Wake Forest hopes for 1st winning season since ’08

Figuring out where Wake Forest’s program stands these days is a

matter of perspective.

The Demon Deacons took a step forward last year after doubling

their win total and claiming their first bowl berth since 2008. But

for the third straight year, they still managed to lose more than

they won.

While last year’s 6-7 finish sure looks better than the 3-9

debacle of 2009, it’s not good enough for those within the

program.

”We’re continuing to make strides, and that’s our goal each

year, to improve off the season before,” quarterback Tanner Price

said. ”We had a losing record last year, despite the fact that we

made it to a bowl game. We still had a losing record. So as a team,

we want to consistently win seven-plus games and have a winning

season. Our goal is to make it to the ACC championship game, and in

order to do that, we’re going to have to win a lot of football

games.”

Wake Forest, which lost to Mississippi State in the Music City

Bowl last December, was picked to finish near the middle of the

Atlantic Coast Conference’s pack, fourth in the Atlantic Division

behind probable preseason Top 25 teams Florida State and Clemson

and instate rival North Carolina State.

It will be quite a challenge for the Demon Deacons to leapfrog

those schools and contend for their first ACC title game appearance

since 2006 – or even to push toward another bowl game. They have a

league-low 13 listed starters returning, including just three on

offense.

Wake Forest must rebuild virtually its entire offensive line,

find some stability and durability in the backfield and figure out

a way to replace one of the most productive receivers in school

history after Chris Givens left early for the NFL.

Price, a third-year starter, joins redshirt junior receiver

Michael Campanaro and center Garrick Williams as the only listed

starters back on an offense that ranked in the bottom half of the

ACC last season, averaging 367 total yards and 26 points.

Running back Josh Harris started five games last year and gained

136 yards against Florida State before a hamstring injury limited

him the rest of the way. Coach Jim Grobe hopes he and promising

sophomore Orville Reynolds can develop into a one-two punch and

revive a ground game that led the ACC in rushing four times in

Grobe’s first five seasons.

”We’ve just got to keep (Harris) healthy, and the durability’s

been the problem,” Grobe said. ”I’m not putting any blame out

there. It just is what it is. He’s had a bad hamstring and hasn’t

been a guy that’s been an every-play guy and an every-game guy, and

hopefully he can become that, because he’s got a lot of talent.

”The fastest kid on our football team right now’s Orville

Reynolds, so having (him) and Josh Harris, who’s one of the faster

kids on the team, back there, lets you know we’ve got a breakaway

threat every time you hand the ball off.”

The Demon Deacons’ defense should be solid, with seven starters

back. None are more important than nose guard Nikita Whitlock, the

man in the middle up front for their 3-4 alignment. Grobe says the

defense ”has got a good feel to it” and thinks that unit could be

as exciting as it was during the school’s glory days form 2006-08

with future NFL players Aaron Curry, Alphonso Smith and Stanley

Arneaux.

”We’re not as experienced (as then). We’re really young, but

we’ve got a bunch of guys that have good foot speed, that can run

to the football,” Grobe said. ”And it starts with Nikita

Whitlock. He’s pretty special up front.”

The philosophy is simpler to explain than it is to execute. The

Demon Deacons need Whitlock to beat blocks, get pressure on

opposing quarterbacks, force them to throw under duress and hope a

skilled secondary can take advantage of mistakes.

Cornerback Bud Noel, the ACC’s defensive rookie of the year in

2011, led the nation with 19 passes deflected but came away from

his freshman season wanting more.

”It wasn’t a big year. Not at all,” Noel said. ”Because I led

the nation in pass breakups. I know they’re supposed to have been

caught balls. So it wasn’t a good year.”