Next Saturday, Wake Forest's football season will begin when they host Liberty at BB&T Field. Coach Jim Grobe has some hurdles to overcome this year, as only 11 starters return from last year's squad.
With only a week remaining before the official start of the 2012 season, here's a preview of the Demon Deacons with some predictions as to how their season will finish.
Everything starts with quarterback Tanner Price. As a sophomore last year, Price had an impressive season. He completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,017 yards, 20 touchdowns, and only six interceptions.
The lefty has a good arm but an even better brain. The Academic All-ACC is smart off the field, but also makes good decisions with the ball on the field. He didn't throw a single interception over the last five games of the season, and his 20-6 TD-INT ratio over the whole season was exceptional.
Price has the potential to make some serious noise this season. He'll have to do without last year's top wideout Chris Givens, who was drafted by the St. Louis Rams, but redshirt junior Michael Campanaro should be ready to take over as the team's top pass-catcher.
Campanaro isn't that big (5'11", 195 lbs.) but he is quick, strong, and has extremely good hands. Even though he missed a game against a weak Gardner-Webb team last season, Campanaro still finished the season with 73 catches for 833 yards. He also isn't scared of the spotlight, which was evident after a 10-catch, 128-yard performance in the Music City Bowl.
The offensive line poses some problems, with center Garrick Williams the lone returning starter. Some underclassmen will need to step up and provide holes for redshirt junior running back Josh Harris, who is out to prove himself after injuries shortened his season in 2011.
On the defensive side of the ball, nose tackle Nikita Whitlock leads the way for the Deacons. The redshirt junior was Second-Team All-ACC last year, and will have to build on last year's breakout season. Whitlock made the 3-4 work in 2011, registering an impressive 14 tackles for loss.
Seniors Joey Ehrmann, Scott Betros, and Riley Haynes lead the way at linebacker, with redshirt junior Justin Jackson rounding out the starters. Their experience and skill make them one of the best linebacking corps in the ACC.
As a redshirt freshman last year, cornerback Merrill Noel was a consensus Freshman All-America selection and named the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. Noel returns alongside senior Kenny Okoro, who had just one interception last season and needs to step up in his final collegiate season.
The first half of the schedule favors Wake, and they should walk away with at least four victories in their first six games. The Deacons should beat Liberty, Army, Duke, and Maryland, while falling to UNC and Florida State. In the second half of the season, Wake should beat Boston College.
The rest of the schedule is tough, with matchups against Virginia, Notre Dame, Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Vanderbilt. Wake has a chance against Virginia, Notre Dame, and Vanderbilt, and I think they will upset one of them to qualify for a second consecutive bowl game.
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