The title of this is very obviously screaming “click-bait” but the point is simple. This program is reaching an inflection point. Dave Clawson has done a tremendous job of building this program and that shouldn’t be lost. Clawson took over a program that was bottoming out after their 2006-2008 stretch that featured 28 wins, 2 bowl game wins, and an Orange Bowl appearance. Wake now has to its name 5 straight bowl appearances, 3 bowl wins, and some of the highest-rated recruits in school history.
However, there have been shortcomings that shouldn’t be ignored. It’s not dog-piling to acknowledge where a team has come up short. Not every aspect has to be rainbows and sunshine, you can point out the good while also the bad and vice-versa, this isn’t a 0 to 1 scale. The team has had injury problems ablaze, a slight attrition issue, and has squandered opportunities to seriously catapult a season and the program. Making bowl games is fun, it helps put the team on TV, rewards the players for working hard day in and day out, and allows them one last chance to win this year. However, that should be the floor, not the ceiling. Aspirations should be higher than 7-8 wins and a bowl game. Look no further than Stanford as proof that a high caliber academic school can be more than just a middling team.
So why is this the most important offseason ever?
2016: Mike Elko to ND— Conor O'Neill (@ConorONeillNOO) January 4, 2021
2017: Jessie Bates III enters NFL
2018: Greg Dortch enters NFL
2019: Jamie Newman enters portal
2020: Kenneth Walker III enters portal
You're going to lose key ingredients after every season; the biggest factor becomes how prepared you are to deal with it.
Attrition happens every year. People graduate, draft stocks rise throughout the season, people get poached. There are two sides to this for Wake. First, they have to do a better job of maximizing the success of these guys when they’re at Wake. We all see the jokes of “Ole Miss had AJ Brown AND DK Metcalf on the field and stunk” whenever those guys are making plays, but it’s a real problem Wake has had. Surprise or not, this was a team that should’ve won more in 2019. They were up and down in 2018 regardless of the QB, the team could’ve been better in 2017 and 2016. It’s hard enough fighting an uphill battle being a developmental program, it’s even harder when you aren’t making the best of what you have.
The attrition isn’t just of stars, there have been 7 players this year to transfer, alongside the departures of Jack Crane, Sage Surratt, Taleni Suhren and Boogie Basham. In both the 2018 and 2019 classes, and we don’t know if more departures are on the way. You don’t have to work too hard to conceivably put together a list of departures for next year: Christian Beal-Smith would be finishing his 5th year, Je’Vionte Nash and Terrance Davis will have exhausted their eligibility, Zach Tom could be off to the NFL, Jaquarii Roberson seems NFL bound, Miles Fox/Sulaiman Kamara/Ja’Sir Taylor/Ja’Cquez Williams/Traveon Redd/Luke Masterson will all be out of eligibility, that’s SIX defensive starters at the minimum that could be gone, plus any other attrition that’s bound to happen. If you lose all of these guys plus the rate of attrition of the 2018 and 2019 recruiting classes, the next couple of years gets very, very rough.
That doesn’t even begin to touch on losing your Strength and Conditioning coach like Wake just did.
Building Quality Depth
Even with all of the aforementioned losses, Wake is actually set up very well for 2021. The only starters they’re losing on Offense and Defense are Boogie and Kenneth Walker III, which isn’t trying to underscore the impact that they had, but continuity is fantastic, and returning 21 out of your 23 starters is a big plus. When building depth, there are two ways to go about it in today’s game: you can recruit well and hit developmental strides(H/T to Conor O’Neill for that line) or you can be friendly with the ever-growing transfer portal for both rentals and long term guys. If you’re a school that has issues with non-grad transfers getting in and keep losing players, both stars and not, to the portal or draft, depth is just chasing the dragon.
We saw how immediately once Chelen Garnes was ruled eligible, he immediately played snaps during the Duke’s Mayo Bowl and seems to be set to give good snaps this coming year and beyond. For all the talk we got regarding Jahmal Banks and Ke’shawn Williams giving good reps in practice leading up to the bowl game, we didn’t see either of them until the game was well out of hand. Without Boogie, we obviously know Rondell Bothroyd will be the guy taking his place but behind him and JaCorey Johns is really an unknown. With as much certainty as there is to who’s starting, there’s little to who spells them. This team can’t fall into the 2019 trap where the starters are so good, but it falls off a cliff with injuries. The team has to cure the injury issue, but also make these spring and fall reps mean something and TRUST these guys. Starters are starters for a reason, but for how fast/the number of plays the offense runs and how many extra drives the defense gets because of it, you have to go 2 and sometimes 3 deep at these positions.
Depth is always important, but it stares you in the face when just 2 years ago the team was faced with a similar setup, started well, and then crashed at the end. More than ever, the depth is not just for this year, but to keep them on track for the next few years.
Wake Forest football coach Dave Clawson: "I’m enjoying the downtime, but I’m excited about next season.”— Les Johns (@Les_Johns) January 7, 2021
Clawson shares his reflective thoughts on a 'disjointed' 2020 season - https://t.co/HXYhFuYdnt pic.twitter.com/wzUYBx186L
Prepping to Win the Big Games
Without using google, name the teams that finished over .500 that Sam Hartman has beaten.
If you’re drawing a blank, it was his first two games against Tulane and Towson. Since then, he’s gone 0-8 in such games. The blame doesn’t rest solely on Sam Hartman, it’s a team game and there have been some extenuating circumstances here and there. With that being said, the team has to win these games. To his credit, there have been some “big” wins that don’t fall into ones against teams with winning records! Virginia Tech helped turned the season around, when it seemed as if Wake just couldn’t put it all together. I don’t think a true freshman Michael Kern wins that game against Florida State last year.
With that being said, they have to do a better job at winning against the better teams. Being in the ACC Atlantic you have to take advantage of the opportunities given. In a schedule you now get a full out of conference schedule back and returning so much starting talent, this should be a team that can hang and/or beat just about every team on their schedule, sans Clemson if they are in juggernaut mode. This team has to stay healthy and has to not have mental lapses from game to game. 2019 Louisville, 2019 VT, and NC State this year just stick out as games that Wake just shouldn’t be losing and they have to win those games if they want to be where we know they can be.
This is a team that can do more than just make noise, they have to plug some a hole or two, other teams have been doing that in the portal, They have to make the right moves, but they can be a force next year.
But this offseason has to be the best they’ve had, in all aspects.