On Friday, we presented the first half of Wake Forest's schedule, so without further ado, here is the second half of the year.
10/20 at Virginia
2011 Record: 8-5
Bio: In Mike London's first year as head coach, Virginia performed admirably by winning close games in the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers surprised many with a second place finish in the Coastal Division. Virginia relied on clutch plays and stout defense in route to beating Georgia Tech, 24-21, and Florida State, 14-13.
Quarterback Michael Rocco should improve after a strong first season throwing for 2671 yards and 13 touchdowns. He excelled as a game manager but expect the Cavs to utilize the junior's arm more this season. The offense will revolve around the dynamic running backs Perry Jones and Kevin Parks, who form the best ACC backfield combo. Jones adds a burst of speed and good hands from the backfield, while Parks provides brute power. They return three starters from the offensive line. Five starters on defense will come back to the Cavaliers defense. The linebacking core will anchor the defense with seniors Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds, the team's two leading tacklers.
Outlook: Wake Forest will have two weeks to prepare for a major test at Virginia. Expect a defensive battle between these teams. The Demon Deacons need to control the ball for long possessions and wear down the Cavaliers defense. This keeps playmakers Perry Jones and Kevin Parks off the field. Conversely, Wake Forest needs to contain these playmakers from breaking long runs and tiring out the front-seven. The Deacs need to force Michael Rocco to beat him with his arm. This game should be won in the battle of the trenches. Turnovers and special teams also will be major keys for these conservative offenses and ball-hawk defenses.
10/25 vs. Clemson
2011 Record: 10-4
Bio: Few teams, if any, possess the raw talent and athletic ability commensurate to Clemson's offense. No team in the ACC matches the Tigers' quality playmakers at specialty possessions. They have three players on the Maxwell Watch List, quarterback Tajh Boyd, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and running back Andre Ellington. Boyd emerged as a strong Heisman candidate with his lively and accurate arm. His level of play dropped down the stretcb, but he still accumulated tremendous numbers in his first year as a starter; throwing for 3828 yards, 33 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. As a freshman, Watkins established himself as one of the best wide receiver prospects in decades with his secure hands and elusiveness. He became only the third freshman to achieve All-America status, reeling in 77 balls for 1153 yards and 11 touchdowns. Ellington provides quickness and acceleration from the backfield rushing for 1178 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The offensive line returns only two starters. Defensively, the Tigers finished 81st in points against with 29.3. Although they have great athletes, they tackled poorly and gave up too many big plays. This culminated in a humiliating loss to West Virginia 70-33 in the Orange Bowl (yes, 70 points). That said, seven starters return.
Outlook: This Thursday night ESPN showdown in Winston-Salem is by far the most hyped home game of the season. BB&T Field will be cacophonous and fully clothed in black and gold. Wake Forest nearly upset Clemson in Death Valley last season, 31-28 to lose out on the ACC Championship Game. Expect a high, high, high scoring affair. The Demon Deacons need to keep up with Clemson's high-powered offense. Simultaneously, they need to contain the Tigers home run threats.
Last season, the cornerbacks defended Watkins remarkably, limiting him to five receptions for 62 yards. With similar efforts, Wake Forest has a chance to pull off a big upset on national television.
11/3 vs. Boston College
2011 Record: 4-8
Bio: Boston College returns a lot of experience from last season. The Eagles have 17 starters back. Nine of those are on offense and four on the offensive line. Unfortunately, among those not returning are the stars on both sides of the ball, all-time leading rusher Montel Harris and three-time All-American linebacker Luke Kuechly. The coaching staff dismissed Harris from the team for a repeated violation of team rules. Harris entered the season as the Eagles all-time leading rusher with 3,735 yards and stood less than 1,000 yards away from the 34-year-old ACC career rushing record.
Junior quarterback Chase Rettig returns for his third year as the starter. He is a great game manager, limiting his mistakes. He will have his favorite target, tight end Chris Pantale, who was named to the Mackey Award Watch List. Kevin Pierre-Louis will anchor the linebacking core and lead the physical and aggressive defense. The media and fans have severely criticized head coach Frank Spaziani for the dismissal of Harris, among his handling of several other decisions. He enters the season on the hot seat, and if the Eagles do not make a bowl this year, expect Spaziani, himself, to be dismissed.
Outlook: Last year, Wake Forest skidded past Boston College 27-19 for a victory in Chestnut Hill. The Eagles wore down the Demon Deacon defense with a physical, north-south running attack, albeit with Montel Harris. The Eagles have solid replacements for Harris in Rolandan Finch and Andre Williams. The Deacons need to contain this powerful ground attack and keep their defense fresh for four quarters.
Boston College does not have the wide receivers or the quarterback capable of beating a strong Wake Forest secondary downfield. I expect Tanner Price to methodically move his offense down the field against this rugged, hard-nosed defense.
11/10 at N.C. State
2011 Record: 8-5
Bio: The expectations for N.C. State are the highest they have been in several years. Coach Tom O'Brien and the Wolfpack reeled in four straight victories to close the season, including a monumental upset over Clemson, 37-13, and a bowl win over Louisville. The Wolfpack can compete in the ACC and remain a dark horse candidate to win the Atlantic Division.
