Is it a new day for Wake Forest football?
Well, for now, we at least know it's better, as head coach Dave Clawson is off to his best start (4-1) with the program, the lone loss coming last week to NC State. The Wolfpack perennially own that rivalry, but the same can be said for the Demon Deacons' opponent this week, Syracuse.
Since entering the ACC in 2013, the Orange have not lost to their fellow Atlantic Division member, but the circumstances have changed a bit since then.
Dino Babers, in his first year with Syracuse, has completely overhauled the style of play in Central New York, pushing an up-tempo attack that has already produced big numbers on offense. But the faster pace and amount of yards racked up have not yielded much overall success as the team comes in with a 2-3 record, which includes a 33-7 victory over FCS Colgate in the season opener.
The three losses — to Louisville, South Florida and Notre Dame — were expected, and while the defense allowed a whopping average of 52.3 points per game in those contests, considering the opponents, that's also not a total shock.
Wake owns two solid wins over Duke and Indiana, but comes into this week a bit banged up (more on that later).
Expect a fairly even game, one where weather could become a factor (more on that later, too).
Syracuse at Wake Forest
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ACC Network
Spread: Wake Forest -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Thousand island?
In one of the more underrated breakout developments this season, Syracuse wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo has been nearly uncoverable this season. His 47 receptions for 840 yards and six touchdowns are no fluke, especially when you consider eight of those catches, 103 of those yards and two of the scores came against Louisville. The Maryland transfer has flourished more than anyone in new head coach Dino Babers' scheme, and there's a good chance that continues Saturday. The Demon Deacons rank 96th in the nation in passing defense, and even though their secondary gets a boost from the expected return of rover Demetrius Kemp, look for Etta-Tawo to have a big night and potentially surpass the 1,000-yard mark at the season's halfway point.
2. Back problems
For as bad as the Demon Deacons are defending the pass, that's how poor the Orange are at stopping the run. Syracuse ranks 101st in the nation by allowing 204 yards per game, a scary figure that will certainly come into play Saturday. However, Wake's best ball carrier, Cade Carney, is recovering from a knee injury that has kept him off the field the last three games. His status for Saturday's game is still up in the air, but even if the true freshman isn't 100 percent, he could still be the team's most trusted option to gash the Orange defense. Either way, his status will be one to watch.
3. The Matthew factor
Hurricane Matthew should be charging up the Atlantic coast around kickoff time, so the conditions will likely come into play somehow. One could argue that the high winds could mess with Syracuse's ability to throw the ball, which is true, but a wet field favors the wide receiver more than the defensive back. Both teams will find ways to move the ball on the ground if the situation calls for it. Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey is an elusive runner when called upon, and so is his counterpart in Demon Deacons signal caller John Wolford. Like Carney, Wolford is banged up but expected to play. Regardless of who is on the field, both teams will need to adjust to the conditions and whichever squad does that best could determine who comes out on top.
Unless the conditions totally ruin things for the offenses, this should not be a low-scoring contest. All things being equal, both offenses' strengths line up favorably to the opposing defenses' weaknesses. While Syracuse has faced the tougher schedule to this point, the Orange's lone win over an FBS team — UConn — doesn't hold up as well as Wake Forest's victories over Duke and Indiana. But if Amba Etta-Tawo and fellow wide receiver Ervin Philips find a rhythm, this could be the most productive offensive showing in first-year head coach Dino Babers' early tenure. The Orange are still searching for their first conference win, but look for them to grab it Saturday for their fourth victory in a row over the Demon Deacons.
Prediction: Syracuse 38, Wake Forest 31
— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.