NCAA Football Preview - Wake Forest Demon Deacons

8:26 AM, Aug 19, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: With a less than stellar 2012 season, it is safe to say that the seat under veteran head coach Jim Grobe is getting warmer in Winston- Salem. Wake Forest had its moments last year, just not enough of them. The team finished a mere 3-5 in ACC play, good for just fourth place in the Atlantic Division standings. To make matters worse, a late season swoon left the Demon Deacons at just 5-7 overall and on the outside looking in at the postseason.

A pair of victories over Liberty (20-17) and North Carolina (28-27) painted a comforting picture in early September, but a heavy dose of reality hit the Demon Deacons, as they were embarrassed at Florida State (52-0) in mid- September. A shootout victory over Army (49-37) followed the loss in Tallahassee, but it was consecutive setbacks to Duke (34-27) and Maryland (19-14) that left the Wake Forest faithful with more questions than answers.

The second half began with wins over Virginia (16-10) and Boston College (28-14) sandwiched around a blowout loss to Clemson (42-13), but three straight lopsided losses to NC State (37-6), Notre Dame (38-0) and Vanderbilt (55-21) left the Demon Deacons without a chair when the postseason music came to a stop.

2013 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: Wake was plagued by inconsistencies along the offensive line and key injuries last season. The hope is that the return of eight starters, all healthy, will help things improve dramatically in 2013, after the team averaged just over 300 yards of offense in 2012.

It all starts with quarterback Tanner Price, who needs to bounce back from a sub par junior season in which he completed 55.6 percent of his throws for 2,300 yards, with 12 interceptions against seven interceptions.

It will certainly aid Price's quest for redemption that senior wideout Mike Campanaro returns to the mix. The 5-11, 195-pounder missed two games last year but was still far and away the most productive receiver on the roster and one of the top in the ACC for that matter, amassing 79 receptions, for 763 yards and six TDs, en route to Second-Team All-ACC honors.

The receiving corps is an area that needs to develop according to Grobe, who brought in former Purdue All-American Taylor Stubblefield to get more out the position. The NCAA record-holder in career catches (316) has been impressed particularly with Campanaro.

"He does a great job. He doesn't talk a lot and does what he's supposed to do," said Stubblefield. "We're going to try and get him to be more vocal and to be a leader this year. Camp will go the extra mile, now he just needs to bring someone with him."

The offense received a big boost with the return of tailback Josh Harris to the team. Harris led the team in rushing last season (6-8 yards, five TDs), but was ruled academically ineligible over the summer, before having his eligibility restored recently.

"I feel good for Josh," said Grobe. "I was worried about him. Our No. 1 goal is to win the ACC Championship, but we want guys to graduate. We've got to get him through the trainers and get them and the doctors to give him the green light (to practice). He's got to go through the acclimatization that the other guys had to go through."

DEFENSE: The defensive side of the football will also return eight starters from 2012, but that is a unit that yielded a ghastly 432.8 yards per game last year. The hope is that a veteran core can get things shored up in 2013.

The strength of the defense is in the back seven. The linebacking corps features the team's top two returning tacklers in seniors Justin Jackson (82 tackles, four sacks) and Mike Olson (78 tackles, one sack). The play in the secondary will be highlighted by all-conference honorable mention DBs AJ Marshall (76 tackles, two INTs) and Kevin Johnson (58 tackles, 15 PBU, two INTs).

The play along the defensive line is key in Wake Forest's 3-4 base defense and the top contributors are likely to include senior tackle Nikita Whitlock (51 tackles, 3.0 sacks) and senior ends Zach Thompson (52 tackles, 4.0 sacks) and Kris Redding (30 tackles, 3.5 sacks).

SPECIAL TEAMS: Place kicker Chad Hedlund did see some action as a freshman last season, converting all three of his field-goal attempts (long of 44 yards) and 10-of-11 PATs. He should hold down the job as a sophomore. Alex Kinal saw much more action as a freshman in 2012, as the team's lone punter. The 6-4, 210-pound youngster averaged 40.7 yards per attempt and placed 28 of his 95 punts inside the opposition's 20-yard line.

OUTLOOK: Grobe has to be feeling the heat after 12 seasons in Winston-Salem. Last year however, was a bit of an aberration, as Grobe has led Wake to more ACC wins (40) and bowl wins (3) than any other coach in school-history.

He should be able to add to those numbers this season, especially with a non- conference slate that features three very winnable games in Presbyterian, ULM and Army. The final game of the season is against rival Vanderbilt in Nashville and is never an easy task.

The ACC slate has its share of pitfalls as well. Home dates include NC State, Maryland, Florida State and Duke, with road trips to Boston College, Clemson, Miami-Florida and Syracuse closing out the set.

The hope in Winston-Salem is that a sluggish offense gets jump-started and close losses last year turn into victories.

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