thinks he's going to be much-improved this fall. Part of that is due to an improved offensive line, and the rest is due to experience. Wolford, like any second-year passer, knows the offense more proficiently now than he did last year and a better line means more time to throw as well. The pressure will be on him to utilize that extra time, since the running game is... still a disaster. Dez Wortham and Isaiah Robinson are both back, and have a long road ahead to prove they can make for an effective backfield. There's also the little issue of Wolford not being the confirmed starter with Kendall Hilton in the fold. Wolford should start the season, but could get pulled within the first month if he struggles.
This group will need some help getting back to last year's perfectly acceptable level of achievement. Secondary stars Bud Noel and Kevin Johnson are gone, which shifts the focus to a suddenly young unit of defensive backs and the line. Wendell Dunn and Zeek Rodney appear up for the challenge, and they'll have help from a gaggle of other defenders of varying experience levels. No guarantees the team can pull it all together, obviously, but if that front-seven can make strides, it'll certainly make things easier for the entire defense while the offense catches up.
Wake Forest is one of those teams that can be better than they were last season, even if the W-L record doesn't show it. The schedule makes things tough, and the team's continued relative youth makes things tougher. But things are certainly not impossible, and Clawson has this team looking up long-term. The Deacs' job is a tough one for any head coach, and he's been allotted a whole lot of rope to get it done successfully. Look past them this year (and going forward) at your own peril. Not like you can anymore with these new duds anyway...
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, September 12
Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Odds of Orange Victory: 78 percent
Very Early Outlook:
Syracuse's defense isn't as great as it was last year, but their offense might be improved. After a solid warm-up against a lesser Rhode Island squad in week one, the Orange get an early shot against a peer program in week two, and will need to show quick progress from last year to keep a jaded fan base engaged. Wake Forest will not be a pushover, so expect to see some real challenges to Syracuse's slim offensive and defensive line depth and experience. Eyes are also on Tim Lester's offense (in particular) to get SU an early-season victory that could (should) spell good things for the remainder of the year. If not... welp, this is going to be a "fun" place to be come the night of September 12.