17 Returning Starters (8 Offense, 9 Defense)
Key Players: QB Ben Mauk, RB Micah Andrews, WR Nate Morton, RT Steve
Vallos, DE Matt Robinson, LB Jon Abbate, CB Alphonso Smith, FS Josh Gattis
Wake Forest will be the most experienced team in the ACC in 2006. They will
try to use that experience to their advantage and win the close games in the
fourth quarter, rather than losing late like they have done the past few
seasons. Wake isn’t blessed with a deep pool of talent, but they do have
players that other ACC teams would kill to have.
Wake Forest is one of the top running teams in the nation, and this year the
offensive line looks like it will be very strong. The Demon Deacons return four
starters up front, headlined by right tackle Steve Vallos. Sophomore Chris
DeGeare is the only projected starter who was not a full-time starter last
season. Despite that, he still played in all 11 games and saw action on 396
Wake’s five projected starting linemen have combined to start 82 games in
their career. Their experience, and the team’s unique running plays, will make
this a very dangerous unit in 2006. Vallos could be the best lineman in the ACC.
Ben Mauk started the first four games at quarterback last season and
performed terribly. He completed 53.8% of his passes for 845 yards, throwing one
touchdown pass and six interceptions. For a team that needs to limit its
mistakes to be successful, Mauk’s play badly hurt Wake last season. He
returned at the end of the season when Cory Randolph was injured and led the
team to wins over NC State and Duke.
Mauk must be more productive in 2006 for Wake Forest to get back to a bowl
game. He has starting experience from the past two seasons, and according to
Wake coach Jim Grobe, he looked much better in the spring. But he has to prove
it on the field this fall.
Wake Forest returns all four starters in the secondary for 2006. They have
two senior safeties, Patrick Ghee and Josh Gattis, who are battle hardened and
talented. They combine for 42 career starts. Gattis led the team in
interceptions last season with five, and he was also second in tackles with 72.
Wake started two freshmen at cornerback last year, which was the main reason
they finished 92nd in the nation in pass defense. That problem should be behind
them. Alphonso Smith was one of the top freshmen corners in the country. He had
nine pass breakups, three interceptions and eight tackles for loss. All those
numbers are very impressive for a defensive back.
The Demon Deacons could struggle at defensive tackle this season. Zach Stukes
returns as a starter, but he is undersized at 6-2, 260 and has made just four
career tackles for loss. Jyles Tucker can make plays, but he is also undersized
at 6-3, 268.
The other major projected contributor at DT is Jamil Smith, a senior who has
just seven career tackles. This unit is going to have to play above their heads.
Fortunately they are surrounded by a solid group of defensive ends and good
linebackers. Wake finished 38th nationally against the run in 2005, and return
five starters in their front seven, so the defensive tackles merely have to hold
their own to be considered a success.
Wake’s first five games are home games with Syracuse, Duke and Liberty, and
road trips to UConn and Ole Miss. The Demon Deacons have a real shot to come out
of that stretch with a 5-0 record, 4-1 at the very least. That makes the October
7 matchup against Clemson critical.
After Clemson, Wake has just two home games remaining, Boston College and
Virginia Tech. They must travel to NC State, UNC, Florida State and Maryland.
Clemson always seems to drop a game to a team like Wake Forest every year. Wake
knocked off the Tigers 31-27 last year.
If Wake Forest can start out 5-1, or even 6-0, with a win over Clemson, they
have a chance to set themselves up for a nice bowl game, despite the tough
schedule down the stretch.