2011 Record: (6-7, 5-3 in ACC)
Head Coach: Jim Grobe (68-67 at WF, 101-100-1 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Music City Bowl: lost to Miss State 23-17
Out of Conference: 11/17 at Notre Dame, 11/24 vs Vanderbilt
Stat to Cheer: only lost 12 turnovers in 2011 (1st in ACC, 3rd in Nation)
Stat to Fear: converted just 35.45% of third downs (last in ACC, 103rd in Nation)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 4; Defense: 7; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: CB Merrill Noel (66 tackles, 2 INT), DT Nikita Whitlock (64 tackles, 3.5 sacks), LB Justin Jackson (59 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Tanner Price (20 TD, 6 INT), RB Josh Harris (432 yds rush, 3 TD), WR Michael Campanero (73 rec)
Last year Wake Forest bounced back from a 3-9 season to win three additional games but the most impressive thing was that they went 5-3 in conference after going just 1-7 in 2010. Essentially Wake won the games they were supposed to win (Garner-Webb, BC, Duke, Maryland), added one that was more of a toss-up (NC State) and also got an upset (FSU). Last year, Wake played the top three teams in the ACC (FSU, VT and Clemson) but this year they get a slight break with VT off the schedule.
Over the past four years Wake has finished an average of 11th in recruiting (per Scout.com's rankings) so it's obvious that Wake isn't winning based on sheer talent. Wake is a team that is going to have to fight to win games but they are also a team that's tough to beat.
Critical for the success of Wake this season is the continued development of junior Tanner Price. Price had a great year in 2011 as he surpassed 3000 yards and had a TD to INT ratio of 20:6. One thing that stands out is that Price was far superior at home (13 TD, 2 INT vs 7 TD, 4 INT on the road). Price must replace his big play receiver Chris Given this season (1330, 9 TD). It's critical that somebody steps up to take that role. Another concern is that the offensive line returns less than 20 career starts.
A big key last year was the improvement of the defense which went from allowing 35.8 ppg in 2010 to 27.4 in 2011. Wake did a much better job getting off the field on third down (47.19% opponent completion rate in 2010 vs 39.38% in 2011). Wake also did a better job in the red zone allowing less red zone conversions and less TDs in the red zone. Wake returns a lot of starters on defense (including 9 of their top 12 tacklers) so they should be able to maintain their improvement.
2012 Prediction: 6-6
Previous 2012 Previews:
Big 12: Kansas