As summer approaches columnists around the country are releasing their very early previews for the 2014 college football season. New head coach Dave Clawson has just a semester of spring practices under his belt, and the media isn't expecting him to turn around the football program in year one.
Michael Briggs of Rantsports.com has the Demon Deacons as the No. 99 team in the FBS. He highlights the lack of playmakers on offense as one of the team's most glaring issues.
Unfortunately for Clawson, he didn’t inherit much proven talent on offense. The majority of that unit is no longer in uniform, as the Deacs will replace their leading passer, two leading receivers, top two rushers and two starting offensive lineman. The good news? Those players led the team to a 14th-place finish in the conference in total offense, 13th in scoring, 13th in rushing and 11th in passing.
It's difficult to disagree with Briggs' logic here. With Tanner Price, Michael Campanaro and Josh Harris all moving on, the offense needs somebody to step up in a big way. Likely starting quarterback Tyler Cameron had a less than promising spring, so it might be up to Travis Smith or John Wolford, the incoming three-star recruits, to steal the job from him.
Over at USA Today, columnist Paul Myerberg has the Deacons at about the same spot as Briggs, slating them in at No. 105. He mentions the same concerns on the offensive side of the ball, but brings up an interesting point about the defensive shift to a 4-2-5 zone.
Here's a reason why this is a good idea in the long run: Wake's Florida-centric recruiting style typically yields athletic prospects along the back seven but struggles landing big-bodied interior linemen, so rolling out a scheme predicated on speed, athleticism and aggressiveness seems wise – on paper, at least. But for 2014, the shift to a four-lineman front will strain the limits of the Deacons' depth and experience along the line, a group decimated by the graduation of three senior starters. One, tackle Nikita Whitlock, will be impossible to replace.
Excellent observation and hopefully a scheme change that benefits Wake in the future. The roster is brimming with defensive backs from Florida, but even a standout nose tackle like Nikita Whitlock is vastly undersized for the position.
His departure, along with two other senior starters, leaves a gaping hole on the defensive line, now widened by the transfer of James Looney, the younger brother of former Deacon and current San Francisco 49ers' guard Joe Looney. James Looney was initially penciled in as a starter on the defensive line and his departure is a definite loss. Now with little means to pressure the quarterback, the defensive backfield will need to step up even more in 2014.
With all of that under consideration, Myerberg gives a nice roundup of where the team stands heading into the fall.
The quarterback competition hasn't moved an inch. The backfield is short on talent. The receivers are promising but still young, so one imagines it taking another year before the group hits its stride. The offensive line is a strength, relatively speaking, but must land next-step play from the interior to survive against the ACC. In summation, it's a rebuilding project. But that's why you hire a Clawson, isn't it? His process begins in 2014 with Wake at the bottom of the ACC.
Clawson is indeed a program rebuilder, and rebuilding takes time. He did not win a single game in his first season coaching Fordham in 1999, and went 0-8 in the Atlantic 10 with Richmond in 2004. Clawson's 2014 Demon Deacons have a legitimate chance to open the season with three or four wins against the likes of Louisiana-Monroe, Gardener-Webb, Utah State and Army. But Utah State could be a tough win on the road, and after that the new-look ACC doesn't offer much wiggle room. Six wins looks like a near-miracle season for Wake Forest, while four seems right on the money.