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Football Schedule Trends and Observations

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When writers and analysts preview a football season, they normally talk about the talent and experience of the players at each position and make their predictions from this information.  While that is obviously an important part of the equation, the schedule also dictates where we will be sitting when bowl season rolls around.  The mix of non-conference games and the home/away breakdown could be the difference between a trip to Florida and a trip to DC (or sitting at home).  Click through for an analysis of what the Wake Forest football team has on the agenda for this fall that you may not have noticed initially.

Like a majority of teams, Wake Forest plays most of their non-conference games before they hit the all-important conference schedule.  Unfortunately, the first out of conference game this year is likely the most difficult, as dynamic Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin brings his Bears to Winston-Salem.  As announced yesterday, this game will air on either ESPN2 or ABC at 3:30, so hopefully the inexperienced Demon Deacon defense will be ready for the big challenge of stopping the dual threat QB.  After Wake Forest easily handled Baylor in Waco last year, there is sure to be a revenge factor as well.

The next two games against Stanford and Elon are also at BB&T Field and are games in which the Deacons should be favored by a good amount.  Stanford brings coveted Coach Jim Harbaugh and a returning 1,000 yard rusher, Toby Gerhart, to Grobe's house.  Since a Wake Forest football game is rarely easy on the nerves, I do not expect anything different in this one.  However, one would think that the noon kickoff time for this game would be an advantage for the Deacs, considering this will be like a 9 a.m. game for the Dancing Trees.  The Elon game will be a nice opportunity to tweak a few things before shipping up to Boston to open up conference play. 

The advantage for Wake Forest with this schedule is that opening with five of their first six games at home gives them a chance to build some momentum before heading out to places such as Death Valley and Georgia Tech.  Since many of the starting defensive players have not seen a lot of game time, it will be important for them to get on the same page early.  The Deacs probably need to win at least three of their first four if they want to earn a nice bowl bid, since the schedule gets much tougher as the season progresses.

Without a doubt the most important stretch of the season is from September 26th to October 17th.  During this time Wake plays four of their five Atlantic division opponents in a row.  The race to win the division and a berth to the ACC championship game often comes through tie-breakers and head-to-head matchups within the division, so there is no time to relax in this sequence of games. 

The game at Boston College is certainly a winnable game as the Eagles look to be heading towards a rebuilding year.  The only quarterback that had a pass attempt in a college football game for BC decided to transfer this week and they have a new head coach.  Early in the season seems like a good time to catch this team, so this could be a nice start to conference play.  After breaking our hearts last year in Winston, it would also be nice to get a little revenge. 

After the trip up north, Wake Forest returns home for their next two divisional games against N.C. State and Maryland.  N.C. State is a popular pick to do some damage this season because of explosive dual threat quarterback Russell Wilson.  He picked apart the studded Wake defense last season, so this game will definitely be a very tough test this season.  Hopefully Wake's experience with a similar quarterback in Robert Griffin will help them prepare for Wilson's attack.  The Maryland game for homecoming will likely be another that could go either way.  I certainly would not expect to get taken to the woodshed like last season.

The final game in this divisional stretch comes against Clemson in Death Valley.  After a complete disaster of a year last year (compared to expectations) the Tigers will be anxious to start over under head coach Dabo Swinney.  Either the often praised Willy Korn or Kyle Parker will be under center this year for the Tigers, but the main man will still be C.J. Spiller.  The electric running back has given the Deacons several headaches over the last three years and is back to finish out his career on a high note.  Wins at Clemson are hard to come by, but stealing one in Death Valley would be very fulfilling for Riley Skinner in his senior year.

After this rough stretch, the Deacs head to Navy for their final non-conference contest of the season.  After playing the Midshipmen twice last season, these teams should be very comfortable with each other.  Don't expect to see many passes in this game as Wake looks to enhance their bowl resume in Annapolis.

The final four games of the season feature the Seminoles of Florida State coming back to BB&T Field as well as three opponents from the Coastal division.  First, on Halloween the Miami Hurricanes come to Winston-Salem for the first time since 2005.  The following week Wake Forest heads out to Atlanta to face Paul Johnson's triple option offense.  Of all the games on the schedule, this is the one that scares me the most.  Wake has not fared well against the triple option of Navy and the Georgia Tech version is more athletic and talented.  The Deacs would be very fortunate to leave with a win to open November. 

The aforementioned showdown with Florida State takes place on November 14th, as Wake Forest looks to beat the Noles for the forth time in a row.  If that's not a sign of how far Wake Forest football has came in the past five years, then I don't know what is.  While I admittedly have no clue which way this one will go, I will be bold and conclude that more points will be scored than last year's ugly 12-3 decision.  Perhaps Christian Ponder has learned to throw it to his own teammates instead of the Wake Forest secondary by now.

The Demon Deacons close out their season with a trip to Durham to visit David Cutcliff's Blue Devils.  As most conference closeout games do, this will likely have big implications for at least one of the teams.  QB Thaddeus Lewis will be poised to finally lead Duke to a bowl in his senior year while the Deacs will hopefully be looking to move up a line in the bowl selection process. 

Overall, the Deacons schedule seems very favorable.  The streak of home games in the beginning should be beneficial and the fact that they only play consecutive road games once all season is certainly a bonus.  Furthermore, two of the four ACC road games are against two of the expected lower level ACC teams in BC and Duke.  If the Deacs can take care of business at home they should find themselves relevant during bowl season for a school-record 4th time in a row.

 

My Prediction Guess:

  • Baylor - W

  • Stanford - W

  • Elon - W

  • @ BC - W

  • N.C. State - L

  • Maryland - W

  • @ Clemson - L

  • @ Navy - W

  • Miami - L

  • @ GT - L

  • FSU - W

  • @ Duke - W

8-4 (4-4)

Random fact to leave you with:  All but one of Wake Forest's opponents wear either a white or gold helmet (Clemson).  I challenge you to find another schedule where this is true.