Welcome to the Deadspin 25, a college football poll that strives to be more democratic and less useless than every other preseason poll. Leading up to the college football season kickoff, we will give you previews of the 25 teams that you, the readers, voted to be most worthy of writing about. Now, No. 10 Wake Forest.
I’m going to give it you straight: this is not going to be a fun read for Wake Forest fans. If you’re looking for an uplifting piece about how this year is the one the Demon Deacons “get it” and follow third-year head coach Dave Clawson to the postseason, I direct you to a familiar screenshot.
Things are bleak in Winston Salem; that shan’t be changing this year.
The Demon Deacons went 3-9 for the second year in a row and finished second-to-last in the ACC Atlantic, which is saying something (they’re bad). I couldn’t even convince myself to draft a positive paragraph about their wins, given they came against Elon (terrible), Army (also terrible, finished 2-10), and Boston College (tied for 121st scoring offense in the nation; went 0-8 in ACC play; see above image). Some fans will categorize the few positive things Wake Forest accomplished on the field as moves in the right direction—after all, the Demon Deacons are predicted to win around five games this year! I say hogwash; I’m going to need a little bit more than returning starter numbers and Clawson’s history as a rebuilder to believe in the Demon Deacons in 2016.
Wake Forest gets nine starters back on an offense that finished 120th in the nation in points scored last season, so I’m not chalking up experience as an automatic positive mark in this case. Even in the ACC, you occasionally need talent to win; as was the case in 2015, said trait is not abundant on the Demon Deacons 2016 roster.
Junior John Wolford returns at quarterback for the Demon Deacons and will likely own the majority of starting snaps. In a full season, Wolford threw for 1,791 yards (90th in the nation), nine touchdowns (outside the top 100) and 11 interceptions. The silver lining: he ranked 43rd overall with 7.7 yards per attempt and 54th in completion percentage at 60.7
Sophomore Kendall Hinton also received playing time under center as a rookie, though he was prone to offering on-field contributions via his legs rather than his arm. While completing a paltry 52.5 percent of his passes, Hinton threw for 929 yards, four scores, and five picks; he ran for 390 yards and seven touchdowns. Unless Hinton had a new arm sewn on in the offseason, expect Wolford to remain the starter, for better and for worse.
Sophomore receivers Cortez Lewis, Tabari Hines and junior tight end Cam Serigne will make up the bulk of his productive receiving core, though Lewis is the only one worth knowing in the overall scheme of college football fandom—he made some snazzy one-handed snags against some pretty solid teams last year and will once again be the team’s top option. In the backfield, Tyler Bell will be back as the starter after rushing for 451 yards last year. Not a single Wake Forest running back was able to crack 500 yards in 2015, so unsurprisingly, the Demon Deacons ranked 122nd in rushing yards per game. They also return four of last year’s starting five offensive linemen.
On defense, Wake Forest brings back seven starters from last year’s bunch, including the entire defensive line. However, the Demon Deacons lose linebacker Brandon Chubb—Nick’s cousin—who led the defense with 107 tackles a year ago. They will get back Marquel Lee at middle linebacker, though, which is good news considering he led the team in tackles for loss. For a team that most recently registered a -13 turnover margin, Wake Forest needs to have as many people in the offense’s backfield as possible. Sophomore Demetrius Kemp and junior Jaboree Williams are poised to line up at the two outside linebacker slots.
The secondary will be led by senior corner Brad Watson, who did admittedly make a nice play to intercept Clemson’s Deshaun Watson when the Tigers thrashed the Demon Deacons in 2015. Watson will be joined Thomas Brown and Ryan Janvion at safety and Dionte Austin at the opposite corner. The group ranked 34th in passing yards allowed and 36th in touchdowns allowed in 2015, excellent numbers for a unit constantly stranded on the field by an inefficient offense. The defensive backs, and the entire defense, will have to do a better job of giving its offense the ball back, though. The Demon Deacons only came up with six interceptions, ranking 111th, and allowed opponents to complete 61.8 percent of passes, ranking 101st. While I don’t particularly trust Wake Forest’s offense to score when it does get the ball back, they at least have chance at putting up points—even if it is only a field goal.
The real goal for the Demon Deacons, with their roster and schedule in mind, should be to shoot for bowl eligibility but to also be okay and prepared for the eventual three-to-four wins they’ll come away with. If it weren’t for Boston College’s offense and N.C. State’s schedule, which is full of the Coastal’s best and a pair of non-conference tests—ECU, Notre Dame, Clemson, Florida State, UNC, Louisville, and Miami—Wake would be looking at a definite last-place finish. Now, if the Demon Deacons can somehow resist the urge to fuck it up, I think they can actually move up in the Atlantic rankings.
Look, Cortez Lewis is a fine receiver—he’s got speed, some nice one-handed snags in his highlight reel, and seems to be a decent route runner. But it’s an unfortunate task to have to write about a guy who would seemingly do just fine as a No. 1 or No. 2 wideout anywhere else in the ACC but instead is stuck with a ceiling of 613 yards and four scores in Winston Salem. If the Demon Deacon offense wasn’t so godawful, Lewis would likely be able to crack 1,000 yards and 10 scores in a halfway decent offensive system.
Dave Clawson, to my knowledge, is not a dick. He has a reputation for coming into shitty situations and turning things around—things take time, sure, but a pair of 3-9 seasons right off the bat isn’t a great start. That being said, the third and fourth years are when his teams at Fordham, Richmond, and Bowling Green all registered winning seasons. I maintain that while I appreciate past projects, 2017, not 2016, is the season they make noticeable progress.
Sept. 1: Tulane
Sept. 10: @ Duke
Sept. 17: Delaware
Sept. 24: @ Indiana
Oct. 1: @ N.C. State
Oct. 8: Syracuse
Oct. 15: @ Florida State
Oct. 29 Army
Nov. 5: Virginia
Nov. 12: @Louisville
Nov. 19: Clemson
Nov. 26: Boston College