Team: Wake Forest Demon Deacons
2014 record: 3-9 (1-7 ACC)
Recap: After Jim Grobe’s final season in Winston-Salem left the Demon Deacons with a 4-8 record, many Wake fans understood that a new coach would not be able to come in and win right away. So when Dave Clawson was hired as the team’s new head coach, it was a given that the Demon Deacons would not be a bowl game contender in 2014. Wake did nothing to exceed those expectations, as it picked up only three wins during the campaign.
Two of Wake’s wins were thanks to Army and Gardner-Webb, but the third was the most head-scratching of all. The Demon Deacons hosted Virginia Tech in late November, and with an offense that reigned as one of the worst in the country, there seemed to be little hope. Well, little did Clawson and company know that it would only take six points to beat the Hokies, which resulted in a double overtime game for the ages. But, for all the wrong reasons of course, as this game was absolutely terrible to watch. It sort of summed up the Demon Deacons’ year quite nicely.
There’s no doubt that Clawson is hoping to rejuvenate the atrocious offense in 2015, but also the entire program as a whole.
Key player: John Wolford, Soph., QB
If Wake is going to have any chance at all to move up the ACC standings, the offense needs to be about a thousand times better. That will start with sophomore quarterback John Wolford. He was certainly far from perfect last season, but he did show signs of improvement late in the year. When your offense was as bad as Wake’s was, you’ll take any positive that you can. The Demon Deacons can’t possibly be any worse than they were a season ago on the offensive side of the ball, so Wolford’s progression will be a good sign of just improved this team can be in the win column.
Biggest strength: The coach on the sidelines
Here’s the thing: Clawson was never expected to pull off a miracle in his first season. Luckily, history suggests that he will get things moving in the right direction sooner rather than later. Clawson still won’t have the perfect players for his system, but again, the Demon Deacons have to better on offense. They just have to. There’s no doubt that Clawson took a lot away from his first season at the helm, and he will make the necessary tweaks to at least have this team competitive week in and week out.
Biggest weakness: Offensive production
Despite the fact that the defense lost quality starters from a unit that was rather solid last season, it’s clear that the offense is still the major concern. We can talk all we want about the potential in Clawson’s second season, but there is no guarantee that things will be any better than they were last year. There’s still too many unproven talents, so for now, this remains as the team’s biggest weakness.
Most important game: at Syracuse (Sept. 12)
The same was said for the Orange in their season preview. For both teams, it’s the biggest game of the season, and it happens to come in the second week. These two sat at the bottom of the ACC last season, and one of them will be hoping to distance itself from the conference cellar. The Demon Deacons are at a disadvantage since this game is on the road, but this is as must-win as it gets for Clawson’s squad.
Best-case scenario: 4-8 (1-7)
I’ve touched on this before, but I’ll say it again: If Wake wins the game at Syracuse, a 4-0 start is within reach. That’s sort of insane to think about when you consider how many things are uncertain with this team heading into the season, but thanks to a weak September schedule, it could happen. Indiana is probably the toughest challenge of that four-game slate, however, the Demon Deacons get the Hoosiers in Winston-Salem. Obviously, the team’s chances to win another game after that are rather slim.
Worst-case scenario: 2-10 (0-8)
Listen, Wake isn’t losing to Elon or Army. It’s not going to happen. But you can’t really say that about anyone else on the schedule. The Syracuse and Indiana games will be tricky, and after that, a difficult ACC slate sets in. Oh, and there’s also a trip to South Bend in mid-November to meet up with Notre Dame. This scenario would be a major step backwards for the program.
Early prediction: 3-9 (0-8)
After a lot of wavering, 3-9 seems like the best prediction. I see the third win coming against Indiana, and not Syracuse, which means that the Demon Deacons could be facing a winless ACC campaign. Clawson still has time to turn things around, but it could be another long year.