COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
ACC Atlantic PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Jim Grobe, 73-74 (12 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Steed Lobotzke | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian Knorr
The Deacons ranked 114th in the nation in scoring last season, mainly because of a porous offensive line riddled by injuries. If starters Steven Chase (knee) and Antonio Ford (broken leg) can return to form quickly in the fall, the line should be improved. Three talented redshirt freshmen will add depth.
Coach Jim Grobe wants to move from being pass-heavy to a misdirection running attack, a version of which he used with great success for his first five years at Wake Forest.
A diverse attack would give quarterback Tanner Price, a senior with 34 starts and more than 6,600 passing yards, better working conditions. Last season, he struggled with little time to throw, shaky receivers and no downfield threat. He hasn’t been a dual-threat quarterback since high school, though, and the spring results were a little messy.
Michael Campanaro’s 7.9 catches per game last year were second-best in ACC history, and he’ll be able to use his running ability out of the slot in the new offense. The Deacons are still looking for someone to step forward beside him.
Running backs Josh Harris (speed) and Deandre Martin (power) formed an unimpressive timeshare last season, although they didn’t have many holes to exploit. They’ll be pushed by rising star Joshua Wilhite.
Last year’s defense had problems up front, which eventually translated into problems in the secondary. Both units are more experienced and healthy — playmakers Nikita Whitlock (nose guard) and Merrill Noel (cornerback) were slowed by injuries — and they sandwich an outstanding linebacking unit. Whitlock (14 tackles for a loss in 2011) anchors an all-senior defensive line. Finally, they’ll be backed up by some talented young players (look out for Desmond Floyd) after wearing down the last two seasons.
The linebackers have the speed to pressure the passer and create turnovers, two things that have fallen off dramatically from Grobe’s best teams. Justin Jackson, who led the Deacons in tackles, could be an All-ACC performer, and Mike Olson is solid inside. Zachary Allen looked like a star on the outside before a shoulder injury sidelined him. But it’s the youngsters who have the staff drooling: Brandon Chubb, Teddy Matthews and Kevis Jones lead a talented group that could push into starting roles at any point.
Without a pass rush, the unprotected secondary struggled in 2012. However, Kevin Johnson and Noel both could be All-ACC corners. Neither safety — A.J. Marshall or James Ward — had played the position before last year, and experience should help their decision-making match their physical skills.
Redshirt freshman Chad Hedlund hit his only three field goals after taking the job late in the year. Alex Kinal, a former Australian Rules kicker, got plenty of practice as he punted an ACC-record 95 times. Wake’s return teams have been average at best in recent years despite speedy returners.
This is a crucial season for the program. Grobe hasn’t had a winning record since the 2006-08 bowl streak, and last year was filled with problems, including uncharacteristic off-the-field issues. This year’s team fits Grobe’s formula, though, relying on at least 14 seniors to play key roles. He loves the redshirt freshmen challenging for spots and admits that a better attitude surrounds the program. “You can sense that there’s a lot of guys who like to play football,” he says. “That’s maybe something we’ve missed for a little while. We haven’t quite had that spark that makes you feel that everybody’s loving it.”