Coach:Jim Grobe (46-39 in seven seasons; 79-72-1 overall in 13 seasons) | Staff In 2007:9-4 overall, 5-3 in ACC (tied for second in ACC Atlantic). | Highlights Returning starters: Offense—5. Defense—9. Special teams—1. (NOTE: Senior guard Chris DeGeare, who would be a returning starter, is academically ineligible this season. He could return in 2009.) | Depth Chart Key losses: Offense—G Matt Brim, T Louis Frazier, C Steve Justice, WR Kenny Moore, TE Zac Selmon. Defense—T Zac Stukes, E Jeremy Thompson.
Final 2007 Rivals.com ranking: 26th | Complete Final 2007 Rankings
THE SCHEME: Wake Forest plans to open up its offense a bit and might employ a spread with quarterback Riley Skinner working out of the shotgun. The Demon Deacons have experimented with three- and four-receiver sets, and also could use a backfield that features two legitimate running threats instead of the typical fullback-tailback duo.
STAR POWER: What more does Skinner need to do to show how much he means to this team? All he did as a redshirt freshman was lead Wake Forest to its first ACC title since 1970. When Skinner missed two games with a shoulder injury last season, Wake lost to Nebraska and gained only 213 yards of total offense in a victory over Army. When Skinner returned, he helped the Deacons win eight of their last 10 games.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Redshirt freshman tailback Brandon Pendergrass has looked so impressive that the Deacons might find a way to give him carries even though their backfield already features Josh Adams, who rushed for 953 yards and 11 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman last season. Don't be surprised if the Deacons occasionally put Adams and Pendergrass in the same backfield this season.
IT'S HIS TIME: Coach Jim Grobe likes to redshirt his freshmen, but receiver Jordan Williams earned some playing time late last year and showed his big-play ability with a 62-yard touchdown against North Carolina State and a 43-yard gain at Vanderbilt. The Demon Deacons are searching for a big-play receiving threat to replace Kenny Moore, who caught 98 passes for 1,011 yards. Williams won't match those numbers, but he might emerge as Wake's top receiver this year.
STRONGEST AREA: The Deacons have plenty of reasons to feel good about their backfield. Clemson's Cullen Harper is the only ACC quarterback better than Skinner, and Harper lacks Skinner's ACC championship ring. Clemson's James Davis is the only returning ACC player who rushed for more yards than Adams last season.
WEAKEST AREA: Adams could have trouble finding as much running room as he did last season because the Deacons must replace three starters on the line. The Deacons will sorely miss departed center Steve Justice, a three-year starter who won the 2007 Jacobs Trophy that goes to the ACC's top blocker. Senior guard Chris DeGeare, who had all-league potential, is academically ineligible this season. Tackle Joe Birdsong is one of two returning starters, but he seems likely to be the No. 2 man at left tackle after starting on the right side last season. Right guard Barrett McMillin is the other returning starter. He and Birdsong started seven games each. The new right tackle is Jeff Griffin, who was a part-time starter last season.
OVERVIEW: Wake Forest scored at least 31 points in five of its last nine games last year, but the Deacons could struggle to put up that many points this season. The return of Skinner and Adams offer cause for hope, but a rebuilt line might need time to establish a rhythm. Skinner also must find a new favorite target now that Moore has departed. Wake might have to lean on its defense early in the season while the offensive line gains experience.
That was Wake Forest's pass completion percentage as a team in 2007. The only team with a higher completion percentage was Texas Tech at .713.
THE SCHEME: The Deacons run a 4-3 defense that thrives on forcing turnovers. Wake Forest forced 35 turnovers last year to tie for fourth in the nation. Linebacker Aaron Curry and cornerback Alphonso Smith each scored three touchdowns on interception returns last season.
STAR POWER: Smith – one of 21 Floridians on the roster – tied for the NCAA lead with eight interceptions last season and returned three for scores. His 100-yard return against Maryland helped the Deacons rally from a 21-point deficit. Smith also has a knack for putting opponents on their heels early. Against Boston College and Vanderbilt, Smith picked off a pass on the opposing team's first play from scrimmage.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Two years ago, end Tristan Dorty had an incredible senior season at Mt. Ulla (N.C.) West Rowan High with 134 tackles, 24 sacks, 40 tackles for loss, seven forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries. Now a redshirt freshman, Dorty has the big-play ability to help fill the void created by the departure of Jeremy Thompson, who recorded a team-high 6.5 sacks last season.
