Opponent: Elon Phoenix
Time: 7 P.M.
Location: BB&T Field (Capacity: 31,500)
Head Coach: Rich Skrosky (2nd season; 1-11 overall)
Series History: 9-0-1 (last meeting in 2009)
2014 Record: 1-11, (0-8 CAA; no FCS playoffs)
Wake Forest will look to get the season started off right Thursday night when they match up with FCS opponent Elon from just down the road in Burlington. This will mark just the second time the two teams have played each other since WWII with the Demon Deacons claiming a victory in the last matchup in 2009.
Elon is coming off a brutal season where they went 1-11 with their sole win coming against Charlotte by a 17-10 margin. Despite the tough knocks in a season where the Phoenix lost eight games by double digits, Elon can find some consolation in the difficult schedule they faced as five of their twelve games were against top 25 opponents in the FCS. In their lone game against an FBS opponent, the season opener against Duke, things did not go too well for the Phoenix either (I'm sensing a theme here) as they fell 52-13 and allowed the Blue Devils to gain nearly 600 yards of offense.
Head Coach Rich Skrosky enters his second season with the Phoenix and will be looking to return Elon to the FCS playoffs for only the second time in school history (the other occurring in 2009). Skrosky faces a tough task though as Elon appears to be somewhat overmatched in the CAA - a conference well-regarded across the FCS for being a relative powerhouse over the past decade. Skrosky previously coached at Ball State under head coach Pete Lembo as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator before returning to Elon where both he and Lembo were previously on the coaching staff.
This will mark the sixth consecutive year in a row that Elon has started their season on the road, but this is somewhat unsurprising as FCS teams generally have early season pay-to-play games against FBS opponents. It does not appear that Elon has named a starting quarterback but regardless of who gets the nod it will be a guy who has never thrown a pass in college as both Connor Christiansen (Redshirt Freshman) and Daniel Thompson (Freshman) would be making their collegiate debuts.
In the backfield with whoever ultimately becomes the starting gunslinger will be senior Tracey Coppedge, who appeared in every game last year rushing the ball 182 times for 663 yards and one touchdown. Also returning is backup running back B.J. Bennett who was second on the team in rushing with 292 yards on 59 attempts, but Bennett only appeared in four games throughout the season.
Shifting the focus to defense, Elon returns three of its top five tacklers from a season ago but did lose overall leading tackler Jonathan Spain to graduation. John Silas will look to anchor the linebacking corps coming off a season where he recorded 100 tackles, seven for loss, and two sacks. Similarly Chris Blair, a rising sophomore from Winston-Salem, NC who played high school football at East Forsyth before going to Ball State for a year and transferring after a redshirt season, will be the main guy in the secondary for the Phoenix alongside Julius Moore who led the team in interceptions a season ago with four. Blair recorded 98 tackles on the season, good enough for second on the squad overall, and chipped in one interception.
Punter David Petroni returns for his junior season after booting the ball 81 times for an average of just over 38 yards last season and there is no reason to believe he won't be the guy this season who is called in on fourth down. Similarly, kicker John Gallagher returns for his junior season a year after going 15-26 on field goals with a long of 49 yards on the year. Gallagher also provides kickoffs, putting seven balls into the end zone for touchbacks compared with only one ball put out of bounds on the season.
On Wake's side of the football, Dave Clawson's team features only six seniors the fewest of any Wake team since 1944. The defense will be tasked with replacing first round draft pick Kevin Johnson, a daunting task for a defense who actually performed very well for large portions of the season despite Wake's overall 3-9 record. Wake fans may have expected a young team since Clawson brought in one of, if not the best, class in Wake Forest history by overall recruiting rankings but even the most ardent fans might be shocked to find out that 33 of the 44 players on the two-deep roster are underclassmen.
For the Deacs to compete for a bowl game this year, they will need to take care of business against the FCS Phoenix, but generally appear expected to do so by outsiders (saw one site which posts FBS-FCS lines where Wake was a 25 point favorite). What do some of our writers expect to happen, not only in this game but over the course of the season? Let's check it out:
Griffin: Wake wins 27-6; Overall Record in 2015: 4-8.
Ned: Wake wins 31-7; Overall Record in 2015: 4-8.
Jake: Wake 34-7; Overall Record in 2015: 4-8.
Bart: Wake 27-7; Overall Record in 2015: 3-9.
Rob: Wake 38-3; Overall Record in 2015: 3-9.
Interestingly enough, not much variation on score predictions but overall it seems that the crew believes Elon will struggle to score with a young quarterback at the helm. On the other side of the field Wake should be able to move the ball relatively well but a continuing theme throughout the year will be how the offensive line performs and that is a huge question mark moving forward.
Football is back! It's gameday and the Deacs are ready to open up 2015. What do you all expect to see both tonight and this season? Let us know below and as always, go Deacs!