Competing in the ACC can be tough for a school like Wake Forest that doesn’t recruit as well, but Dave Clawson has done some really good work here. After taking over before the 2014 season, Clawson endured 2 rough seasons before making a bowl in 2016. Last year, with an experience returning tandem of quarterbacks, and talent around them, the team won 7 games and beat Texas A&M in a shootout at the Belk Bowl. I actually think this year’s team, with 8 returning starters on offense, and the coaching tree intact for another year, had maybe a higher ceiling than that, and prospects were bright in Winston-Salem, even with teams like Clemson, Notre Dame, and Florida State on the schedule.
The main problem, though (you’ll notice I used “had” with regard to their ceiling) aside from on-field match-ups, is that their projected starting QB, Kendall Hinton, was suspended for 3 games for a violation of team rules. That’s a bit of a problem as he seemed clearly the starter out of spring practice and had a fair bit of upside. Now? With that bit of uncertainty, the markets have Wake Forest’s win total this season at 6.5 +115/-145 (5D), 6.5 +130/-150 (BOL), and 6.5 +115/-145 (DSI), so there are clearly many who feel a bowl game is this team’s ceiling, and the juice is most likely a reaction to the Hinton news last month.
|8/30 (Th)||@ Tulane||-7|
|9/13 (Th)||Boston College||+0.5|
|10/20||@ Florida State||+14|
|11/8 (Th)||@ NC State||+5|
A very intriguing group. Clawson and OC Warren Ruggiero have worked together for many years, and they have 8 starters back. Their biggest problem is going to be that Hinton is out for the first 3 games (Tulane/Towson/BC). Boston College especially was a narrow swing game that may end up being the difference between 6 or 7 wins with this group, so not having Hinton for that is disappointing. I am particularly high on Tulane in Year 3 of the Willie Fritz era, so now that’s no cupcake with a new quarterback starting for the Deacons. I will have a Tulane ticket in Week 1. The options for Wake at signal-caller are sophomore Jamie Newman and 2 freshman, none of whom have taken game snaps before. Making matters worse, Hinton’s first game back, when he’ll presumably be rusty (he’s allowed to practice with the team but will have no game reps) is against Notre Dame. This whole situation throws a wrench into a team that could really achieved special things. Now that’s still possible, but their path to those same goals is more littered with obstacles.
Around the quarterbacks are an entire group of returning running backs (Almost all of the non-QB rush yards from last year return) and elite receiver Greg Dortch is back from injury and entering his sophomore season. Whoever starts at QB will have the benefit of all 5 returning starting offensive lineman, an incredible luxury. If they can ever get quarterback figured out, this is an offense seemingly ready to roll.
DC Jay Sawvel is now in his 2nd year, so more familiarity and continuity in the group should be expected. The secondary especially brings back a lot of talent and performed well last year. At linebacker they’re pretty weak, but on the defensive front, a new name to keep on your radar: DE Mike Allen. He red-shirted last year, but was one of the highest recruits Wake Forest has ever gotten in their history (he had 29 offers, and was considering USC and Tennessee, among others). He may not be listed in the starting lineup right away but he can really help them fill the loss of both their starting defensive ends from a year ago.
The non-conference slate is, if anything manageable. Yes, they host Notre Dame, and will be a dog in that game no matter what we think of these teams right now, but at Tulane/vs Towson/vs Rice is a really nice comfortable remainder of the set. That’s 3-1 a lot of the time, unless you hate Brandon Wimbush and think he continues to regress as a downfield passer, which I guess is possible. They’ll only leave home once in the first 7 weeks of the season, and it’s to play Tulane. The back-end is rightfully loaded with tough spots, including at Florida State/at Louisville in back-to-back weeks, as well as a trip to NC State and one to Duke, who may surprise a lot of people this year. Considering how easy the front-end is, this is a manageable group of games when it comes to hitting 7 wins. One thing Clawson hasn’t managed to muster is a pronounced home-field advantage: Wake is just 12-13 at home in his 4 years, with only 1 win over a Top 25 team, and it was 25th-ranked NC State late last season. Again, this is a program that was mired in awfulness until recently, though, so not a huge knock.
