The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 85 Wake Forest.
Previewing Wake Forest’s Offense for 2014:
With four-year starter Tanner Price gone, sophomore Tyler Cameron was the only quarterback on the roster until Kevin Sousa was moved from receiver. Sousa, who originally signed with Michigan as a quarterback, may have an edge, because his athleticism lets him make plays when things break down. Both quarterbacks could be passed in the fall by true freshmen Travis Smith (Mr. Football in Michigan) and John Wolford (Parade All-American).
The running back situation is scary with Dominique Gibson, who moved from the secondary last year, as the only returning back. Clawson moved Orville Reynolds from receiver and James Ward from safety to fill out the backfield. Reynolds is the shiftiest of the group — “He makes plays,” says Clawson — but at 5'9", 185 pounds, he might not be able to take a pounding.
While receiver Michael Campanaro was setting records out of the slot the last two seasons, the Deacons were desperately searching for someone to complement him. True freshman Tyree Harris finally emerged, and big targets Jared Crump (6'3") and Jonathan Williams (6'4") showed flashes as redshirt freshmen. The group will have to find some consistency. The Deacons should be good again in the slot, getting help from E.J. Scott, a graduate transfer from Virginia.
Most of the blame for Wake Forest’s recent offensive woes falls on the line. The Deacons averaged less than 100 yards per game rushing, and the passing game was limited to short routes because of poor protection.
Previewing Wake Forest’s Defense for 2014:
Wake Forest loses five starters along the line and at linebacker, but the new group should make the Deacons more explosive and deeper than they’ve been in years.
The young defensive linemen were the story of the spring. Sophomores Josh Banks and Shelldon Lewinson gave hope that All-ACC nose tackle Nikita Whitlock could be replaced, and Clawson’s move to a speed-rushing end provided an opening for former linebackers Zachary Allen and Wendell Dunn. Along with Duke Ejiofor, they wreaked havoc off the edge.
Brandon Chubb, the team’s second-leading tackler, anchors the linebackers, and he’ll have an inexperienced group around him. Marquel Lee was a spring standout, and Steve Donatell will try to retain his starting spot after recovering from knee surgery.
The secondary doesn’t lack for experience or confidence. “I definitely believe that we can be the best secondary in the country,” says Kevin Johnson, who has teamed with fellow senior cornerback Merrill Noel for 60 starts and 11 interceptions. Safety Ryan Janvion is the coach on the field, leading the team in tackles as a redshirt freshman.
Previewing Wake Forest's Specialists for 2014:
Kicker Chad Hedlund is accurate but doesn’t have a big leg (only 1-of-3 from longer than 44 yards). Junior Alex Kinal already owns the single-season ACC record for most punts, and he could challenge for top five all time by the end of this season. Wake Forest’s return teams will need a boost from the new staff after having been at the bottom of the ACC for six years.
Jim Grobe led Wake Forest to five bowl games, but after five straight losing seasons, Grobe knew that the program needed new energy. Enter Dave Clawson, fresh off a successful stint at Bowling Green.
Clawson won’t have an easy time turning the program around. The offense was the ACC’s worst, and gone are the top passer, rusher and receiver. The defense should be the stronger unit, and he may have to rely on creating turnovers to help the offense. His biggest task so far has been to wipe away the losing culture:
“It’s definitely a higher standard that they are setting for us, and we couldn’t be happier,” Janvion says.