Well it wasn’t always pretty, it wasn’t always the greatest game on Earth, and it certainly wasn’t even the best game that most saw last week, but when the Wake football team left BB&T Field shortly after knocking off Virginia 27-20 they did so with their heads held high knowing they had secured the six wins necessary on the season to go bowling.
So for the first time since the 2011 season, my senior year of college (!!!), Wake players, staff, and fans alike can begin the incessant checking and prognostications about where the Demon Deacons may be bowling. Regardless of the exact location though, the important part is that they will be going bowling SOMEWHERE.
Yesterday on Twitter, there was a bit of chatter (prompted by Wake grad twins who also graduated in 2012, @Frankel2Frankel) about whether six wins is worth celebrating and it got me thinking. As a Wake-centric fan base we often get caught up in our own fate, celebrating our relative successes and lamenting our similarly situated (and frequent) failures. With that in mind, I believe that assessing the “success or failure” - as if it’s strictly a dichotomous choice - is almost wholly relative to the positioning, both current and historical, of the program in question.
The 2016 Demon Deacon squad provides an excellent case study in this question. With preseason expectations that this team was a borderline bowl team and that the non-conference slate set up nicely to make a run at six wins, one would think that a 6-3 record with three games remaining would have the fan base ecstatic. Favoring the macro perspective over the micro perspective this is certainly true. The goal entering the season, and most seasons for Wake, is to make a bowl which allows the team some more national exposure, tv time, increased interest from recruits, money, and extra practices leading up to the contest.
On the flip side of the coin is the fact that Wake was sitting at 5-1 two weeks ago before losing an immensely winnable game to an Army team who sandwiched their road upset of the Demon Deacons with double digit home losses to North Texas and Air Force. Army also dropped games to Buffalo and Duke earlier in the season, but still sits with a 5-4 record with a very realistic shot to go bowling themselves. This isn’t to demean Army or talk down to the Black Knights, who quite frankly took it to the Deacs in the second half of the contest last week, but rather to point out that within the season there are peaks (road wins against Indiana and Duke to put the Deacs where they currently are) and there are valleys (loss to Army, questionable play calling at times throughout the year) and it’s important not to lose the forest for the trees.
If someone told you, as a Wake fan, that the Deacs would be 6-3 through nine games I doubt there’s a single person out there who would reject that and have the season play out as it would. Regardless of how ugly things may have looked at times or how close the Deacs were to making one big play and potentially knocking off the Seminoles, these factors tend to normalize out over the course of a season. Bottom line - Wake is going bowling and Dave Clawson and his staff is a major major part of that. Winning six games and making a bowl as the Demon Deacons is ALWAYS a major accomplishment (note, not the only attainable accomplishment) and one which the fan base should truly embrace. Soak it up and enjoy it Wake nation!
I won’t spend too much time on the UVA game, other than to say that if the Deacs are going to err on the side of throwing it too much or running it too much, I vastly prefer the latter given the composition of this team. This isn’t intended to be a “damned if you do damned if you don’t” perspective since there was a lot of criticism of the pass-heavy offense against Army (both on here as well as in discussions with other Wake fans over the past couple weeks), but just to point out that with Wolford at helm and a stable of backs, plus John who is very athletic in his own right, who have shown the ability to get the job done on the ground it makes more sense to pound the rock up the middle rather than let it fly downfield more times than not.
Something that also caught my attention across #theinterwebz over the past couple of weeks was an interesting situation that, after the Virginia game, has arisen regarding the quarterback situation. There were a couple questions at a presser around the Army game about Kendall Hinton’s availability and plans to play for the rest of the year, specifically regarding a potential redshirt. It’s interesting to note that he is in fact still eligible for a redshirt and I’m prepared, here on this election day, to fully throw my support behind the #HintonForRedshirt campaign.
Wake is now bowl eligible and quite frankly, with the exception of keeping BC out of a bowl game with a win in the finale thus perhaps improving our lot for a “better” bowl game and location, there isn’t a TON of import caught up in the last quarter of the season. That’s not to say that Wake should roll over, not show up, and flounder to a 6-6 finish while not even putting up much of a fight, but rather just a realistic assessment of where the Deacs stand from someone who has never sniffed the gridiron in their life.
The next two games Wake plays are against 7th ranked Louisville, who opened over Wake as a 33 point favorite and has won six of its eight games by 30+ points, and 2nd ranked Clemson, who is projected to go undefeated and play in the College Football Playoff. Both teams have looked vulnerable at times over the past month, but that’s the nature of college football. Clemson needed a terrible kick from N.C. State to avoid a crippling home loss on the same day Wake lost to FSU, and Louisville needed a last minute come-from-behind drive to beat the same Virginia team that Wake just knocked off 27-20 last week. These teams COULD be beaten, but playing the odds let’s just say it’s unlikely. Then you have the aforementioned finale against Boston College who needs to win two of their remaining three games (Uconn, FSU, Wake) to make a bowl game.
I personally do not see any reason to bring Hinton back to face off against two of the top seven teams in the nation, who have made it a habit of embarrassing opponents for the bulk of the season, then play Boston College and the bowl game in December while sacrificing an entire season of eligibility. Relatively speaking, Wake has a host of quarterbacks who are going to be on the roster and it should be one of the more interesting positions to watch unfold as we enter the 2017 season. If Clawson and company can bring Hinton back as a redshirt sophomore next season, I find that to be a far more valuable use of his overall time in the Old Gold and Black than to sub in for the last few games of a season where the team has already clinched bowl eligibility.
I know Hinton is itching to play and I also know that his availability to return from a knee injury is still a major concern and outstanding question, but I firmly believe that one of the major calculations for the coaching staff in determining what quarterback should play even when Hinton is 100% healthy and ready to return should be that he still has a redshirt opportunity available since he played last year as a true freshman without first sitting out a season.
I’ve rambled on for a bit here already, so I’ll wrap things up by throwing out a few questions to get some discussion going:
- Is six wins a major accomplishment for college teams in general? Is it a major accomplishment for Wake?
- What bowl game most excites you or would entice you to travel and watch the Deacs play in person?
- Should Kendall Hinton return this season, even if 100% healthy, given that he still qualifies for a medical redshirt if he does not play another minute this year?
It’s certainly been a fun season to watch and cover the Demon Deacons and with four games left, and two chances to make a chair-soaking splash on the national scene, there is plenty of excitement left to come. Time to sit back and enjoy the ride as the rest of the year unfolds. As always, go Deacs!