By Will Vandervort
Every five years Jim Grobe fields a Wake Forest team that is filled with redshirt juniors and seniors and then he makes life miserable for pretty much everyone else inside the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The 2013 season is expected to be one of those years for the Demon Deacons. Wake returns eight starters on offense and defense this fall from a team that was very competitive last year with the exception of ACC games against Clemson, Florida State and NC State.
The Demon Deacons have enough experience at the key positions to cause havoc for some of its ACC brethren. Wake returns 86.3 of its offensive production from a year ago, including its best quarterback, running back and wide receiver.
On defense, Wake returns eight starters, including its leading tackle and its best cover guy.
Though Wake Forest should be ultracompetitive in 2013, life in the ACC is not as easy as it once was when Wake was able to sneak up on its competition and win the league title in 2006. With Pittsburgh and Syracuse joining the ACC this year, and Louisville joining the conference next football season, it gets harder and harder to stay competitive no matter how many veteran players a team might have on its roster.
“It’s tough and it’s getting tougher and tougher,” Grobe said. “You know, I thought when I played at Virginia, I thought the ACC was pretty tough back then. Then when I came to Wake I thought, ‘Wow, it’s so much tougher with Florida State in it.’ Then when we added the three teams to that, and you had Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness. We’ve really ramped it up.’
“Now with Pitt, Syracuse and Louisville coming in and of course then we’re going to be playing Notre Dame once in a while, it’s just so competitive now. It’s really made our jobs a lot tougher. But it’s made our jobs more exciting. So I think it’s good to see the profile of the league getting better and better. But it certainly keeps you up at night thinking about all the great teams that you’re going to have to tee it up with.”
Saturday, Sept. 28 @ Clemson Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC
ACC: 3-5, 4th in Atlantic Division.
The series: Clemson leads 60-17-1, including last year’s 42-13 win at Wake Forest.
Experience on offense
Returning starters: 8
QB: Tanner Price threw for 2,300 yards and 12 TDs, including a 327-yard effort in an upset win over North Carolina.
RB: Josh Harris (608 yds) and DeAndre Martin (484 yds) are the beginnings of an effective running game that should be better in 2013.
WR: The All-ACC wideout Michael Campanaro is back after setting an ACC single-season record for per-game pass reception average (7.9), making 79 catches for 763 yards and 6 TDs. Three times Campanaro topped 12 catches in a game, including an ACC record-tying 16 grabs in the Deacs’ win over Boston College. The versatile wideout also ran for a score and threw a touchdown.
OL: The Deacons return four starters on the offensive line in Whit Barnes, who moves to center, guards Frank Souza and Antonio Ford (out for spring with an injury) and T Colin Summers (whose status is uncertain due to a medical condition). Guard Joel Suggs and tackles Dylan Intemann and Hunter Goodwin figure to be starters and will compete in the fall with Ford and tackle Steven Chase, a former starter who played three games with a torn ACL last year.
TE: Senior Spencer Bishop and junior Dan Voglesang will handle the tight end position
Defense can’t get any worse
Returning starters: 8
DL: NT Nikita Whitlock anchors the Deacons 3-4 scheme. Whitlock had three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. Defensive ends Zach Thompson (4 sacks) and Kris Redding (3.5 sacks) also return.
LB: Two starters also return at linebacker in middle linebacker Mike Olson and outside linebacker Justin Jackson, though Olson missed spring drills with an injury. Sophomore Teddy Matthews will compete with Duran Lowe, a former starter at safety, for the weakside spot, with redshirt freshman Kevis Jones. Sophomore Hunter Williams will compete for the other outside position.
DB: A pair of Honorable Mention All-ACC performers in cornerback Kevin Johnson, who finished 8th nationally in passes defended (18), and free safety A.J. Marshall, leads a secondary that also includes cornerbacks Merrill Noel and Allen Ramsey and strong safeties James Ward and Ryan Janvion.
Returning starters: 2
PK: Sophomore Chad Hedlund is back after starting six games at kicker last fall.
P: Sophomore Alex Kinal is back after starting in all 12 games in 2012.
Grobe’s bottom line: He has guided the Deacons to more wins (73) than any other coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference Era, and to more bowl games (5) than any other coach in school history. He also has more ACC wins (40) and more bowl triumphs (3) than any other head coach in Deacon history.