Yes, Wake Forest needs to find a quarterback, and the search begins today, as the Demon Deacons open their spring practices. But it's not the only position in question.
If the Deacs are going to return to the postseason and get back in the hunt to win the Atlantic Division, they've also got to get back to winning the turnover battle and stopping the run. Last year, Wake Forest ranked No. 82 in the country in rushing defense (10th in the ACC), No. 83 in the country in turnover margin (10th in the ACC) and 75th in the country in total defense (10th in the ACC).
“A lot of people look at our offense as an area we need to improve, but we have to get better on defense," coach Jim Grobe said in a statement. "We have lots of young guys with lots of athletic ability and it’s time for them to stand up. We have to continue to get better."
Three of four starters return in the secondary, and there are two senior starting linebackers to count on, leaving the biggest concern up front, where the Deacs have to rebuild their interior line. It won't be easy to replace veterans Boo Robinson and John Russell. Noseguard Ramon Booi made seven tackles as a backup last year, but for the most part the two inside positions will likely be manned by inexperienced players including redshirt freshmen defensive tackles John Gallagher, Frank Souza and Steven Chase.
One of the most noticeable drop-offs in Wake's defense last year, though, was in its turnover margin, and that's what the Deacs have to get back to. Last year, Wake Forest had 15 takeaways and 19 turnovers for a minus-four margin. It was the first time in four years that the Deacs had a negative turnover margin, and the first time in four years they didn't go to a bowl game.
Yes, one has a little to do with the other.
In 2008, the Deacs were No. 5 in the country in turnover margin and led the nation with 37 takeaways. In 2007 they were tied for No. 18 in the country in turnover margin and had 35 takeaways. And in 2006, the year they won the ACC title, Wake finished No. sixth in the country in turnover margin and had 31 takeaways to 18 turnovers.
Former quarterback Riley Skinner was the winningest quarterback in school history, but he didn't do it alone. Players like Alphonso Smith and Aaron Curry had something to say about it, too. Wake has won with its defense before, and it's going to have to do it again while breaking in a new quarterback -- a position unlikely to be settled until August.