2005 ACC Football Preview/Prediction: Wake Forest, Atlantic Division #6

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Editor’s Note: This month, Jeff Ouellet will
be previewing all 12 ACC teams for us. Jeff will cover one team at a time, and
we’ll run them as Atlantic Division #6, Coastal #6, Atlantic #5, Coastal #5,
etc. We’ll present the previews every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday through
August 26th, and then will start our regular game-week coverage on Monday,
August 29th.

We also have Chris Coleman working on VT unit
previews (QB preview, RB preview, OL preview, etc.), which will begin tomorrow
and run every Tuesday and Thursday through August 26th. — Will


Wake Forest Preview

Bird’s
Eye View:
This was perhaps the nation’s most snake bitten team in 2004,
with the Demon Deacons losing six of their seven conference games by a touchdown
or less, including two in overtime. Jim Grobe has infused the Deacs with a
mental and physical toughness and is looking to fix things over the long haul by
redshirting almost all of his incoming freshmen. The situation at Wake reminds
me a lot of VT in the early 1990’s, but unfortunately for Grobe, he’s trying
to build the program in a conference that is much tougher than the Big East was
in 1993, and he has three other in-state conference foes making recruiting even
tougher.

Areas of Strength (offense): Tailback
Chris Barclay is underrated nationally. Despite only being 5’10”, 173, he
has run for nearly 3,000 yards already in his career (2,905) and is a returning
first team all ACC player. Barclay’s size is deceiving, as he is capable of
running inside before bouncing plays wide. Barclay will be suspended for the
season opener against Vanderbilt for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Although many would consider sophomore quarterback Ben Mauk a question mark
going into the fall, I like him a lot and think he has the potential to be a
very good ACC quarterback. Mauk is a good athlete with some escapability and
leadership skills, and enough of an arm to be a former record setting high
school passer in Ohio. This should be his coming out party. Fullback Richard
Belton has earned a lot of praise from Grobe, and has good enough hands that he
could be involved in the passing game if the receivers struggle. Wake’s
offensive line returns four starters, but the one who isn’t returning, center
Blake Lingruen, will be missed. The line as a whole is physical, and Steve
Vallos, a legitimate first team all ACC candidate at right tackle, is the
ringleader.



Areas of Concern (offense): The leading
returning receiver, Nate Morton, only had 26 catches. He needs to be more
involved. The best breakaway threat is Willie Idlette, but he followed up a 32
catch freshman campaign with a six catch sophomore season. He needs to be on the
plus side of 30 in terms of catches, given his elusiveness and big play
potential. Chris Davis is the wildcard in the receiving corps; loads of talent,
but little production. Overall, this should be a good offense that could be very
good if the receivers play well. Wake needs to pass the ball to take the
pressure off Barclay.

Areas of Strength (defense): Three
starters return on the defensive line led by redshirt sophomore Matt Robinson,
who tallied 11 tackles for a loss. He is way undersized at 226 lbs., but he will
fight until the whistle blows and can redirect plays behind the line of
scrimmage. Bookend Jeremy Thompson has a higher upside and a great frame (6’5”,
220), and his experience last year as a true freshman will be invaluable.
Robinson and Thompson will form a nice tandem over the next three years.
Linebacker Jonathan Abbate finished fourth in the league in tackles as a
freshman, and just has a natural instinctiveness possessed by great middle
linebackers. When he hits people, they go backward. Both safeties return and are
solid players. Strong safety Patrick Ghee should step up his play.

Areas of Concern (defense): The interior
defensive line is okay with Goryal Scales and Zach Stukes as the starters, but
the depth is questionable. Incoming freshmen may have to play and that’s never
a good situation. Wake lost both corners, top notch Eric King and Marcus
McGruder, and the replacements have question marks attached. Junior corner Riley
Swanson is the only player with significant experience, and like Barclay he is
suspended for the first game. The most intriguing corner prospect is redshirt
freshman Alphonso Smith. Smith is a super athlete that spent last year
impersonating the other team’s top weapon on the scout team. Grobe may not
trust him enough to start initially, but he’s got the athletic ability to make
plays on defense and special teams. Teams will attack Wake in the passing game.

Key Game: Versus Maryland. This game was a
tough loss for Wake last year (13-7), and it again could be a low scoring, grind
it out affair. Wake needs to hold serve at home against teams like the Terps if
they hope to make a run at bowl eligibility.

Fearless Predictions: Wake is going to
struggle through another tough year in the win-loss column, finishing with two
or three conference wins. Teams better get the Deacs now though, because they
will return somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 starters next year and will lose
fewer than ten contributing seniors. This team will be solidly in the middle of
the pack in the Atlantic in 2006. Grobe has also improved things on the
recruiting trail, and last year he won two battles over the Hokies for North
Carolina kids (CB Brandon Ghee, Patrick’s younger brother, and OL Chris
DeGeare, a spring enrollee). Both of those recruits will play this year and
contribute.

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