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Syracuse football 2017 opponent preview: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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Can we get back to beating Wake every time out?

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange football offseason continues, but we’ve found plenty to discuss in the meantime. In this series, we’ve been diving into each of SU’s 12 (very difficult) opponents and all you’ll need to know about them. Despite the challenges of the schedule, we’re going to be as positive as possible. Today’s team:

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

School: Wake Forest University

Mascot: Demon Deacons

#BRAND Slogan: “Pro Humanitate”

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: “Winston-Salem’s Private College Team.” “Mother, So Dear: The Mike Pence Story.”

Recommended Blog: Blogger So Dear

Conference: ACC

Coach: Dave Clawson, 4th year. Clawson’s a New York (Youngstown) guy who broke out of his regional roots over time. He played defensive back at Williams, shuffling off to Albany, then Buffalo when his playing career was through. A few years at Lehigh led to a few more at Villanova, then he finally got his first head coaching job at Fordham in 1999.

Over the course of five seasons with the Rams, he built Fordham into an FCS playoff team, then eventually moved onto more entrenched powerhouse Richmond. After four seasons and two playoff berths with the Spiders, he moved up to the FBS level in 2009, to take on the Bowling Green job. In five years with the Falcons, he made three bowl games and won a MAC championship. He left after 2013, when Wake Forest came calling.

Since arriving at Wake, he’s slowly built the Deacs into something resembling a football program. Two straight 3-9 campaigns gave way to a breakthrough 7-6 season last year (including a win over AAC champion Temple in the postseason). Another strong season could have his name popping up at other spots around the Power Five.

2016 Record: (7-6) (3-5)

Recapping Last Season:

An unwatchable 7-3 win over Tulane to start the season seemed to spell doom for the team, but they’d rebound to win the next three far more impressively. That gave them a 4-0 record to start the season, allowing them to coast a bit for the remainder of the schedule. That was a needed cushion as things got tougher, too. While the Deacons hung tight with everyone but Clemson and Louisville, they still went 2-6 over the final eight regular season games. Beating Temple in the Military Bowl was impressive, but did include a slight caveat given Matt Rhule’s departure from the Owls.

Despite starting the year with Kendall Hinton under center, plans reverted back to John Wolford rather quickly. Hinton is thought of as more of a dual-threat of the two, but Wolford’s still plenty dangerous on the ground. He added 521 rushing yards on top of his 1,774 passing yards, and totaled 15 scores as well. But overall, the Wake Forest offense was still pretty terrible. The team was 124th in the FBS in yards per game, and 118th in points per game (a paltry 20.4).

Lucky for them, the defense showed up. Wake allowed just 22 points per game, and was a top-40 unit by most measures. Just three opponents topped 30 points against them all year, while the Deacs were also among the best teams in the country in terms of forcing turnovers (27 takeaways were tied for 10th-best). On top of turnovers, the Demon Deacons also got to opposing passers with frequency (41 sacks, tied for 12th overall). That combination is obviously tough to stop.

2017 Season Outlook:

Wake Forest returns more offensive production than any team in the country (97 percent), but when you look above at the outputs they led to, it’s clear that may not mean much. Hinton should resume starting duties, and a junior-laden offense around him should be able to help him back into the swing of things. Receiver Tabari Hines may have caught more passes last year, but senior tight end Cam Serigne’s their top offensive weapon. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, he’s a matchup nightmare at that spot (and can help bail out a less-sure passer like Hinton is likely to be). The run game should be putrid once again.

Defensively, the Deacons are a little more senior. They also lose more as well, however. Marquel Lee, last year’s leading tackler, is gone. As are Thomas Brown and Brad Watson. There’s remaining leadership in the front seven, which should help curtail a drop-off. But they still lose 23 of last year’s 41 sacks. Lead pass-rusher Duke Ejiofor will have more attention on him, which could cut down on his own production. Though Watson and Ryan Janvion depart, Jessie Bates III looked impressive in his debut last season, grabbing five picks (and returning two for TDs).

The schedule also gets a bit tougher for Wake. Georgia Tech’s an upgrade over Virginia in cross-divisional play. They go on the road to Syracuse and Boston College (while both were home games last year). Notre Dame, Appalachian State and a possibly improved Utah State also make for more difficult sledding in non-conference play.

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, November 11

Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

Odds of Orange Victory: 60 percent

Very Early Outlook:

Last year’s 28-9 loss in hurricane conditions down in Winston-Salem was an aberration until proven otherwise. Syracuse’s offense can outpace Wake’s, and if there’s even a slight dip on the defensive end for the Deacons, the Orange attack should be able to take advantage. Home field advantage is key here, though both teams will be coming off challenging road trips (SU at Florida State, Wake at Notre Dame). If Syracuse is healthy, give me a 30-21 win that doesn’t really get decided until late. Eric Dungey puts up far better passing numbers than last year, and the SU defense improves just enough to hold on in the fourth.