Wake Forest season preview

August, 6, 2013
8/06/13
10:30
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Today we’re looking at the Deacs as they try to get back to a bowl game in 2013:

Wake Forest

Coach: Jim Grobe (106-107-1 overall, 73-74 in 12 years at school)

2012 record: 5-7

Key losses: FB Tommy Bohanon, C Garrick Williams, LB Joey Ehrmann, LB Riley Haynes, CB Kenny Okoro

[+] EnlargeMichael Campanaro
Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY SportsWide receiver Michael Campanaro leads a Deacs team looking to rebound from a 5-7 season in 2012.
Key returnees: QB Tanner Price, WR Michael Campanaro, TB Josh Harris, G Frank Souza, G Antonio Ford, CB Kevin Johnson, CB Merrill Noel, FS A.J. Marshall, LB Justin Jackson, LB Mike Olson, NG Nikita Whitlock, DE Zach Thompson

Newcomer to watch: Cory Helms, center. The Alpharetta, Ga., native was recruited by Jonathan Himebauch and chose the Deacs over offers from North Carolina, Syracuse and Florida. He was rated the No. 74 offensive guard in his class by ESPN.com, but the Deacs plan on using him as a center.

Biggest games in 2013: Oct. 5 vs. NC State; Nov. 23 vs. Duke; Nov. 2 at Syracuse

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The running backs. Top running back Josh Harris is still awaiting word from the NCAA as to whether he will be academically eligible. Harris led the team with 608 yards and five touchdowns last fall. Deandre Martin (484 yards) would be next in line. "That running back group is probably the biggest disaster we've got right now,” Grobe said at ACC media days. “We don't have a dependable guy right now. We'll see how it sorts out.”

Forecast: Things should be looking up for the Deacs, who haven’t had a winning season since 2008. Wake Forest got to a bowl game in 2011, and the goal is to return to the postseason this fall. With a veteran quarterback in Tanner Price, who is entering his fourth season as a starter, and a stingy defense, it’s a realistic goal.

Wake Forest returns 17 starters -- including eight on defense -- and both specialists. The headliner of the group is receiver Michael Campanaro, who leads all active ACC players with 162 catches. The Deacs will need somebody to complement him, and they’ve got to find some depth up front on the offensive line. The Deacs feel good about their starting five, as long as they can all stay healthy. Guard Antonio Ford broke his leg in three places last fall at Maryland, and he was still recovering this spring. Tackle Steven Chase missed spring practices with a torn ACL. Senior center Whit Barnes, senior right guard Frank Souza and Ford, a junior at left guard, will give the group a veteran look, but a freshman or sophomore will likely have to fill in at right tackle.

Defensively, this could be one of the best groups Grobe has had in recent years. The Deacs have put an emphasis on takeaways this offseason -- a trademark of the most successful years under Grobe. Noseguard Nikita Whitlock (three sacks, 5.5 TFLs) returns, along with cornerback Kevin Johnson, who finished eighth nationally last year in passes defended with 18. Two starters also return at linebacker, including Mike Olson and Justin Jackson.

This year’s schedule is conducive to a six-win season for the Deacs, but there’s no margin for error with Clemson and Florida State both in the Atlantic Division. Wake Forest should come out of its nonconference schedule with at least three wins (Presbyterian, Louisiana-Monroe, at Army, at Vanderbilt), and should find a way to steal a few wins against the likes of Boston College, NC State, Maryland, Syracuse and/or Duke.

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