COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2011 PRESEASON TOP 25
ACC Atlantic PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Jim Grobe, 68-67 (11 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Steed Lobotzke | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian Knorr
Opening the season with a quarterback who has 22 starts under his belt always helps to ease concerns. Junior Tanner Price threw for more than 3,000 yards last season with only six interceptions.
The Deacons will need all of Price’s composure as they field an offensive line that returns only two players with experience. Wake will be counting on a couple of converted defensive linemen to contribute, as well as left tackle Dylan Heartsill, who has had two years of back issues.
If the line can open holes, coach Jim Grobe would like to see Josh Harris running through them. Harris slipped from running for 241 yards against Virginia Tech in 2010 to only gaining 432 yards total in 2011, battling a hamstring problem and losing Grobe’s faith.
Price won’t be able to stretch defenses with Chris Givens, who left a year early for the NFL. But he will have Michael Campanaro, who worked underneath for 73 catches, and a deep, if unproven, receiver group.
The Deacons have no experience at tight end and could run many sets with fullback Tommy Bohanon at H-back or with three receivers.
Much like the offense, the Deacons’ defensive question marks are up front, but solid linebackers and an excellent secondary should help cover up any issues.
Undersized nose guard Nikita Whitlock finished fifth in the league in tackles for a loss. At end, though, Zach Thompson hasn’t lived up to his hype in two years, and Kris Redding has barely seen the field despite his physical gifts.
The linebackers are solid up the middle, led by Mike Olson, and fast off the edges. The Deacons, who were last in the ACC with 11 sacks last season, will look for Joey Ehrmann, Justin Jackson, Zachary Allen (a rising star) and Derricus Ellis to come off the edge and pressure the passer.
In two years, the secondary will have gone from the team’s worst unit to possibly its best, boasting experience and depth. Merrill Noel and Kenny Okoro both could be All-ACC corners. A.J. Marshall — a star of the Spring Game — is trying to make the move from corner to safety that Josh Bush made with All-ACC results last year.
Jimmy Newman is one of the ACC’s top kickers, and punter Alex Wulfeck is back, but his average leg could be pushed aside by Alex Kinal, a former Australian Rules kicker. Wake’s return teams have been at the bottom of the ACC for four years, but Campanaro (who returned a punt for a score last year) and Noel certainly have the potential to be exciting.
Grobe stopped a two-year slide with a bowl bid last year, and he’s brought in four new assistants over two years to rejuvenate the program. His emphasis on recruiting speed shows across the field, but the Deacons’ season will likely be decided by whether they can control the line of scrimmage. Across both lines, Grobe might start at least five players with no game experience.
On defense, a lockdown secondary could free up blitzing options. On offense, Price’s savvy will have to make up for what could be some chaotic situations up front.
The good news is that the Deacons will field their most talented team in recent years, boasting several players on each side of the ball with All-ACC potential. Grobe has to figure out how to overcome the team’s inexperience and lack of depth.