IT'S HIS TIME: End Antonio Wilson performed well this spring while senior Matt Robinson was limited by a knee injury. After spending his entire career as a reserve, Wilson finally could make an impact this fall as a fifth-year senior.
STRONGEST AREA: Wake Forest's cornerback tandem of Smith and Brandon Ghee is as good as just about any in the country. Opposing teams probably will try to stay away from Smith, but that's not necessarily a recipe for success. Ghee is a fine cornerback in his own right who broke up 10 passes and recorded 63 tackles last season.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: Thompson's departure leaves Wake without a stalwart end. Robinson won the ACC Brian Piccolo Award last year as the league's most courageous player for the way he returned after missing the 2006 season with a broken kneecap, but he has battled injuries for his entire career. The Deacons need Robinson to stay healthy or for Wilson, Dorty, senior Anthony Davis or some other end to emerge.
OVERVIEW: Wake returns nine starters on defense from a team that ranked in the top 20 in run defense and pass efficiency defense last season. While it may be asking too much to expect the defense to create as many big plays and turnovers as it did last season, the Deacons shouldn't have too much trouble shutting down opponents. Wake returns all its starting linebackers and defensive backs from a year ago. If the front four matures quickly, this defense has a chance to be special.
Senior Sam Swank is one of the top combination kicker-punters in the nation. Swank leads all active kickers with 60 career field goals and already is Wake's leading career scorer with 286 points. Swank enters the season 107 points away from the ACC career scoring record held by Maryland's Nick Novak (2001-04). Swank also is 9-for-12 from at least 50 yards in his career and has made 106 consecutive extra-point attempts. As a punter, Swank has placed 41 of his 147 career attempts inside the opponent's 20. Wake's return unit will miss Kevin Marion, who ranked third in the nation last season with an average of 31.3 yards per kickoff return.
Wake Forest dodged a major bullet over the winter when Grobe announced he was staying in Winston-Salem after reportedly being on the verge of accepting the Arkansas job. Wake Forest is 46-39 – including 22-5 against in-state opponents – during the Grobe era after going 26-63 in eight seasons under predecessor Jim Caldwell. Although Grobe stuck around, Wake will have to deal with more changes than usual on its coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Dean Hood accepted the coaching job at Eastern Kentucky, while quarterback coach Jeff Mullen was hired as West Virginia's offensive coordinator. Grobe responded to Hood's departure by promoting linebackers coach Brad Lambert to coordinator. The new quarterback coach is Tom Elrod, who worked with the Deacons' tight ends and fullbacks last season.
at Florida State
at North Carolina State
The schedule should help the Deacons in their bid to win their second ACC title in the past three seasons. The Deacons don't face Coastal Division favorite Virginia Tech and get Atlantic Division favorite Clemson at home. Even though Wake must travel to Florida State for its ACC opener, the Seminoles' early season suspensions could leave them at less than full strength for that game. Wake has two tricky early non-conference games with Baylor and Ole Miss, who could be energized by the arrival of new coaches. Wake also must survive a midseason two-game road trip to Maryland and Miami before playing four of its last five regular-season games at home.
Grobe justifiably has earned much of the credit for Wake Forest's remarkable rise to prominence, but his coaching prowess has overshadowed the fact that the Deacons have plenty of talent. Skinner already has shown time and time again that he's a winner. Adams is one of the most promising running backs in the ACC. And there might not be a defense in the conference that has a better starting lineup than Wake, particularly in the back seven. Wake doesn't have enough depth to withstand injuries to key performers, but the Deacons' starting lineup is dangerous. If Wake can keep a game close into the fourth quarter, the Deacons' advantages in the coaching staff and kicking game usually allow them to win. Wake probably isn't good enough to beat Clemson for the Atlantic Division title, but a second consecutive 9-4 season certainly is realistic.