We're less than 100 days from the start of the Syracuse Orange football season. That's excellent news for us, since it actually makes season previews a bit more tangible now. Lately, we've been exerting energy previewing our opponents, which are... yup, still incredibly difficult. Each week (roughly), we'll take a look at a team on Syracuse's 2016 schedule. Today, we continue with the:
School: Wake Forest University
Mascot: Demon Deacons
#BRAND Slogan: "You Will. We Will. Wake Will."
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: "No, really. We won the ACC Football Championship in 2006." "Wake Up Our Athletic Department."
Recommended Blog: Blogger So Dear
Coach: Dave Clawson, 3rd year. Since arriving in Winston-Salem, Clawson has seemingly improved the talent level of the Deacons, but those results haven't really shown up in the win-loss record. Despite making strides, especially on the defensive end, Wake is still just 6-18 since his tenure began, with just two league wins in that timeframe (by a combined score of 9-3...). While the Deacs are a difficult job, we'll see if it's difficult enough to withstand a potential third straight losing year for Clawson.
2015 Record: (3-9) (1-7)
Recapping Last Season:
As mentioned, Wake Forest is getting better, but that "better" doesn't mean more wins just yet. The team started off 2015 well enough, sitting at 3-3 on October 10. But from there, the schedule's difficulty increased, and so did the losses. Still, the Deacons were able to hang tough against most opponents in-conference, and actually played competitive games wire-to-wire vs. Florida State (a 24-16 loss), Louisville (lost 20-19) and Duke (lost 27-21). Still, shellackings at the hands of North Carolina and Clemson, respectively, and a 13-point defeat at the hands of Syracuse were proof positive that Wake still has work to do.
The main source of improvement is the Deacons' defense, something that should be clear to most even at a quick glance of box scores alone. Still, plenty more work to be done there if Clawson's bunch wants to go from "competitive" to actually winning football games. Wake was a top-50 defensive group last season. They ranked 38th in total defense (363 yards allowed per game), 43rd in scoring defense (allowed 24.6 points per game), and their pass defense was 32nd in the country (just 202.5 yards allowed per game through the air). Rushing defense took a bit of a dip from those figures (ranked 52nd), but still, a capable group that could keep you in games if you could score points.
... Problem is, Wake Forest couldn't really do much of that in 2015. The Demon Deacons were 114th in total offense (still better than Syracuse, however) and 120th in scoring offense -- also one of just 16 teams to average less than 20 points per game. While QBs John Wolford and Kendall Hilton seemed to throw the ball well enough (59th in passing yards per game), the rushing attack was once again among the worst in the country. Wake barely averaged 100 yards per game, which sounds bad until you compare it to 2014's numbers, when they didn't even hit 40 rushing yards per. As mentioned, this program has inexplicably won two ACC games under Clawson without scoring a touchdown.
2016 Season Outlook:
Things could get better from a win-loss perspective, I suppose? Tulane, Army and Delaware are all probable non-conference wins, and while Indiana's improved, they aren't world-beaters either. Facing a struggling Boston College program and getting Virginia as a crossover at least create the possibility that six wins is on the table after two years languishing at 3-9. Like past years, that will depend on injury luck (bad last year) and scoring points.
Offensively, the pieces look like they're there to improve -- though again, not sure if that creates actual, tangible results on the scoreboard. Eight starters are back, including all but one player on the line, which should do some good to keep that run game trending in the right direction. Wolford and Hilton will be locked in a battle for the starting quarterback gig this summer, with each representing a completely different offensive attack. While both can run, Wolford's the better passer and Hilton's the more dynamic rusher. Whoever earns the starting role will have help from leading receiver Cortez Lewis, but again, questions abound regarding the running back position. Tyler Bell ran for just 451 yards last year (3.5 yards per carry) behind largely the same O-line. If he does that again, this unit could stall at once more.
Wake Forest will be sound once again on the defensive side of the ball, but also replaces half of its secondary -- the crux of its success there. Lucky for them, the players that showed an ability to force a rare turnover (they had just 11 on the year) largely return. The bigger test will be weathering the lack of linebacker experience after graduating Brandon Chubb and Hunter Williams. Along with departed DB Zach Dancel, those three made up a significant portion of tackles (28 percent of all team tackles) last year that will need to be found elsewhere. They'll look to (MLB) Marquel Lee, (corner) Brad Watson and (free safety) Ryan Janvion to pick up the slack there.
We rarely get into punters with these, but it's worth noting that the not-at-all-as-good-as-Riley Dixon Alex Kinal graduated after a four-year career of accolades and pinning back opponents. So keep an eye on how that aspect of their game evolves with less experience.
Syracuse Game Date: October 8
Location:BB&T Field, Winston-Salem, N.C.
Odds of Orange Victory: 65 percent
Very Early Outlook:
Worse Syracuse teams have beaten worse Wake Forest teams before, which obviously impacts Orange confidence going into this one. The Orange have won four straight in this fairly new series, dropping just one (in 2006) total the Deacons. The second half of last year's matchup at the Dome was a breakout performance for Eric Dungey in what ultimately ended up an SU win. We won't have that same element of surprise available this time around. But if Wake is going to struggle to score as they have against the Orange (just 24 points in the last three games combined), there's little hope they can hang with a Syracuse offense designed to score quickly.