- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Wake Forest was one of three ACC teams that will be home for the holidays this year. Since the Demon Deacons won the ACC title and played in the Orange Bowl in 2006, Wake fans have had higher expectations. This is the second season, though, that the Deacs have been home for the holidays. Here’s a breakdown of this year’s situation and a look ahead:
How it happened: A combination of factors added up to a 3-9 season, but coach Jim Grobe pointed to two main reasons. The first was a tough schedule that included nine bowl teams and back-to-back road trips to Stanford and Florida State. “I thought the schedule was as hard as it’s been since I’ve been here in 10 years,” he said. “Hands down as hard, probably.” The other reason was youth. Wake had to start seven freshmen (three true) and six sophomores. Three freshmen started on the defensive line, and four freshmen were in the starting lineup in the secondary (two true at corners and two redshirts at safety). And of course, the most noticeable rookie was at quarterback, where a series of injuries forced the Deacs to turn to true freshman Tanner Price. It added up to a lot of growing pains. “When you do that at Wake Forest,” he said, “you’re in trouble. That’s not our plan. Our plan is to try to play older players.”
What needs to change: The Deacs aren’t off their schedule for redshirting players, but Grobe said “we’ve just got to have more bang for our buck when these kids get to be juniors and seniors.” There were only seven scholarship seniors out of a class of 14 that were still on the roster this year, and only four of them started. In addition to getting more production out of its upperclassmen, Wake Forest has to continue to develop the younger players who were forced to play earlier than expected this year.
Bowl bound in 2011? Wake Forest will be a good football team, but it has to get through its nonconference schedule with at least three wins. The Deacs open at Syracuse, host Notre Dame, and conclude the season with Vanderbilt again. Gardner-Webb is an FCS program the Deacs should beat, but the cross-divisional games include Virginia Tech and a road trip to North Carolina. The Deacs beat Vandy this year, and the Commodores will be in a transition next year under a new staff. They should come away with three wins, which means they’ll be back in the postseason in 2011.
19hTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney