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Wake Forest Football: What are the season expectations now?

Wake sits at 3-0, fool’s gold, or legitimate start?

NCAA Football: Delaware at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

If you asked any Wake Forest fan how happy they would be on a scale of 1 to 10 if the Deacs managed to start 3-0, I believe you would get a resounding 10 from 90%(+) of the respondents. It is the first 3-0 start for the Gridiron Deacs since 2008, when they knocked off two AP top 25 ranked teams in Ole Miss and Florida State in weeks 2 and 3.

There have been two, somewhat polar opposite viewpoints, that I have witnessed across this blog and other message boards, with seemingly not a lot in the middle.

The injuries to Kendall Hinton and Cade Carney (not to mention all the injuries on the defensive side of the ball), have brought a sense of “oh god, not this again” for many people. Finally, we get two guys who can ball out and they get injured shortly afterwards.

On the flip side, there have also been a few comments about Wake Forest having a “special year”, and being able to compete to win 8-9 games. I believe that this is a bit overstated, and wanted to refocus on where Wake Forest is after a quarter of its season.

After the Tulane game, most fans were expecting the worst for the year. Managing only 7 points against an AAC opponent that went 3-9 last season is not exactly awe-inspiring, especially after what most have witnessed on the offensive side of the ball for the past two seasons.

That made the 24-14 win over rivals Duke (in Durham, mind you) in week two even more unexpected. Kendall Hinton emerged as the starter at quarterback, and Cade Carney emerged as the starter at running back. Everything looked like it was finally setting up well for the Deacs.

....but as EVERY SINGLE WAKE FAN KNOWS...we can’t have nice things. Therefore, Carney got banged up in practice last Wednesday, forcing him to miss the Delaware game, and perhaps a couple more weeks. Then we all saw what happened to Hinton in the game on Saturday, suffering a PCL sprain that could keep him out through the bye week (and miss most of October), but honestly was a best-case scenario given the way he went down.

Wake Forest got to 3-0 of course, manhandling Delaware in a game that should have been more lopsided than even the 38-21 score indicated, if not for some ill-timed turnovers.

It’s also worth noting at this point that the three teams who Wake have defeated for far have yet to notch a win against FBS competition, but alas, here we sit, needing just three more wins to secure bowl eligibility for the first time since 2011, and I still believe the team is in a very good place.

The games at Indiana this week and at N.C. State next week will be difficult. Coming into the season, most on BSD speculated that we needed one win against Duke, Indiana, or State to stay on track for a bowl game. We’ve secured that win in Durham, and the win still counts the same obviously, but Duke isn’t looking nearly like the team they have the past couple of years.

Indiana will be a tough task, and almost certainly the best opponent we have faced to date. They are also coming off of a bye-week (as will N.C. State be for our game next Saturday).

N.C. State got off to a rough start after a loss to ECU, but always seem to play their best against Wake in Raleigh. I would not be surprised at all if the Deacs are 3-2 after next weekend’s trip east on I-40, and believe it or not, that’s okay.

The games that Wake really needs to win are still the ones that we looked at to begin the year: Syracuse, Army, Virginia, and Boston College. The Duke win basically means that Wake needs to win three out of those four instead of winning all four of them, which drastically increases the odds of getting to 6 wins.

A quick overview of those teams shows that three out of the four are VERY beatable, especially since we get them all at home (what a bizarre stroke of luck for an easy schedule).

The one team that may now be a much bigger problem than anticipated is Army—yes, that Army. The Black Knights are 3-0 after a 66-14 romping at UTEP on Saturday. I need to point out that those wins are against: (at) Temple, Rice, and (at) UTEP. The latter two are two of the bottom teams in the FBS, while Temple was a ten win team from last season.

At this point I don’t know good Army is, and probably will not have a lot of good context until they play at Duke on October 8th. The Cadets have one of the easiest schedules in FBS this year, and will very likely either be 6-1, or 7-0 when they visit Winston-Salem for Homecoming. What was looking like at least an 80% chance at a win has now become a toss-up on a neutral field at at this point.

On a side note, Army could easily win 8 games this season. They have three wins already, and still face: Lafayette and Morgan State (FCS teams), Buffalo and North Texas (bottom 10 FBS teams), and then Wake, Duke, Air Force, and Navy (all teams that are basically around their level at this juncture in the year). Could be a special year for the Cadets.

With Army being much improved, it puts more pressure on the other three games (Cuse, UVA, BC), and quite frankly, those teams have looked pretty bad so far this season. This past weekend alone, Cuse lost at home to USF by 3 touchdowns, UVA lost to UConn, and BC lost to Virginia Tech 49-0. Wake will be favored in all three of those games, and most likely by at least 3+ in all of them.

I have seen some chatter about FSU being vulnerable, Clemson not looking as good, and obviously Louisville is steamrolling now, but those three games are still games that really don’t matter as far as bowl eligibility. Wake is almost certainly not going to win any of these games and it doesn’t matter, they just need to take care of business against similar teams at Groves Stadium.

This article isn’t meant to stunt any enthusiasm that people may feel about the team so far, but at the same time, I don’t want the 3-0 start against (what appears to be) inferior competition to breed a superiority complex, or false hope. Wake Forest is about the same team that we saw coming into the season, a team that will win with strong defense, and occasionally “outscore” an opponent.

The running game over the past two weeks has been somewhat surprising/encouraging, and the offensive line is coming together. If the Deacs can continue to do that against Syracuse and N.C. State then I may change my tune a bit, but for now I still think that 6-7 wins is what Wake Forest can expect this season.

Football projections/statistics at Football Study Hall, and the FEI Rankings back this thought process up, as both project between 6-7 wins, with the biggest difference hinging on the Army win percentages based on how the models are built.

Even a 6 win season would put the Deacs in a bowl game right after Christmas in either: Detroit, Shreveport, DC, or possibly New York. This provides extra practices, an extra game, extra television exposure, and a renewed excitement for the staff and football team as they head into spring practice next year.

While those cities may not be the sexiest of destinations as far as bowl games go (or weather), this year is a building block for the next two, where Wake can look to get to warmer destinations around the New Year.

I encourage everybody to be cautiously optimistic, as the Deacs have matched their win total in each of the past two seasons, but also don’t want unbridled enthusiasm to lead to unrealistic expectations following wins that, at the end of the year, will likely be over 3-4 win teams.