Win/Total pick: Over 6.5 +130 (BOL)
Can’t beat the price, that’s for sure. There’s just so much to like here talent-wise and experience-wise that I’m going to take the awesome juice and be contrarian a little. I realize Hinton’s out the first 3, but they’re still a 7.5-point favorite to Tulane and should roll Towson. They probably weren’t beating Notre Dame anyway in Game 4, Hinton’s first game back (if he reclaims the starting job at all). I’m a little down on both Louisville and NC State compared to their projections so that’s probably where the difference will come from for me to hit this.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
Coaching at a smaller Power Five program in SEC country is hard enough. The rise of Clemson over the last 10 years has made being a North Carolina program even harder. That’s why it was a little bit of a surprise when Dave Clawson, who had great results at Bowling Green, took the Wake Forest Demon Deacons job. Clawson was inheriting a 4-8 team with one bowl appearance in the last five seasons when he took over. It only took two years for Clawson to get Wake Forest to a bowl and pick up the program’s first bowl win since 2008.
A 7-6 record doesn’t move the needle for a lot of people, but given that Wake Forest won six games in Clawson’s first two seasons, the job that he is doing in Winston-Salem has other ACC programs on notice. After all, Wake Forest won three conference games for the first time since 2012 and covered the number in six of those eight league matchups. One of the hardest things for programs like this, however, is sustaining success year after year. That will be the task at hand for Clawson and his players this season.
As you would expect in the ACC Atlantic, where Clemson, Florida State, and Louisville show up on the schedule every single year, there are more skeptics than believers with this year’s Demon Deacons. 5Dimes Sportsbook has the win total lined at 5.5, with -130 on the under. Keep in mind that the number does not include conference championships or bowl games. It only applies to the regular season.
|Date||Opponent||Projected Line||Expected Wins|
|9/9||@ Boston College||+3||0.43|
|9/23||@ Appalachian State||+4.5||0.37|
|10/21||@ Georgia Tech||+12.5||0.17|
|11/4||@ Notre Dame||+16.5||0.11|
Total Expected Wins: 4.33
Like Boston College, and other ACC teams that find ways to pick off wins here and there, Wake Forest won with defense last season. The offense improved a little bit, though “improved” is certainly relative. The Demon Deacons managed just 20.4 points per game, only 4.6 yards per play, and only 311 yards per game. John Wolford and the collection of quarterbacks threw more interceptions than touchdown passes. Wolford and Kendall Hinton are back to battle it out for the starting quarterback gig, but it’s hard to see this offense making any significant strides in that department. Both Wolford and Hinton were more effective as runners than passers.
The offensive line and skill positions return a lot of last season’s production, but that production was severely limited. Wake Forest scored just 18 points per game and was held to less than 300 yards of offense per conference game. In fact, the Demon Deacons were 3-5 in ACC play despite an average score of 18-24 and were outgained by nearly 100 yards per game. Take away the Delaware game and Wake Forest failed to gain more than 370 yards of offense in any other game. There are no FCS teams on the schedule this year.
But, the defense carried this team last season. There are a couple of big losses, as Marquel Lee went to the Oakland Raiders in the fifth round after leading the team in tackles and tackles for loss. The rush defense held the opposition to 3.8 yards per carry, including just 3.2 yards per carry for Florida State and a negative yards per carry in the Military Bowl for Temple. Unfortunately, defensive coordinator Mike Elko left the program, so Jay Sawvel comes over from Minnesota. That could change things up a bit.
The defense has improved in each of Clawson’s three seasons and he’s done a remarkable job of recruiting guys on that side of the ball to stack up with some of the ACC’s best. There were some bumps in the road, though. Indiana had 611 yards of offense against Wake Forest, but found a way to lose 33-28. NC State had 527 yards. Florida State, despite not being able to run the ball, had 442. Louisville had 491, including 346 on the ground, and Clemson followed up with 456 and 254 on the ground. Add Notre Dame, and even a team like Appalachian State, to the schedule and it’s safe to assume defensive numbers drop.
The schedule has pockets of games that are just miserable for this team. Starting with that road trip to Boone, North Carolina on September 23, the Demon Deacons play the Sun Belt’s top team and the two best teams in the ACC in three straight week. A bye week to get ready for the Georgia Tech option is big, but that sets off a string of games against the Yellow Jackets, Louisville, and a trip to South Bend to face Notre Dame.
Win Total Pick: Under 5.5
The Demon Deacons are in line for regression anyway, but the schedule really takes a step up this season. Wake Forest had a winning record with a negative point differential and got badly outgained in a lot of games, especially in conference play. They were outgained in three of their seven wins and only outgained Duke by 20, Syracuse by four, and Virginia by 14 in three of the other four wins. That looks like an under to me and the projected spreads certainly back it up.