It's been a long time since the Deacs came off the field against Vanderbilt in a season finale in which we were dominated by the Dores from the start. That's a tough pill to swallow coming into the game 5-6 and needing a victory to extend the year.
With the loss there would be no second consecutive bowl game nor would any of the seniors every play another snap for Wake Forest. It was a frustrating end to the year, but even beyond that it still lingered in the back of my mind as I was thinking about the upcoming year.
When I first checked out who would be back, who we would likely be playing, and how the freshmen were looking I was a little bit negative about the potential of the team and was thinking we would go around 5-7, maybe be lucky to get to 6-6. I was worried a lot about how the offensive line would be with guys getting back from injury and the potential of freshmen to be starting.
As the season has gotten closer though, and maybe as I become a prisoner of the hype of preseason, I've gotten a lot more optimistic about where this team could be heading.
For me, it all starts with what guys we have coming back and starts with the offense.
We're putting out a four-year starter in Tanner Price at quarterback who we know can get it done at this level. In three years at Wake Price has thrown 39 touchdown passes and over 6600 yards, while doing so at a high rating and not throwing very many picks (21 total). When he's given time to throw he has proven time and time again that he can complete the critical third down pass and keep a drive going. He takes a lot of flak for getting sacked and not going through his receivers in the right progression, but I think that has been solely a product of how much he has been flattened by a porous offensive line. If there is good blocking this year, and that is definitely a big if, Price is going to get the job done and lead this team to a winning season.
When he gets rid of the ball he has four-year starter and top-ten receiver in Wake history Michael Campanaro there to snag everything thrown his way. Camp highlights a receiving corps that has a lot of depth and guys who can step up and rise to the challenge of competing for playing time. Matt James and Brandon Terry have both looked good in practices and guys like Ragland are right there as well. I expect a lot of short passes and a quick reacting pass offense at the beginning of the year.
The returning assets at quarterback and receiver are also supported by the depth we have in the backfield with Price.
Josh Harris (JRoc) was declared eligible by the NCAA a couple of weeks ago and is going to be the starter. While he'll get the bulk of the carries sophomore Deandre Martin will still get his fair share as well as freshman Josh Wilhite. I think looking back on this backfield, we will be amazed by how much talent we had at the position. Running back opportunities though are naturally predicated by the ability of the line to open up holes to run through. Even the best running backs have trouble when there's a weak offensive line.
For Wake to have any success we will have to improve our offensive line effort and two things have encouraged me about this improvement process: Cory Helms and Josh Harris. These two freshmen have stepped up in preseason practice and shown that they could be pressing for playing time now. As a matter of fact Helms is likely to start at center in his first game at Wake. If Ford is a little slow coming back from his leg injury, Harris is ready to step in and get his feet wet on game day. In time and over the course of this season, I think we will have the right combination of experience and athleticism to put together a solid offensive line. This may be optimistic, but I think it's easily doable and I think Himebauch is going to get the job done.
Additionally we need to be more aggressive on offense with our play calling. Grobe says we're still going to come out throwing 25-30 times a game, but we're switching to a more run-based offense with more misdirection.
If this means getting back to the play calling circa 2006 when we kept other teams off guard with long drives predicated upon getting quick hits and short yardage passes, then I'm happy with it. If it means running more off tackle counters, I could do without that portion of the offense.
I think with this senior-laden team we have at the skill positions, we need to piece things together this year. If you can't get it done with a four year starter at QB, RB, and WR, then when are you ever going to get it done? This is a big year as far as Lobo is concerned as well, since the majority of his seasons as the offensive coordinator have been spent in the bottom half of the total offense rankings.
If the offense gets off to a hot start this season, I see no reason why Wake shouldn't and won't start at least 3-1, if not 4-0. The first four games see us taking on Presbyterian, Boston College, Louisiana-Monroe, and Army. Wake will likely be favored in each of these four games and while at least a couple will be tight toss-ups, with a couple of good bounces Wake can be off to a 4-0 start for the first time since the 2006 Orange Bowl season.
My final prediction for the year: 7-5 (4-4 in ACC). I was close to picking us at 8-4 (5-3), but that would require us winning each of the ACC toss up games we have this season. I think we will likely lose one of: Syracuse, N.C. State, and Maryland, but snag the other two in addition to wins against Duke, ULM, Army, BC, and Presbyterian. Matchups with Clemson, Miami, and Vandy on the road provide daunting tasks for the Deacs and the home game against Florida State shouldn't be a picnic either. I'm sure I'll be wrong on a lot of the specifics, and for all I know we may go 4-8, but this year I'm optimistic about where the team is headed and I think we're going to be back to a solid bowl in 2013.