On Sunday, Wake Forest found themselves ranked in both the AP and Coaches polls for the first time in this young season.
While a deserved accomplishment, let us be reminded that the season is young, and it was less than two years ago, Wake was in this exact same position and fell flat on their face.
October 12, 2019 is a day that will live in infamy for Wake fans as a whole watching a newly-ranked, yet sleepy, Demon Deacon team take on a good, but not great Louisville team. The result was disastrous.
Wake Forest punted, fumbled, or threw an interception on 6 of their 9 possessions in the first half while finding themselves down 28-7 at the beginning of the second and 31-21 at halftime. Inconsistent offensive play, combined with a defense that just continued to get gashed, even when knocking Malik Cunningham out of the game in the second quarter. Sam Hartman did his best in the second half to help bring the team back but was too little, too late for the offense.
Please don’t get me started on the onside kick.
This isn’t something to say, “Wake will just throw up on themselves again.” Progress isn’t linear, and Wake has been knocking on the door of special a few times in the last years but hasn’t been able to kick the damn door in.
Wake has beaten four teams that all have significant flaws: ODU and Norfolk State both took a year off of football and just aren’t good football teams, Florida State is an absolute mess at OL/CB/WR/QB, and Virginia is having a race between what’s worse: their running game or their defense.
Up next is a Louisville team that is also flawed. Every team not named Alabama, and even they have some things that make you raise your eyebrows this year, has flaws. But from a first glance, they aren’t a terrible team. Malik Cunningham is the type of quarterback that in years past has given Wake immense fits as he is a true dual-threat quarterback. They’ve got speed at WR in Tyler Harrell, as well as speed across the defense.
On the other side of the coin: they can’t run the ball outside of Cunningham, they just lost their best defensive player in LB Monty Montgomery and best receiver in Braden Smith, the offensive line is serviceable at best, the passing defense is worse than Wake’s(who’ve been up so much every game people have to throw on them to stay in it), and the rushing defense is the 10th worst in the P5 and bottom 40 in the FBS.
On paper, they scream nothing more than being UVA with a more athletic QB and a slightly better run defense. However, games aren’t played on paper, if they were Clemson would be 4-0, not 2-2 and we wouldn’t be talking about the sheer possibility of Wake Forest recreating the 2006 magic.
Whatever ire the fanbase or team has about being ranked behind certain people, or not getting the respect from media/other fanbases, rests solely on the fact of Wake’s propensity to not perform in these situations consistently. For every NC State 2018, there’s a 2018 Boston College. Wake has done a good job of taking care of business and exploiting FSU and UVA, but the road only gets harder from here and it starts with a team that in the past two years, has honestly embarrassed them. Whether it’s the aforementioned 2019 game, or last year when a depleted UL team just wore down Wake over the course of a game while Wake, coming off a covid pause, looked absolutely lost most of the game.
In a season where the motto is, “Good to Great,” you have to continue to exorcise these demons and prove week in and week out that you belong in the rankings and deserve to fight for an ACC title. You don’t have the benefit big schools get in taking a loss to a “lesser” team. Either you win, or you fall back out and it’s, “ah of course why trust Wake Forest to win?”
It’s a continuation of a put-up or shut-up season for Wake and they get another chance to put up on Saturday. Let’s see what team shows up.