Senior quarterback Mike Glennon returns after throwing for 3054 yards, 31 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He exemplifies the characteristics of a gunslinger; he is a tall, strong-armed, pocket-passer. To alleviate pressure from Glennon, running back James Washington adds a dose of agility and a lot of strength from the backfield. The continuity of the offensive line is another strength with four experienced starters.
Memo to opposing quarterbacks, "Beware for the ultimate ball-hawk cornerback David Amerson." Amerson broke the ACC record last season with 13 interceptions, two of which went for touchdowns. He won the Jack Tatum Award for best cornerback in the nation. The defensive line has a plethora of threats to sack the quarterback, including Brian Slay and Darryl Cato-Bishop. The linebacking core has talented players, but lacks experience.
Outlook: Last season, Wake Forest outplayed N.C. State in route to a 34-27 victory at home. After ending last year on a four game win streak, the Wolfpack have the swagger of a top ACC team. Playing at home against an in-state rival does not hurt, either. The Demon Deacon offense needs to provide Tanner Price with enough time to make smart decisions. Any errant throw could go into David Amerson's hands and the other way for six.
Josh Harris needs to set the tone early and often and run at the gut of a weak run-stopping defense. The Demon Deacon defense cannot allow Glennon to feel comfortable in the pocket. The secondary cannot allow any wide receivers to get open down the field; Glennon will find them.
11/17 at Notre Dame
2011 Record: 8-5
Bio: Notre Dame will endure an extremely grueling schedule this season playing against as many as six teams in the top 25 and three in the top 10. Coach Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish have the depth and talent to win against top teams like Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Stanford and USC; the Fighting Irish return 15 starters, eight on offense and seven on defense.
The question remains about the quarterback position; will two year starter Tommy Rees, highly-touted freshman Gunner Kiel, or the dual-threats Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson win the position? Regardless, the quarterback will be swarmed with talent around him. Stud running back Cierre Wood ran for 1102 yards and nine touchdowns. All-American tight end Tyler Eifert provides the quarterback with a large target and soft hands down the seam. The Irish return three offensive linemen and two receivers, who will mitigate the loss of Michael Floyd.
Notre Dame brings back its front three and three linebackers in its 3-4 defense. All-American linebacker Manti Te'o forwent the NFL draft for his senior season. He is the fiercest linebacker in the country and displays incredible instincts. As always, the Irish possess the talent to make a BCS bowl, but can they escape a hellacious schedule with an Ireland-sized target on their back every week?
Outlook: Running into Notre Dame Stadium with a sea of gold booing them on NBC will be a chilling experience for Wake Forest. Can the Demon Deacons subdue the nerves against a talented Notre Dame team? Last season, at home, the Deacs went toe-to-toe with the Irish, losing 24-17; they just did not convert their opportunities.
Wake Forest gave up a cheap touchdown because of a defensive miscommunication, but still led at half 17-10; they were inside the red zone twice in the second half and came up empty-handed. The Demon Deacon offense needs to be far more opportunistic with their limited chances. The defense also needs to make the Irish quarterback feel uncomfortable in the pocket and force turnovers.
11/24 vs. Vanderbilt
2011 Record: 6-7
Bio: After decades as the SEC punching bag, Vanderbilt and charismatic head coach James Franklin turned some heads last season enduring a ruthless SEC schedule to make a bowl game. They lost by less than a touchdown to traditional SEC powers Georgia, Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee.
Senior quarterback Jordan Rodgers, brother of Packers star Aaron, became the starter in the middle of the season and blossomed. He has a strong arm outside the pocket and can make plays with his legs. All-SEC running back Zac Stacy took the SEC by storm with his agility, leading the conference in rushing with 1193 yards and 14 touchdowns. Top two wide receivers, Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, return to provide Rodgers a slew of playmakers around the field.
The Commodores return five starters on a very strong defense. They finished 29th in the nation allowing only 21.6 points per game. They do lose three All-SEC performers at linebacker Chris Marve and Tim Fugger and at cornerback Casey Hayward. Johnell Thomas and Walker May will provide experience and speed to pressure the quarterback at defensive end. The linebacking crew is largely inexperienced and the secondary is well-coached and prevent big-plays.
Outlook: After Wake Forest became eligible for a bowl against Maryland, they did not show up for final regular season game versus Vanderbilt. A motivated Commodores team dominated the Demon Deacons, 41-7, to gain bowl-eligibility. Wake Forest needs to contain Zac Stacy; last season he ran all over the Deacs for 184 yards and three touchdowns. The defense also needs to keep the turnover-prone Jordan Rodgers in the pocket and force him to make poor decisions. Josh Harris and Orville Reynolds need to wear down the Commodore defense and test the inexperienced group of linebackers.
Wake Forest has a very difficult schedule this season. The team will face many challenges every single weekend. But if this team fulfills its potential on both sides of the ball, it can be something special. I can speak for a lot of people and say that what keeps me going during these dog days of summer is dreaming about Saturdays in the fall. Here's to a special season. Go Deacs!
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